He might be flat on his back on his couch with a fever, but host Matt Iseman is pushing through to talk about the new season of the obstacle-course competition show “American Ninja Warrior.”
“It’s just bigger and badder,” he tells Zap2it. “It’s crazy what they’ve been coming up with.”
Once again, G4 (soon to rebrand as Esquire Network) and its corporate sibling NBC are sharing the run of the show, with “American Ninja Warrior” launching Sunday, June 30, on Esquire and Monday, July 1, on NBC. Original episodes air on each network.
Iseman returns for his fifth season as host of the show. Joining him for color commentary is a new face, former NFL player and NFL Network sports analyst Akbar Gbaja Biamila, replacing former co-host and Olympic freestyle skier Jonny Moseley.
“Believe me,” says Iseman, “I had to practice for about a week and a half just to pronounce his name. He’s 6 feet 6 inches, 270 pounds, so I treat him gently. He makes me look petite. It’ll be a different viewing experience when they show the hosts. He’s a massive wall of a man.
“But just like Jonny, he’s competed at the highest levels, and he brings that expertise when he’s talking about the course. He and I have both tackled some of the obstacles — him with slightly more success than me.”
The show had qualifying events in Los Angeles, Miami and Baltimore, finishing up in Iseman’s hometown of Denver.
“It was amazing to film there,” says Iseman. “The locations we’ve been filming at have been spectacular. We filmed on the harbor in Baltimore. In Miami, we were right on South Beach. In Denver, we filmed right near the capitol building, and in Los Angeles, we were in Venice.
“We had such a massive turnout this year. Last year was a record for applications. This year, I think we almost doubled it. We had so many people interested in competing that they were camping out up to four nights — some camped out five nights — to get a walk-on spot in some of the cities.”
Based on the Tokyo Broadcast System series “Sasuke,” the show pits hopefuls against a challenging obstacle course, starting with a qualifying round, with successful competitors moving on to each city’s finals.
The winners there earn a trip to Las Vegas and the chance to finish the massive final course — modeled after the Japanese one, called Mount Midoriyama — and win the $500,000 grand prize.
This season also features more female competitors and some unexpected occurrences.
“We’ve had some people take some spills,” says Iseman, who abandoned a career in medicine for show business. “There was actually one great story, where one of our competitors dislocated his shoulder on the course and went down. The paramedics were helping treat him.
“Now as a doctor, of course, I would have gone down there to help him, but I was up on the host stand. Fortunately, one of our other competitors was an emergency-room doctor.
“Before his run, he goes over and puts the shoulder back into place. Then he went out on the course and turned in one of the best performances we saw. So it made me very glad that not everyone has left medicine to move on to other pursuits, because we were fortunate to have a hero in the house.”
Fans — and the hosts — also get to know the competitors, whether it’s a domestic violence survivor who overcame a back injury or a Hurricane Sandy survivor who lost about 100 pounds to compete.
“It’s hard not to be touched by these people,” Iseman says, “and to root for them when they get on the course.”