Ninja Warrior Sweden pits some of Scandinavia’s finest athletes against the most brutal obstacle course in existence, turning an activity many of us did for fun at preschool into an enthralling and fierce competition. But though the international phenomenon that is Ninja Warrior represents the finest and most difficult obstacle course challenge on television, it is far from the first, with the following TV shows paving the way for the global sensation.
It’s a Knockout
Airing from 1985-87 and adapted from earlier versions in the UK and France, It’s a Knockout quickly became an Australian household favourite, popular for its enthusiastic hosts (Billy J Smith and Fiona MacDonald) and wacky games that had the genuine potential to cause serious injuries in the most hilarious fashion. Adding to the drama, contestants were often forced to navigate obstacles while wearing giant impractical costumes, helping ensure the real winners were the viewers, as well as the doctors paid to treat the inevitable wounds suffered in the name of entertainment.
Originating in Japan, Takeshi’s Castle was a cult international hit, with contestants seemingly requiring no athletic ability to take part and subsequently getting pummelled on a regular basis as a result. Charged with the task of making their way to a castle, players navigated a series of humiliating challenges and obstacles, often leaving them covered in mud, hit by balls fired from cannons and getting crushed by giant boulders or people dressed like monsters. Understandably, the show was a success, spawning multiple international variations.
Another globally popular and often dangerous gameshow resulting in multiple nasty injuries, Gladiators was the ultimate physical challenge, setting out to prove that highly trained professional athletes were stronger, and therefore better, than their ferocious adversaries, including accountants and stay-at-home parents. It all culminated in the infamous challenge ominously named The Eliminator. Although that final obstacle course was not as difficult as the one in Ninja Warrior Sweden, given Ninja Warrior contestants don't spend the preceding two hours getting beaten with foam sticks by people in their underpants, The Eliminator consistently provided a challenge worthy of only the finest competitors.
Though few of its contestants were finely tuned athletes (mostly due to the fact they were all primary school students), A*Mazing boasted one of the most memorable obstacle courses in Australian TV history. Filled with slides, tunnels and ingenious hiding places, contestants were tasked with retrieving letters and keys from an obstacle-laden maze while viewers did their best to remain calm as kids constantly overlooked the most obvious places. (Always look in the boot of the car, you idiots!) Hugely enjoyable thanks to the intricacy of the maze and almost total lack of educational value, the show remains a cult favourite, as well as being one of the few TV shows providing a prize to rival the ultimate glory awaiting winners on Ninja Warrior Sweden: a Game Boy.
And then there was...
Other notable television obstacle courses include Wipeout, classic Japanese show Viking and the notoriously difficult Unbeatable Banzuke, known for its exceedingly high level of difficulty, as seen above in the Hand Walk challenge.
Which brings us to Ninja Warrior Sweden
Though it may not be the traditional method in which ninjas were selected in ancient Japan, Ninja Warrior courses are fiendishly and genuinely tough, with several international franchises yet to yield a single successful competitor over the duration of multiple seasons. Hoping to buck this trend with the required combination of discipline, athleticism and skill, Sweden is out to prove it produces world-class ninja athletes and that a swede is not just a weird kind of turnip thing.
Ninja Warrior Sweden airs Sunday 27 August at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND. Watch the first episode at SBS On Demand: