Middle Age Miles loves American Ninja Warrior (ANW). I believe that we’ve seen every single episode of the show from Season 4 (the first season that aired on NBC) through the current Season 11. It’s a competition reality show – man and woman versus impossible-looking obstacle course – with compelling back-stories, incredible athletes, and a feel-good positive vibe. It’s been wonderfully hosted for the past few seasons by Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila, who form a remarkably compatible on-air duo (both on-set and during their scripted voice-overs) and truly lean-in to the show’s athletic drama, stories and competitors to create a fun-to-watch, compelling show.
During each season of ANW, competitors work their way through one of six city qualifying heats, then city finals, in an attempt to reach the season’s finals. For each of the past several years, the finals (culminating in Mount Midoriyama, in ANW-speak) have been taped in Las Vegas. One of the huge milestones for each ninja is to reach the “Vegas Finals.”
Philly and I have often thought about attending an ANW taping, particularly the Vegas Finals. This year, it turned out that we had unknowingly made tentative plans to go to Las Vegas during the Vegas Finals. Discovering that the ANW Vegas Finals would be happening during our tentative dates made us lock in our plans, and we set out to figure out how we could attend.
Tonight, the first episode of the four-part ANW Vegas Finals airs on NBC (8:00 pm Eastern & Pacific / 7:00 pm Central). [Unfortunately, you won’t see us on tonight’s show. We attended part of Stage 2 of the Finals, which we believe will air in 2 weeks, on September 9.] This seemed like a perfect time for an article on how we attended the Vegas Finals of ANW in person (which hopefully will still apply next year!), along with some observations on what to expect and tips on how to prepare once you’re there.
How to Attend the ANW Vegas Finals in Person
Let’s walk through the basics in question-and-answer format:
When are the ANW Vegas Finals? For the past several years, the ANW Vegas Finals have been taped in mid-June. In 2019, the dates of the Finals tapings were Tuesday, June 18 and Wednesday, June 19.
What other ANW events were also filmed in Vegas during this time, and when? You may recall that ANW also has a “US Against the World” team competition and a Super Skills Competition (which also includes another team competition; the 2019-filmed version presumably will be Team Matt vs Team Akbar vs Team Zuri). These shows typically air many months after the Vegas Finals have aired. In fact, the Super Skills Competition and Team Matt vs Team Akbar vs Team Christine competition that was filmed way back in June 2018 didn’t air until May 2019, as a lead-in to the new Season 11. In any event, this year the team competitions were filmed on Thursday, June 20 and Friday, June 21. The Super Skills Competitions were filmed on Sunday, June 23.
Where can you find more details about the ANW filmings and get tickets? You don’t actually get a ticket for ANW filmings; rather, you get a line pass. A group called On-Camera Audiences distributes the line passes. You can find more details and reserve your line pass at the On-Camera Audiences dedicated web page for ANW:
- On-Camera Audiences: Web Page for American Ninja Warrior Line Passes
This web page is the place to go for the preliminary “city qualifier” and “city finals” tapings as well as the Vegas Finals. On-Camera Audiences says that line passes for ANW sessions typically become available online about 1 week prior to taping. The taping schedule for 2020 has not yet been released. Likewise, the cities where preliminary rounds will be held has not yet been announced. On-Camera Audiences currently estimates that line passes for Season 12 should become available in March 2020. You’ll want to keep a very close eye on this, as passes can go very quickly once they become available on the website. You’ll also want to enroll with On-Camera Audiences to receive email notifications, which you can do at the web page linked above.
Note that the On-Camera Audiences website says that the minimum age for entry is 10.
What does it cost to get a ticket (line pass) to the ANW Vegas Finals? Nothing – it’s free!!! How about that?
Am I guaranteed entry if I receive a line pass? No. On-Camera Audiences is clear that they distribute more line passes than the number of people who can be admitted, and thus, entry is not guaranteed. That said, on the nights that we attended, no one holding a line pass was turned away (although some people may have had to wait in line for a long time, especially on the night of Wednesday, June 19, when Stages 2 and beyond were being filmed).
