Ninja Warrior has swept the world, with Swedish competitors now fiercely testing their rope climbing, trampolining and other things ninjas apparently do in Ninja Warrior Sweden. With versions airing in more than 150 countries and millions consistently tuning in to watch, the show’s undeniable popularity begs the question: why?
Comprising a course of increasingly difficult obstacles you might otherwise find on a children’s playground, the simplistic premise of the show might be dismissed by some, but that simplicity is arguably one of its most appealing aspects. Though the subtle athletic difficulties of certain obstacles may not be fully appreciated by viewers, success and failure are clear and swift, making the show immediately accessible and absorbing regardless of a viewer’s background or knowledge.
As such, the show translates to a broad community exceptionally quickly. The recent success of the Australian version confirmed an incredibly wide-ranging demographic of fans, representing an even split between genders, backgrounds and age levels. Indeed, it's a program that is genuinely appealing and appropriate for the whole family.
Contributing to this broad appeal is the equality the show presents, with contestants running the exact same course regardless of size, shape, gender or age without fear or favour. In the case of Ninja Warrior Sweden, contestants include garbage collectors, gymnasts, stockbrokers, parkour experts, CEOs, stunt people and students, all competing on an even playing field in a rare example of an athletic competition being truly open.
Despite contestants typically being athletically driven and fitter than the norm, the broad diversity of backgrounds gives viewers the sense that these are otherwise regular people, making them easily relatable. The deceptively simple nature of the obstacles adds to this aspect of the show, as fans no doubt enjoy imagining how they would fare on the course.
As well as being a draw for fans, the accessibility of the show’s concept is also seemingly one of the drawcards for competitors, the vast majority of whom are not professional athletes, with some returning year after year and becoming genuinely lauded and respected celebrities in their home countries. Fans of the original Japanese show, Sasuke, will be familiar with petrol station attendant and recurrent contestant Yamamoto, as well as the bittersweet tale of Yamada, also known as "Mr Ninja Warrior", who became so devoted to his ninja warrior training that it is said to have alienated him from his family.
In the US, standing 150cm tall and weighing 45 kilograms, former gymnast Kacy Catanzaro became a household name after being the first female competitor to qualify for the US finals, as well as the first woman to conquer Ninja Warrior’s infamous Warped Wall. Having inspired a legion of fans, she has now turned her popularity and skills into a career, purportedly recently signing a contract with WWE wrestling.
Such fandom and connection with competitors is not a coincidence, with producers careful to select contestants based not just on athletic ability but also personality, ensuring a good mix of athletic prowess, engrossing personal stories and characters who will appeal to the audience.
Most of all, the show succeeds because it’s entertaining! Whether it’s observing or participating, people love a challenge, and Ninja Warrior is one that seems so attainable but which consistently falls agonisingly out of contestants’ reach, becoming addictive for fans and competitors alike.
With stories of triumph, redemption, failure and drama, Ninja Warrior is a show in which anyone with the will and drive can find success. With only a handful of contestants having completed the entire course anywhere around the world, it’s Sweden’s turn to see if anyone has what it takes to conquer the beast and confirm why a TV game show is still the best way to prove you have what it takes to be a true ninja.
Watch Ninja Warrior Sweden on Sundays at 8:30pm on SBS VICELAND and streaming anytime via SBS On Demand: