Akbar Gbajabiamila attributes the long-lasting success of “American Ninja Warrior” to its ability to “tell great stories” that “we can all relate to.” Now in its 10th season, this NBC reality competition series features contestants navigating a wide variety of obstacle courses. “These competitors are ordinary people doing some extraordinary things,” adds Gbajabiamila, who has served as co-host alongside Matt Iseman since season five. Watch our exclusive video interview with Gbajabiamila above.
A former NFL star, Gbajabiamila believes that featuring ordinary people on the show creates a rooting interest for viewers that’s unique from other sporting events. “There’s something about being that close to an athlete,” he explains, “and the storytelling within ‘American Ninja Warrior’ gets you that much closer.” With professionals “you still feel distance … You don’t feel like you can really be connected because essentially they’re celebrities.” But on “ANW” “you’re looking at a reflection of yourself.”
Gbajabiamila was even inspired to run the course himself for the upcoming “Celebrity Ninja Warrior” special, airing on May 24. Watching from the sidelines for six years gave him “the competitive bug,” although he admits, “I have never been more nervous in my life.” Other competitors included Ne-Yo, Derek Hough, Nikki Bella, Colton Dunn, Scott Evans, Nastia Liukin, and Gregg Sulkin.
“American Ninja Warrior” got its start on the now defunct cable station G4 before moving to NBC. It took eight seasons before the show received Emmy nominations, but now it has contended for Best Reality Competition Program for the last two years in a row (2016-2017), losing both years to “The Voice.” It also competed at the PGA Awards for their Reality Competition prize in 2017 and 2018, where it also lost to “The Voice.”
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