What was the timeline for getting ANW Vegas Finals line passes in 2019? This year, the Vegas Finals line passes opened for reservations on June 7 – 11 days before the first filming night. Passes for all of the 2019 Vegas tapings became available on that same date. We reserved our line passes within minutes after we received the email notification that line passes were now available. We received our line passes by email within a few minutes after making our reservations.
Where exactly does the ANW Vegas Finals taping take place? The course is set up on a vacant lot that’s west of McCarran Airport, south of the Tropicana, and east of The Strip and Mandalay Bay. More specifically, the area where the course was set up was bounded by McCarran on the east, E Ali Baba Lane on the north, Giles Road on the west, and E Mandalay Bay Road on the south.
The entrance to the set was on the southeast corner of the grounds, basically at the intersection of E Mandalay Bay Road and Haven Street. The line for those waiting to get in stretched back along E Mandalay Bay Road.
If you’re taking an Uber, a good address for drop-off is 5333 Bethel Road, which is along E Mandalay Bay Road near the Oasis Apartment complex (basically, the corner of E Mandalay Bay Rd and Bethel Rd). If all this sounds confusing, it’s because it is.
If you’re driving, there’s also a dirt parking lot in this same area around the Oasis Apartments/E Mandalay Bay Rd/Bethel Rd/Haven St. But unless you’re local and familiar with the area, you’re probably better off with an Uber (or taxi).
What times are the tapings? Each night during the 2019 ANW Vegas Finals tapings, the first entry time was at 7:30 pm, and there were subsequent entry times at 10:30 pm, 12:00 am, and 2:00 am. Actual taping starts somewhat later than 7:30 pm, though (it was nearly dark before they started taping), and there are no breaks in the action that correspond to the different entry times on the line passes.
What Did We Attend, and Will We Be on TV?
Philly and I attended part of the taping of the Season 11 Vegas Finals on the night of Wednesday, June 19, and part of the taping of the Super Skills Competition on Sunday, June 23.
On Wed 6/19, we had a 10:30 pm line pass. We finally got in to the course around midnight, and we saw about 15 ninjas run the Stage 2 finals course – basically, the top 15 ninjas who had completed the Stage 1 course the fastest. We left the grounds around 2:15 am.
On Sun 6/23, we had a 7:30 pm line pass, and we saw the first 2 events of the Super Skills Competition. We left at midnight.
We’ll definitely be on TV. We stood along the front rail during the last half of the Stage 2 filming and should be visible when the last 15 or so ninjas run. We believe that this episode will air in two weeks, on Monday, September 9.
At the Super Skills Competition, we should get a lot of air time. We were along the front rail, right in the thick of the camera shot where the ninjas were landing during the competition that I believe they called “Twist and Fly.”
We’re not saying any more about what we saw for now, because we signed a confidentiality agreement each night before we entered the set!
Other Observations and Tips for Attending the ANW Vegas Finals
(1) For starters, the Finals are in Las Vegas in June. Even though the taping is at night, it’s going to be very warm. Be prepared. You’re allowed to bring water and small snacks onto the set – definitely bring water with you! And dress comfortably for the weather.
(2) As we mentioned earlier, there is lots of waiting around. It may take a long time for you to get through the entry line. (On Wednesday, we waited about an hour; on Sunday, only a few minutes.) Once you get through the initial entry point, you may have to wait again. (Again, on Wed, we waited another 30-40 minutes; on Sunday, not at all.) And there may be extended breaks in the competition even once you’re into the main course area. (On Wednesday, there was a break of about an hour almost right after we gained entry to the main course area; on Sunday, we had to wait for a while for the competition to start, and then we had another wait of 40 minutes or so between the 2 competitions we watched.)
(3) Once you’re in, there is no required exit or forced crowd turnover. From the looks of the On-Camera Audiences ANW web page, we thought there would be 4 distinct segments of taping. That’s not at all how it worked. Even though there were 4 entry times, once you were inside, the taping just happened whenever it happened. If you wanted, you could enter at 7:30 pm and stay all night long.
(4) If you want to see it all, be prepared to stay very late – maybe even until dawn! (I can’t say more for now, for fear of spoiling!)
(5) There are bleachers along the course, so you may have a seat. If so, it will be a metal bench with no back. You can also stand along the course behind a rail. That’s what we chose. In any event, you need to be prepared to be on your feet for hours. Wear your most comfy standing/walking shoes.
