After a long drive, I arrived at the Tacoma Dome around 3pm, with a couple hours to kill. I had left with more than enough time, since I was worried about car breakdowns, or the ultimate Ninja Killer*, traffic.
I was one of the first people there, and I wasn't sure what I could and couldn't do, so I hung out in the parking lot where the lottery was supposed to happen, looking around to see if I could see anyone I knew. Ninja is a small world, and pretty soon one of the instructors from the little Ninja gym in Eugene rolled up, and I hung out with her for a while. Jackie, the Power Breaking ninja, was a pleasure to chat with. She got a call back this year from her application, and the owner of her gym was there already doing course testing.
Over the next hour more and more Ninjas rolled up, including many from Portland that I knew and trained with. We talked about what the show would be like being indoors, and how that might change things for us if we made it on. Some of the ninjas went into the Tacoma dome, and took pictures of the obstacles, and we poured over them trying to figure out how they would work.
Justin, one of the Ninjas who trains at Skyhook when he visits Portland from Eugene, spotted one of the producers walking our direction. Peter was a stylishly dressed guy in his mid forties, who was quick to laugh and complimented the assembled Ninjas muscles. We struck up a short conversation, he was just enjoying some sunshine and taking a break before he had to get back to work. When Peter heard I owned a Ninja gym, he jokingly told me something that would highlight a fact that would become indelible to me by the end of this weekend. American Ninja Warrior is first and foremost a TV show, it is NOT an athletic competition. Peter told me, "Oh it sucks that you own a gym. If you want to get on you should quit, find another job. We want to appeal to the people sitting in middle America eating fast food while they watch our show. They are going to think to themselves, oh, of course that guys in good shape and doing well on the course, he owns a gym, or he's a personal trainer. We want people who they can look at and see themselves, and think, yeah I could do that." I was slightly taken aback by this comment, but it really did make sense.
Peter followed it up with, "Well, if you don't quit, you could always donate an organ, but it would have to be a major organ. Or you could always adopt a kid, but they would have to have a lot of special needs, they couldn't be normal." The other Ninjas laughed, but I just thought of my girlfriend who was adopted from Korea when she was a child, and who works in the field of adoption now as an adult. I know Peter didn't mean it in a harsh or bad way, but the truth of the matter is that American Ninja Warrior is a TV show, and they want what makes good TV.
I got a call an hour before the lottery, Riley, one of the Skyhooks coaches, was about five minutes from the Tacoma Dome when his tire blew out. Coach Cody to the rescue!
More time passed, and I ended up hanging out with a group of Ninjas from Skyhook. We had maybe four of our coaches, their family, and even two dogs. The parking lot had gone from maybe ten or twenty people, to over two hundred. I had heard rumors that because American Ninja Warrior had broken the tradition of holding the Lottery on Friday, a bunch of people couldn't change their flights to Thursday and ended up missing the lottery. The idea that it could have been even more crowded was slightly mind-boggling to me.
Peter came back out, this time with film crew behind him, and started passing out lottery tickets.
After everyone got their tickets and filled out the TV releases, we were gathered together, and asked to cheer for the camera. Peter started slowly one at a time calling names, and giving them their walk on ticket. This was the moment of truth, after telling everyone I wasn't sure if I even wanted to compete, I found myself wishing very much that he would call my name and I would get to compete.
My name did not get called, but Riley's did, as number 3! Mohammed got number 13, and Justin one of our members got number 14! I was sad for myself, but elated for them. It wasn't an act when I picked Riley and Mohammed up hugging them and cheering when their names were announced.
I didn't make it on to the show, but I was already there, and had already arranged coverage, I wasn't going to leave until I had gotten to try some of the obstacles, so I signed up to be a course tester.
* A ninja killer is the moniker given to an obstacle that takes out a lot of ninjas in a competition.