It was no surprise that Kacy Catanzaro’s bid to conquer the American Ninja Warrior finals course was cut short when the ex-gymnast sensation took a plunge while attempting the formidable Jumping Spider on Stage One.
Even though Catanzaro became the first woman in history to conquer the six-season show’s Warped Wall in a preliminary round and then a semi-finals course, the outcome of Monday’s episode was predicted by die-hard fans. Because, well, just look at the above photo (her full run video below). At only 5 feet tall, even after successfully vaulting and planting her feet, she couldn’t even reach the walls, let alone climb higher – a forward tumble in the Las Vegas failure pool seemed inevitable.
Bloggers expressed displeasure: “The obstacle unfairly requires contestants to not be super tiny as Catanzaro most certainly is,” wrote The Big Lead. Another site wrote, “The obstacle is total bulls–t…for her.” While Jezebel noted, Catanzaro “does not have arms long enough to box with God — the one that made that ANW course, anyway.” Catanzaro said much the same thing upon elimination, that her arms weren’t long enough to reach the sides.
When reached for comment, NBC’s Ninja Warrior production team defended the fairness of the course, pointing out the 4-foot-wide Jumping Spider walls – assuming a contestant vaults deep enough into the obstacle – are the exact same width apart as the Spider Climb from the semi-finals course where the contestants simply ascend vertically (an obstacle Catanzaro has previously conquered in her stunning Dallas finals video). As you can see in the photo, Catanzaro landed on the curved outside edge. So therefore if she had jumped farther (which, again, is very tough given her size), she could have made it. Earlier in the season, Meagan Martin – who practically towers over Catanzaro at 5’4” – became the first woman to beat the Jumping Spider.
So what does this mean? The obstacle was actually not impossible for Catanzaro to clear, despite appearing that way to casual viewers on the show. Yet it was very, very, very difficult for somebody of her particular stature to clear. So here’s a question: Is it more fair to leave the obstacle unchanged next year? Or to tweak it to make it easier? It’s not unheard of for an obstacle in Ninja Warrior to be adjusted based on a person’s height – the Body Prop, a somewhat similar obstacle where contestants are horizontally navigate between two boards, is adjusted based on a contestant’s size.
This harkens back to an earlier interview where we talked to the Ninja Warrior producers about how women starting to conquer the course could potentially change the show. It’s a tricky issue as obstacles test different skills and some are inherently harder for certain body types while easier for others, and that’s part of the spirit of the course (there are obstacles where Catanzaro’s light frame actually gives her an advantage). Let’s turn this over to you in a poll: Should the American Ninja Warrior course be changed next year to make it easier for short-stature contestants like Catanzaro?