During our recent webcam chat (watch above), “American Ninja Warrior” host Akbar Gbajabiamila was beyond excited about its recent Emmy nomination for Best Reality Competition Series. “This is a huge, huge moment for the show,” he exclaims. “I’m extremely grateful just to even be in this situation.” It was the first recognition from the TV academy for this NBC series, now in its eighth season, which features contestants navigating a wide variety of obstacle courses.
A former NFL star, Gbajabiamila has been the cohost with Matt Iseman since season five. “We’ve literally seen the show grow each and every year,” he declares. What really helped push it into the upper echelon, he believes, was “the explosion in female competitors.” Closing the gender gap helped broaden its appeal because “if you think about sports, and how we consume sports now, nowhere else are you watching men and women competing on the same exact obstacles, or the same exact court or floor or field.”
As well, he adds, the more relatable the contestant, the more captivating the experience. “You find ordinary people doing extraordinary things,” he explains. “Everyone isn’t an Aaron Rodgers, everyone isn’t a LeBron James, but we know a lot of the people who are on ‘American Ninja Warrior,’ because if it isn’t us, it’s our friends; if it’s not our friends, it’s our neighbors.”
The show taps into our country’s love of sports, and our admiration of athletes. “It’s the same connection in why people are in awe of fictitious characters like Superman and Batman,” he asserts, “because somehow they’re able to do something more than just the ordinary, and athletes have to go above and beyond.” Ultimately, “when you’re watching them, you vicariously live through athletes.”
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