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We Visited The Set Of “American Ninja Warrior Junior”

Some days are cooler than others.

Hi, my name is Mike, and these are my kids, Annie and James. Annie and James are HUGE fans of American Ninja Warrior Junior, so when I got invited to the filming of an episode of the upcoming season, I immediately asked, “Can I, uh, bring my kids?”


Season 2 of American Ninja Warrior Junior premieres on Universal Kids on Saturday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

As you can imagine, bringing the kids won me a lifetime supply of cool dad points, and I expect them to keep their rooms clean indefinitely.

So what was it like being on the set of American Ninja Warrior Junior? Here are some of the coolest behind-the-scenes things we saw:


At our episode, Jessie Graff was the mentor, which meant that the other mentors — like American Ninja Warrior legend Meagan Martin — were just standing around!


Meagan was super nice and sweet, and patiently answered all of James’ questions. He had a lot — he’s a 6-year-old, LOL.


We also got to meet ANW champion Drew Drechsel!


Drew was also really nice!


We crossed paths with Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila — who are back as hosts — and Paralympian Victoria Arlen, who replaced Laurie Hernandez (who is off training for the 2020 Olympics!).


Victoria has an AMAZING story — after developing a couple rare conditions as a child, she lost the ability to speak, eat, walk, or move, and slipped into a vegetative state. She stayed that way for four years, aware of what was happening around her, but unable to move or communicate.

After four years, she not only began to regain her ability to speak, eat, and move, but went on to become a Paralympian. Wow!


On TV, you mainly just see the course, so it feels more like a sporting event than a TV show. But in person, you see a lot more of the TV production side.


There are a LOT of cameras.


In addition to a large team of camerapeople, there are mounted cameras hidden on the course, cameras on cranes, and a camera on a drone that films from above.


In total, including the drone and GoPros, they had 27 CAMERAS on the course.


There are even compartments on the course with cutouts for camerapeople to film through.


Oh, and there are large lights alongside the course too.


All of this made us even more impressed with the competitors than we were before we arrived. These kids are not only managing amazing athletic feats — they’re doing it while blocking out the numerous production-related distractions you don’t see on TV.


All in all, the experience of competing feels a lot more nerve-racking IRL than it does on TV. For example, in this photo Annie and James are standing where the race begins, so this is what the competitors see before they start. You can imagine getting easily intimidated by the size of it all.


We actually chatted with host Matt Iseman about this. He said, “People can very easily understand the physicality of it, but what makes a great ninja is the mental element, the fortitude to be able to do it when the lights are the brightest, to be able to do it when it counts. For these kids — some of whom are as young as 9 years old — to handle this pressure is remarkable.”


There is a training gym set up directly next to the course for the kids to use to warm up before competing.


Here’s a closer look:


You know those cool shots taken from the side — like this one — where the camera moves with the kids as they barrel through the course?


Well, this is how they get those shots — they have a camera mounted on a car/trolley that drives alongside as the kids race through the course.


Oh, in case you’re wondering, that cool shot was taken from where we were sitting on the production side of the course.


On the other side of the course were the stands full of the competitors’ family and friends, as you see on the show.


We were sitting only about 50 feet away, and the races were VERY exciting to see in person!


It’s a different experience, though, without all the different camera and sound effects. Each race somehow seems both longer (as you watch the competitors traverse the entire course from one angle) and quicker (at the end of each race you think, How the heck did they get to the end already?).


If a competitor falls into the water, a crew member pops up with a towel on a stick to dry any wet areas on the course.


Wiping down the course makes total sense (you don’t want the next kids to slip on water as they compete), but it’s not something you think about when you watch on TV.


We got up close to the warped wall, which is the same one for all age groups. However, they open the lower slot (closed in the photo below) for 9–10-year-olds and open the top slot (open in the photo) for the 11–12-year-olds. Both slots are closed for the 13–14-year-olds — they have to reach the very top of the wall.


Perhaps the coolest behind-the-scenes thing we got to do was go into a trailer 100 or so feet away from the course where the director (and their team) put the show together on the fly.


As the races happened live outside, the team inside the trailer chose the camera angles, directed the camerapeople over a headset, and relayed questions to the hosts to ask the competitors!


It was fascinating to see how much of the show was being shaped right then and there…and not later in postproduction!


Oh, and in case you were wondering, like any TV production, there was a craft table with lots of goodies like Gatorade, Pop-Tarts, and warm potatoes and eggs. (We may have enjoyed a snack or three.)

Being on set was an incredible experience, not only to get a sense of how the show is actually made, but to see this year’s competition. I can tell you there are some staggeringly talented competitors this year, and — even from the little I saw — there are more than a few unbelievably close finishes.

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