Tonight, we meet the American Ninja Warriors of Atlanta, a city for which I have rather warm feelings, since I once ate a delicious soup in a bread bowl while delayed in its airport. You know who almost certainly does not eat soup in a bread bowl? American Ninja Warriors.
The Ninjas will kick off the evening's course with a run on the notorious Floating Steps, followed by a classic American Ninja rope swing. That will lead directly into the Big Dipper, where you hold onto a metal bar while sliding down a metal track. It is just like being on a roller coaster, except that you are the roller coaster! It is poetic, in a way. If you live through that, you get to move onto the all-new Block Run, where you run across a five swiftly tilting cubes without falling in the water. From there, it's onto the Spin Cycle, which is exactly what it was last week, and then it's time for the brand-new and extra-impossible Pipefitter, which requires that you climb up and across a series of four sinister cylinders. As always, the course ends with the taller-than-ever Warped Wall, which is a wall that is warped.
The first Ninja to tackle the course is young Danny Gallagher, an app developer who dresses up as superheroes in his spare time to visit sick kids at the hospital. He stumbles dramatically on the final Floating Step, but then Akbar Gbaja-Biamila screams, "GET UP, GET UP DANNY!" and newly inspired, he does! He fumbles on the rope, but he emerges victorious! He nearly dislocates his hulking shoulder on the Big Dipper, but survives! He bumbles the block run, but emerges triumphant, sort of! He is sloppy on the Spin Cycle, but he makes it! "He is making it exciting!" Matt Iseman chuckles from the safety of the ground. But alas, the Pipefitter is just a little bit too exciting for our Danny, and he plummets into the water to be disemboweled by a school of ravenous piranhas.
Michelle Velez is an American Ninja Tire Company Manager and single mom who is here to prove that single moms can be successful tire managers and ninjas, too. Michelle is a former collegiate pole vaulter, which is pretty much the best training there is for Ninja-hood, but she is felled by the Big Dipper, and straight into the water she goes. Her grip was the problem, Matt says. In this one instance, I relate. I frequently have trouble with my grip, but like, in an emotional way.
The next competitor is a bald woodsman named "Bootie Cothran." He is a "church media coordinator." He lives in a town called "Possum Kingdom." He is 110 pounds. He scratches his back "with a machete." There is nothing not perfect about Bootie Cothran; he is a living Flannery O'Connor short story. Bootie has an illustrious start, sailing through the first four challenges like a flying squirrel, but runs into trouble in the middle of the Pipefitter, and so it is the end of The Ballad of Bootie Cothran. Kristine Leahy says we will keep our fingers crossed for him.
And then some more people! (They don't make it.)
Realtor Ralph Cordero, known to his friends as "the Colossal Ninja," is here to "give some hope to the people out there that aren't rock-solid bodybuilders." Oh, I like this project! Tell me more, Ralph Cordero. Unfortunately for the Colossal Ninja, he flies off the Big Dipper and big dips into the water. Steven Brickhouse, a kindly Southwest Airlines baggage handler who gets his motivation from his tragically paralyzed father, fairs slightly better, but he slips up on the Block Run and falls into the chlorinated depths below. And though we all had high hopes for "little dynamo" and Team Ninja Warrior alum Erica Cook, she, too, is defeated, this time by the Spin Cycle. It is not clear to me how any five-foot-tall person could best the Spin Cycle, but Akbar says the problem was angles. Whatever. Erica Cook will always be the little dynamo of my heart.
Walk-on competitor and engineering student Casey Suchocki waited three weeks in line for a shot to prove his American Ninja chops, which makes me worry that he is not taking his studies all that seriously. I hope he got extensions on his exams. He and his adoring 85-year-old welder grandpa built a full obstacle course together, and it pays off tonight, because his performance is truly staggering. Another staggering thing: the squareness of his jaw. He is the first Ninja of the night to buzz the buzzer of victory.
During the commercial break, a bunch more people fell into the water. What were their hopes, I wonder? What were their dreams? That we will never know. They will be missed.
