WIUM Tristates Public Radio

American Ninja Where?

Jun 11, 2021

Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila, hosts of NBC's American Ninja Warrior, play a game where they imagine what would happen if landmarks from American cities became American Ninja Warrior obstacles. Apologies to the National Park Service; that extra Liberty Bell crack will probably buff right out.

Heard on Sara Bareilles, American Ninja Warrior & Rugrats

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OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

Akbar Gbaja-Biamila and Matt Iseman host "American Ninja Warrior," the show where incredibly fit people run nearly impossible obstacle courses. It's now in its 13th season on NBC. Matt, Akbar, welcome to ASK ME ANOTHER.

MATT ISEMAN: Thank you.

AKBAR GBAJA-BIAMILA: Hey. Thanks for having us.

ISEMAN: We're so excited to play.

EISENBERG: Yes, we're excited...

JONATHAN COULTON, BYLINE: Yeah, happy to have you.

EISENBERG: ...You are here. So, Akbar, you were a pro football player. And a few years ago, you ran the "American Ninja Warrior" course for charity.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Thank you. It's...

EISENBERG: And it was a great run.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Thank you.

EISENBERG: Was it as hard as you expected?

GBAJA-BIAMILA: It was actually harder than I expected because, you know, first off, I didn't realize how nervous I was. Just stepping up on the stage, I had this increased tightness in the chest, and I couldn't get it out.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GBAJA-BIAMILA: In football, I have my teammates to kind of help out with that. And they're - (imitating cheering). They're...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: You know, they're doing all this stuff. And you're running into each other. You've got the fans. And then there are 11 of you on the field on one side of the ball, and so if I mess up or something like that, you may not be able to see it. On "Ninja Warrior," it's just you on the course. You're not paying attention to anything else. So that's a lot of pressure - cameras and everybody watching you. But I was able to...

EISENBERG: Your family (laughter).

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Your family. My kids had never seen me play professional sports, so I didn't want to be the dad that let my kids down.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Like, oh, Dad, I thought you were strong, and you couldn't do that?

(LAUGHTER)

GBAJA-BIAMILA: You know, I wouldn't have never been able to live that down. Then I thought, I can't be up here telling people, oh, you got to keep your Ls, and you've got to do this, and then I fall. Like, I'm not listening to you anymore.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Right. And just - you know, just so people - keeping the Ls is when you are doing, like, any kind of upper arm strength - monkey bars, I'm going to say.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Right.

EISENBERG: 'Cause, I mean, I'm learning. Keep your arms in an L shape to be able to sustain 'cause if you stretch them all the way out, you are just going to burn out your muscles, right?

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Yeah, you just burn out a lot quicker. That's exactly right. I see you. OK, OK.

(LAUGHTER)

GBAJA-BIAMILA: OK, ninja analyst.

COULTON: For what it's worth, Ophira keeps her Ls on every show that I've ever done with her.

EISENBERG: I really - I walk around like this. I'm mostly a push...

COULTON: Every single one of these recordings, she's always keeping her Ls like this.

ISEMAN: (Laughter) It's key in trivia we found, too, actually.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

ISEMAN: Just having your hand ready to hit a buzzer, it's a very good position for your arms.

EISENBERG: It's true. I'm ready to do high-fives as soon as we're all back.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: I'm ready to do high-fives. Matt, you have a really interesting backstory as someone who was a practicing doctor and then...

ISEMAN: Yes.

EISENBERG: ...Left to do stand-up comedy. By the way, good company - also, Ken Jeong, who you may know - yeah.

ISEMAN: I know very well. He hired me, when he was still working at Kaiser as a cardiologist, to come in and speak to his group with the condition - so we knew each other through stand-up...

EISENBERG: Wow.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ISEMAN: ...Because Ken was moonlighting as a comedian. But he's like, you can't tell anyone I do comedy. Meanwhile, cut to "The Hangover" when he appears, and you got to see all of Ken Jeong in that one. And I thought, I think the secret's out now, doc.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Fantastic. So, yeah, let's dive into some games. So this game, every answer is actually an American city that has hosted an "American Ninja Warrior" competition.

ISEMAN: Oh, boy. Ooh.

EISENBERG: OK?

GBAJA-BIAMILA: All right.

EISENBERG: So we're going to imagine what happened if there was a production hiccup and the obstacles didn't arrive on time so you had - they had to improvise using landmarks that already existed in that city.

ISEMAN: Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: It's going to be great.

ISEMAN: Oh, boy.

EISENBERG: Here we go. All right. Matt, this first one is for you.

ISEMAN: OK.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: Jessie Graff always nails the quintuple steps, but will she keep her "Eye Of The Tiger" on the prize as she scrambles up the "Rocky" steps? She's heading towards the buzzer. The Liberty Bell - oh, she hit it a little too hard, and it cracked. Not sure if she'll be penalized for that.

ISEMAN: Well, I know Pass and Stow would be disappointed that that bell is cracked.

(LAUGHTER)

ISEMAN: And I know my guy Rocky Balboa - you know, he's a southpaw.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Hey, hey, hey.

ISEMAN: He comes - his whole town - it's the city of brotherly love. It's Philadelphia.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: That's right.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Oh, boy. All right.

EISENBERG: Exactly. Exactly. And what a way to answer, I'm just going to say. Style points.

ISEMAN: By the way, the only reason I know Pass and Stow from the Liberty Bell was because of Nicolas Cage...

EISENBERG: Yep.

ISEMAN: ...In "National Treasure."

(LAUGHTER)

ISEMAN: That's where I get my trivia from - movies.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: OK (laughter).

EISENBERG: That's - whatever way you get it...

ISEMAN: Yeah.

EISENBERG: ...Ends up working for you.

