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There could be a ‘Warrior’ winner … finally


It sounds like the most frustrating job in television, aside from whoever’s in charge of conducting all those negative paternity tests on “Maury.”

Matt Iseman is in his fifth season of providing commentary for a competition that’s yet to crown a winner.

But now that “American Ninja Warrior” (9 p.m. Mondays, KSNV-TV, Channel 3) is once again moving into its final round, taped in Las Vegas in June, he thinks this finally may be the year.

“Given the caliber of talent we’ve seen in our qualifying and the training that these guys have been doing, I think someone’s going to do it.”

Seven valley residents are hoping to be that someone.

Las Vegans Dustin Rocho, Vadym Kuvakin, Ryan Schneider, Jeremy Hall and Brooke Mahaffey, along with Christopher Baden and Rashad Richardson of Henderson, are looking to be the first to complete the show’s punishing four-stage obstacle course known as Mount Midoriyama.

During the first five “American Ninja Warrior” seasons, no contestant finished stage three. And of the 3,000 attempts to conquer the four-stage course on “Sasuke,” the Japanese sensation on which the competition is modeled, only four were successful, and two of those were by the same man.

Given those long odds, it’s easy to picture Iseman resembling Bob Uecker in “Major League,” up in the broadcast booth next to co-host Akbar Gbaja Biamila, getting hammered and slowly losing his mind as the competitors — gymnasts, rock climbers and practitioners of any other specialty that requires extreme agility — eventually slip, slide and stumble off the course and out of the running.

Iseman, though, displays nothing but excitement about his job.

“It’s not frustrating to me, because I totally appreciate it,” he says inside his trailer, taking a respite from the dust and wind that have turned the vacant lot across Las Vegas Boulevard from Luxor into a decent approximation of Tattooine. “In a way, it maintains the sanctity of the achievement. We don’t dumb it down. It’s not whoever gets the farthest gets the title. You have to complete all four stages.”

He wasn’t always so certain of the show’s appeal.

“I will admit, I didn’t know if American audiences would understand it or accept it. ‘Well, who’s the winner?’ ‘No one.’ ‘I just watched 10 episodes of this and you didn’t crown a winner?!?!’ ”

But accept it they have. Ratings have steadily increased, with the most recent new episode up 11 percent from last year.

Iseman attributes the show’s success to the competitors and the emotional connection viewers make with them.

“There are people this season who are watching on their couch, out of shape, feeling like pieces of crap, who are going to see this show and be motivated, start working out, and they’ll be on the course next year,” he says. “We have it every year. We had a guy who lost 80 pounds in a year to come out to this competition.”

Iseman cheers on each contestant and insists it would be great for “American Ninja Warrior” to finally crown a winner. Although he admits he’s concerned viewers may tune out once they finally see someone achieve total victory.

Regardless, he plans on being ready with the call when that perfect run eventually happens.

“I thought about ‘Do you believe in miracles,’ but Al Michaels took that,” he jokes about what he’ll say to accompany the scene.

“I do have a sense for hyperbole and some overblown poetic phrases, so I’ll try to build up a moment,” he says. “But (my calls) usually end up being, ‘Wow! What a run!’ ”

Magic men: The magic competition “Wizard Wars” (10 p.m. Tuesday, Syfy) features a slew of Las Vegans. Rick Lax created it, Penn &Teller serve as judges, and Justin Flom and Shimshi are among the show’s wizards. For more on the series, see Mike Weatherford’s Sunday column.

■ Special screening: See “Grease” under the stars, surrounded by classic cars from the Greasers Social Club of Nevada, at sundown Friday in Huntridge Circle Park, 1251 S. Maryland Parkway. Admission is free.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.