Rodolfo Burgos is a dad and a dentist who competes in his dental uniform. I admit, I was skeptical of Rodolfo Burgos, as is my general policy with dentists, but it turns out he is one of two dentists in all of West Palm Beach who takes care of patients with special needs, so I have decided to support him. Rodolfo is "long, lean, and strong" at six-foot-two and 180 pounds — a fact that Matt Iseman has repeated at least three times — but alas, my beloved dentist is not immune to tragedy. Despite his length and his leanness, he hits a metaphoric wall, in the form of a literal wall.
Even more people! Do we care? We do not. Let's move on.
Mike Chick is a defense attorney who handles stress by "getting silly." He has saved every client he has represented that faced the death penalty and he is a paragon of athleticism! The man does it all! He rotates through Spin Cycle, powers across the Pipefitter, and scales the Warped Wall, with energy left over to heroically dip his wife. "The verdict comes down in favor of Mike Chick!" winks Matt Iseman, who is finally hitting his stride tonight.
Poor Ronald Washington! My favorite Miami Fish & Wildlife officer is looking good in his "dynamite" sweatpants, fearlessly sailing through the first few obstacles, but he flounders on the Spin Cycle. His feet brush the water on the dismount, and so it is the end for Ronald Washington, who must surrender his sexy sweatpants and return to a life of alligators. Gentle giant Spencer Wyckoff is up next, and the six-foot-seven web developer arrives with his sister, who has muscular dystrophy. "I'm going to do it for her," Spencer says. "He is so tall," Akbar adds. His height indeed serves him well, but he exhausts his upper body climbing the first leg of the Pipefitter, and has none left to swing his way across. Splash.
Good news! Neil "Crazy" Craver and his gold lamé shorts are back and better than ever. He slides up and down the Pipefitter, showing Spencer Wyckoff how it's done. Crazy Craver is triumphant, as expected. Atop the Warped Wall, he and his gold lamé shorts gyrate wildly in celebration.
Speaking of gold, Mack Roesch wears a crown because he is "the king of obstacles," and also a somewhat literal thinker. He has been trying to get on this show for four years, and finally, he is "coming for the Ninja crown." What will he do with the crown he is already wearing, I wonder? While old Mack is not humble, he is as strong as he says, and he royally dominates the course. His father, pro wrestler MacDuff Roesch, has never been more proud. Or more terrifying.
More victories! Brothers Lucas and Alexio Gomes make it! Baseball-playing software engineer JoJo Bynum makes it! Josh Phillips, a former workaholic who almost alienated his family but then turned his life around and became a Ninja, does not make it — but oh, he was so close!
People think model Brittany Reid is "just a nice face to look at," but little do they know, she is also an insurance agent. "It's not about talk, it's about walk," she explains. But while she is a demon of speed and a beast of strength, Brittany gets stuck on the Pipefitter, and collapses into the pool of fallen warrior tears.
Brittany is followed by Kenneth Niemitalo, whose adorable infant daughter Hazel has congenital nephrotic syndrome and desperately needs a kidney transplant. Kenneth almost didn't compete, but his wife insisted, and now he is zipping through the course with grace and strength honed by 11 months of workouts in the hospital. And he does it! The buzzer of triumph doth buzz.
Who is that scaling a silo in the distance? Why, it's "country strong" dairy farmer Caleb Watson, who has trained for this moment by climbing towers, milking cows, and swinging from barn rafters. "I'm telling you, dairy farming is set-up for this Ninja Warrior course," he drawls. And it is, is the thing. Caleb beats the course in record time. "I've been training ever since I was knee-high to a grasshopper," Caleb tells Kristine Leahy. "I'm going to go find some cows," Kristine says, excusing herself in terms he'll understand.
Alas, it is a rough night for returning fan favorite J.J. Woods. Despite high expectations, he crashes on the Big Dipper. "A lot of people didn't expect it to happen to me, but in reality, it can happen to anyone," says J.J., sadly. Oh J.J., you know what always cheers me up? Soup in a bread bowl.
Finally, zany ninja roommates Drew Drechsel and James "The Beast" McGrath are back and kookier than ever! The Beast goes first and crushes the course like the animal he was born to be. But if James had a good run, Drew "The Real Ninja" Drechsel has an even better one, clocking in with the fastest time of the night by more than 10 seconds. It's a big night for the Drechsel-McGrath household!
Next week: Indianapolis! How is everyone feeling about everything? What is your favorite airport soup experience?