From 8000 applicants to 200 contenders -that’s the job of Australian Ninja Warrior Producer Julie Ward.
Now in its third season the Nine reality contest is riding high in the ratings. Set against the backdrop of its new Melbourne home, it is yet to find its first champion. But there is plenty of drama and personal achievement along the way.
Casting begins with video applications in which athletes must show athleticism and personality. But only 600 -700 will proceed to a face to face audition.
“They look at their body shape, their height, weight, wing span, which puts together an ‘identitkit’ of ability,” says Ward.
“But we do what we do for every show which is trying to figure out who the characters are, and how can get Australian audiences to connect with them.
“It’s one of the most challenging things because a lot of people who do this sort of thing have a lot of things in common.
“It’s a combination of ability, diversity of character. Only someone who can actually do the course will get up there.”
Face to face casting takes place major cities, but where applicants live remotely they are asked to replicate fitness tests within strict timings. The final mix includes a range of athletes, diverse in size, gender, experience, technique and ethnicity. Many have a crowd=pleasing character nickname. All have their eye on the prize, Mt. Midoriyama and a $300,000 prize.
200 will proceed to filming of the Heats where they encounter the course for the first time.
“In terms of making a TV show we try and minimise how much they have to do in one day,” she continues.
“All they will do on the day in their hotel room is a master interview. Then they can do whatever they want in their own time. They all come on site by 5:30pm. From there they do a medical test and a course briefing. That’s the first time they are introduced to what the obstacles are.”
So just how much rehearsal and course information are Ninjas given before they tackle it? Not much according to Ward.
“They are given rules and some examples of how to tackle it. They see a course demonstration but they don’t go anywhere near it until they step up,” she explains.
“They have to be warm and ready to go. We shoot from 8:45pm until 2am so they have to keep themselves warm.”
18 from each heat will proceed to the Semi Finals.
Once filming begins there are strict backstage procedures to ensure fairness.
“They are able to watch only 3 ahead of them. And people who have run the course go to a different area, to keep it as fair as possible. We confiscate phones so they can’t ring each other!
“The course changes every night, so it’s in part unique. But there are some we repeat in the semis. We tell them ‘Don’t tell anybody what’s on!’ But they talk.”
Australian Ninja Warrior airs Sunday – Tuesday on Nine.