Reality Rundown: American Ninja Warrior, Real Housewives Of New York & Final Offer

As the weeks and days roll on towards summer, the more and more reality shows keep popping up as the regular scripted shows take their summer hiatuses. Today I’ll be talking about two fairly new shows and one that recently got a new network. Did I hook you? If so, read on. I defy you to find someone my age who doesn’t love at least the idea of American Ninja Warrior. If you’re unfamiliar with the show, contestants face a series of physical challenges on an obstacle course to get to the end. The series starts off with regional qualifiers and, so far, each episode seems to shine the spotlight on those locations. All of this earns the contestants the chance to go up against the king daddy of all obstacle courses Mount Midoriyama. The show used to be on G4 and started off as a Japanese competition before we co-opted it.

I first discovered the show when Spike did a marathon in one day of a whole season. That version found the regional winners going to a camp where they trained for the finale. I’m not sure if that’s going on this time or not, but we’ll see. I’m really glad the series is on NBC so I can watch it on a regular basis (and in HD when my TV’s working). I do have a few problems, though. First off, the very first episode was two hours long. That is just way too much of watching most dudes fall down and almost hurt themselves. It seems like they shortened them down to an hour after that, which is fantastic. The factor that still bothers me however many episodes in we are is that way too many people make it through. Obviously, getting to the very end of the course gets you in, but you can also get into it by getting further in a shorter amount of time than other people. That just seems like too much. Do we really need all those extra people? It’s not like we’re going to remember who these people are after six weeks of qualifiers. Ah well, I still like watching somewhat regular people doing amazing things.Longtime readers will remember that, in seasons past, I’ve written in great detail about The Real Housewives Of New York. I just don’t have it in me anymore, but I did want to say a few things about the fifth season opener which aired this week on Bravo. Man, this show makes you work to like it, doesn’t it? First off, the dismissal of cast members Kelly, Jill, Alex and the new one from last year who clearly didn’t know what she was getting herself into, was strange. I’ve seen a few transitions on these shows, but they usually flowed from an episode or a reunion or were at least explained in some way. Not the case here. Heck, Alex and Jill were OGs and now they’re just gone. I should note that I don’t actually like Jill or Kelly, and will not miss them, it’s just strange that they’re gone all of a sudden.

Which brings us to the new ladies. Ramona the lunatic, gross Sonja and haughty LuAnn are now joined by author and widow Carole, sunny business woman Heather and one-legged mom and wife Aviva. The three new women seem like a ray of sunshine and, at one point, are sitting around a table wondering about the batty broads they find themselves surrounded by. Unfortunately, it looks like they will fall prey to the bitchy beast that seems to come with being a Real Housewife for some reason as the season progresses if the “coming up this season” video is to be believed. I’d actually rather just watch these three mix with the deported Alex instead of the ones that did make the cut. I find LuAnn unbearable, Ramona completely out of her mind and Sonja just sad in every way imaginable. If literally anything else I was even remotely interested in was on at this time, I’ll be switching over to that.Another show that seems to want to make it difficult to like is Discovery’s new one called Final Offer. It’s basically a fancier Pawn Stars. People bring in their treasures to an overly swank and “cool” warehouse somewhere, show them to a quartet of people who will offer them money to purchase the thing and then the person has to decide who to sell to. BUT, they have to take the offer in the room, it’s not like you get to see all four and THEN make your decision. Set-up wise it’s pretty interesting, though I think I’m losing my patience for shows where people don’t understand that they’re selling their thing to people who are going to turn around and sell that thing, meaning they need to make a profit. Coming in and saying that this would sell on eBay for $5K and wanting that much is silly because 1) they’re not going to make any money if they give you $5K and then sell for that same amount and 2) if you think it’s worth that much, just sell it yourself!

The show is difficult because both the sellers and the buyers are hard to like. One guy bought a signed baseball five months ago and wants to flip it for way more money. He winds up succeeding, but he’s kind of annoying. A lady who looks like a more uptight mom from the Partridge Family and her serial killer son come in to sell this jewel-encrusted gold thing. They act all tough, spouting off prices in the millions and then sell for far less. Bullshit posturing is boring pretty much all the time, right? Maybe I’m crazy, but I like seeing interesting people getting a good deal for the things they have. I guess for that, I’ll have to go back and watch Antiques Roadshow reruns with my inlaws.

American Ninja Warrior’s Pretty Cool

Back when I was doing my weekly TV column for Maxim.com, I remember reading about a show called American Ninja Warrior. I did a little research and found out it was this obstacle course originally built in Japan for a show called Sasuke that only a couple of people had ever actually completed. American Ninja Warrior has an open call in Venice, California that anyone can try their hand at a version of the course. From there, the top 15 move on to a boot camp where they get to train while also competing in reality show-like competitions and then the final 10 get sent to Japan to compete. So far, no American has ever conquered the final stage of Sasuke called Mount Midoriyama. The show airs on G4, a network we don’t have, so after reading and writing about it, I forgot about the show altogether.

Then, yesterday, I caught several episodes thanks to a marathon on Syfy and I enjoyed the show, especially for it’s variety. The first section, where contestants go through a series of heats in Venice is like a more serious version of Wipeout. Then, the middle section of the season is more of a reality show competition in the vein of History Channel’s Top Shot (another show I had fun watching), then the final bit is a really intense version of the first part over in Japan. The only problem I had was that I can’t imagine watching ANW on a weekly basis, especially the first section. Seeing lots of people succeed or fail on the exact same course and then moving on to a similar but different course isn’t the most thrilling television in the world. It would be like if the first few episodes of American Idol only had people singing “Sweet Emotion” or something but without the judging. Some would do really well and others would suck, but after a while, you just want to see what happens next. It makes me understand why the Wipeout folks gloss over most of the first round.

The appeal of the show is two fold as it progresses: you want to see if anyone will be able to beat all four courses in Japan, but you also want to see all the crazy obstacles these guys have to attempt. For instance, the third stage in Japan required them to use regular looking doorknobs suspended several yards over a pool of water like monkey bars. Oh, the knobs also turned. And this was the second obstacle on the course. Pure insanity. The people that can do these things are amazing and should be hired into some kind of elite fighting force ala┬áS.H.I.E.L.D. or G.I. Joe. Maybe this is where Seal Team 6 got it’s members?

So, while I can’t imagine myself watching American Ninja Warrior week in and week out, I do look forward to the new season (which starts soon on G4) winding up on Syfy several months from now. I should also note for people who haven’t seen the show, ANW doesn’t actually contain any fighting, but tests contestants on their strength, speed, durability and stamina. Think of the training scenes from Kill Bill if they were being administered by whoever built those traps Batman always found himself in in the old comics.