COULTON: It works, yeah.

EISENBERG: Doesn't matter.

COULTON: Absolutely. All right, Akbar, here's one for you.

(CHEERING)

COULTON: Who needs the warped wall? Kacy Catanzaro just ran all the way up the Gateway Arch on her very first try. That's 630 feet.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Wow. Well, this is interesting 'cause I have no idea what you said.

COULTON: OK (laughter).

GBAJA-BIAMILA: But I will say the Greatest Show on Turf took place in this very city, I think.

COULTON: OK.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Is it St. Louis?

COULTON: It is St. Louis. That's right.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: All right. All right. OK. All right. OK. All right. All right.

EISENBERG: Yep.

COULTON: The famous Gateway Arch, gateway to the West.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: All right.

EISENBERG: I like that, though. You're like, I have no idea what you said, but here's the answer.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right, Matt.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: The Florida humidity won't stop Daniel Gil and Jesse "The Flex" Labreck from trading in the power tower for a 2.5-mile race around a NASCAR track with cars? Oh, no. Daniel got stuck in a crowd of MTV spring breakers and sustained an injury from an errant bottle of Corona.

(LAUGHTER)

ISEMAN: I remember that bottle of Corona. It was thrown by a fan of - I believe it was Dale Earnhardt Jr., 'cause it had to be Daytona.

EISENBERG: That is totally correct. Yes, Daytona.

(LAUGHTER)

ISEMAN: We got out on that track, and I nearly wet my pants because we had one of the NASCAR drivers taking us around about six inches from the wall at 190 miles an hour. And I thought, I'm going to stick to hosting.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Oh, man, you - so you got a ride in one of those cars.

ISEMAN: Oh, my goodness.

COULTON: I've always wanted to that.

ISEMAN: Yeah.

COULTON: Is it as scary as they say?

GBAJA-BIAMILA: It's very - yeah. Yeah, especially when they start messing around, getting this close to the wall. Like, come on, dog. Like, what are you doing? What are you doing? Like...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: And I went with someone who was just an amateur, like, you know, doing, like, the - I forget what the amateur courses are called. And his - you know, the inside of the car was even disconcerting because it's sort of pared down.

(LAUGHTER)

ISEMAN: Yes. Yes.

EISENBERG: Right? So you're just like, where's the stuff?

ISEMAN: Are there airbags in here?

COULTON: Yeah. Where's the radio?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yeah.

COULTON: All right, Akbar.

(CHEERING)

COULTON: We're in the shadow of the Alamo.

(SOUNDBITE OF WATER SPLASHING)

COULTON: And, oh, no, Isaac Caldiero's grip slipped, and he plunged into the River Walk - a shocking early exit for the rock climber and former champion.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Oh, boy. Whenever I think of the Alamo, I think of the general who used to give my team, the Los Angeles Lakers, fits. I'm going San Antonio here.

COULTON: Yeah, that is correct.

EISENBERG: (Laughter).

GBAJA-BIAMILA: River Walk.

EISENBERG: The River Walk.

COULTON: River Walk.

ISEMAN: Wait. Wasn't it the Admiral? Not the general.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Oh, the general's Shaquille O'Neal. The Admiral...

(LAUGHTER)

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Hey, that's...

ISEMAN: Well, The General is when he does insurance.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Yeah, yeah, yeah. That's good marketing because I think the - you're right, it is the Admiral.

EISENBERG: That's hilarious.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Yes.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: All right, Matt.

(CHEERING)

EISENBERG: The Phoenix, Najee Richardson's taking on our biggest course yet, 5.6 million square feet. He's already escaped Nickelodeon Universe and Rock of Ages Blacklight Minigolf. He ran past 500 retail stores, and now he's on level four at Rick Bronson's House of Comedy. He'll need to keep it to a tight five to qualify for city finals.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: Oh, my. Where is that?

ISEMAN: Well, thank God you threw in that last one because I've actually performed at Rick Bronson's House of Comedy.

EISENBERG: I was going to ask. I was going to ask.

COULTON: (Laughter).

ISEMAN: He's got a couple. It wasn't in Arizona. It was at a place that had - I counted - seven Orange Juliuses in it, the Mall of America in Minneapolis.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes. Yes. The Mall of America.

ISEMAN: That place - I spent a lot of time there. And, boy, did I get a lot of free samples, Ophira. They banned me from Cinnabon. They said, no more; you've taken too many samples.

(LAUGHTER)

GBAJA-BIAMILA: I am so glad he got that one because there's no way I would've known that one. I was going, what?

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: All right, Akbar, this is the last one. It's for you.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: OK. Oh, boy.

(CHEERING)

COULTON: It's the finals. And instead of Mount Midoriyama, we're on a tour of world landmarks. Joe "The Weatherman" Moravsky piloted a gondola down a Venetian canal, salmon-laddered up the Eiffel Tower and is making his way through every station at an all-you-can-eat buffet. Will he be the last ninja standing?

GBAJA-BIAMILA: I think I know this one. I've been around the world. I've done 40 countries in my life.

(LAUGHTER)

GBAJA-BIAMILA: There's only one place that I know. It is Las Vegas.

COULTON: (Laughter) It is Las Vegas.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: OK. All right. All right.

COULTON: That is correct.

GBAJA-BIAMILA: All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

ISEMAN: Viva Las Vegas, big man (ph).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EISENBERG: We'll play more games with Matt and Akbar after the break. Plus, we'll meet two voice actors from "Rugrats," including Bart Simpson herself, Nancy Cartwright. And will musician Sara Bareilles be brave enough to take on a "Golden Girls" trivia challenge? Probably yes. I'm Ophira Eisenberg, and this is ASK ME ANOTHER from NPR. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.