(6) There is a merchandise tent on-site. It’s not too large, but it has a bit of a selection of ANW gear. The merchandise tent also had a few snacks, but I wouldn’t count on this for food. Philly and I each came home with some new ANW clothing.
(7) Before you enter the course grounds, you’ll have to sign a release and confidentiality agreement. You’ll also have to go through a metal detector.
(8) The instructions on our line pass said that we should not wear white, and we should not wear any clothing with a logo on it. In practice, this wasn’t really enforced. We never saw anyone refused entry or asked to change clothes. And we’ve noticed during the episodes of Season 11 that have already aired that shirts with prominent logos have been blurred out. That said, it’s still a good idea to not wear white or anything with a prominent logo at all.
(9) It’s important to understand that ANW is not set up as a spectator sport. Rather, it’s a live set for filming a TV show. It’s not like a football or baseball game, where the purpose is to entertain you, the in-arena fan. It is entirely a TV show. Once you understand that, a lot of other things you experience will make more sense.
(10) When you’re there, you’re on a live set, and you are working as a member of the “studio” audience. Follow the instructions from the producers. Make noise and be animated when they tell you to do so. (When we were watching the “Twist & Fly” Super Skills Competition, we were squarely in the TV shot. Before the competition started, one of the producers came over to the area and told us – very nicely but also in no uncertain terms – that we needed to recognize that we were on camera and needed to act especially engaged and animated, or else he’d have to pull us out and replace us. (We’re proud to report – We did fine and didn’t get pulled!)
(11) During the Vegas Finals, there is no commentary while the ninjas are running, and there are no announcements about which ninja is about to take the course. There’s also no program with the order of competition, not even a start list like at a track meet. If you’re near the front of the course, you might be able to see the ninja’s name displayed on the screen behind the start line. Other than that, to know who’s running you’ll have to identify the ninjas (or their friends on the sidelines) by sight, or overhear someone who knows. We are big enough fans that we were able to keep up pretty well, but it would have been tough for those who don’t watch as often.
(12) Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbajabiamila are atop their stand commenting while the ninjas run the Finals course, but you can’t hear them. As we mentioned, their commentary is not broadcast to the on-site spectators. (During part of the Super Skills Competition, we were close enough to Matt and Akbar that we could hear part of what they were saying, just by voice.)
(13) There were a precious few monitors set up where you could watch what was going on if you couldn’t see it directly. During Stage 2 of the Finals, we could see one of the monitors from a distance, which helped a bit. But there certainly wasn’t a Jumbo Tron!
(14) You can take photos of the set in general, but you can’t take any photos of the ninjas or the competitions. (If a ninja isn’t competing and you see them walking around the general area, it’s fine to ask them politely to take a photo with you, though. The ones we saw were all pleasant and accommodating.)
(15) Along those lines, we’d say that all of the ninjas and other people we encountered were friendly and nice. We didn’t see any non-competing ninja turn down a request for a photo or refuse to speak with anyone who wanted to talk with them. Along these lines, we’d specifically like to mention Akbar Gbajabiamila and ninja star Flip Rodriguez. We had nice conversations with both of these guys. Akbar is a hoot – Philly asked him about his time as a contestant on the one-season Mark Burnett reality competition show Expedition Impossible. Akbar was delighted to regale us with stories from the show and could have talked about it for hours, it seemed. Flip Rodriguez seems like a terrific guy, and he couldn’t have been more pleasant during our brief chat with him. We’ll be big fans of both of these guys forever.
(16) And finally, the ninjas are incredible athletes. The things they can do boggle my mind. Many of the tasks seem physically impossible, and they make it look easy. Every season NBC makes the obstacles tougher, yet the ninjas don’t back down from any challenge. We promise that you’ll enjoy watching them up close and in person, at least as much as you enjoy it on TV.
Will any ninja make it to the top of Mount Midoriyama this year? Tune in to NBC for the next 4 Monday nights to see! And remember, you can see it all in-person for yourself next year and have a great time if you follow our tips!
Do you love ANW as much as we do? Do you think anyone will conquer Mount Midoriyama this season? Have you attended the Vegas Finals or a city taping of ANW? What did you think? Do you have any additions to our list of tips? Please let us know in the Comments!
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