Why Leila McKinnon said yes to joining the new season of Ninja Warrior

• “It’s the antidote we could all use after the last few years.”

Australian Ninja Warrior is back for season six with a few new twists. This year the competition has opened up to athletes aged 16 and 17, and is introducing some new obstacles like the Power Pool, which replaces the Power Tower.

This year the show will return with a new presenting line-up. Four-time grand slam champion tennis legend Jim Courier will be taking a seat next to Nine’s Leila McKinnon for hosting duties. KIIS FM’s Will and Woody, will be in the splash zone as sideline commentators. 

Mediaweek spoke to Leila McKinnon ahead of the show’s return on Monday, June 27, at 7.30pm on Channel Nine and 9Now.

Getting involved with Ninja Warrior wasn’t in McKinnon’s plans for 2022, but she says that once the opportunity arose, she couldn’t pass it up.

It never would have occurred to me to put my hand up – they just came and asked me if I wanted to do it. Normally I do news and current affairs, maybe a bit of sport, so I didn’t even really think about it, although I do watch the show. When they asked I was shocked, and then straight away I thought that the kids would love it – after that, it was definitely a big yes.”

While the Ninja Warrior production wasn’t up against the worst of Australia’s Covid restrictions for the first time in a couple of years, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t hurdles to overcome. McKinnon says that having Jim Courier and Will and Woody – or “The Dream Team” as she calls them – by her side made her life far easier.  

“It was testing at times because they’re all night shoots – from seven at night until six o’clock in the morning sometimes – and also it was pouring rain. We’d have to stop and start and dry the course. You couldn’t have a better group of people, they took it on the chin really well

“As for Jim, you can see why he was a Grand Slam champion, he just did all the research. There were 150 ninjas to start with and he knew every single one of them, right down to what obstacles they fell on last time with them, and what the names of their family members were.”

ninja warrior

Jim Courier, Leila McKinnon, and Will and Woody

Even though the shoots ran into the night during a period of relentless rain for Sydney, McKinnon says that nothing could dampen people’s spirits.

“We had some really great crowds. The young kids take part this season, a lot of them brought their schools, so there was this really cool, young, excited energy involved.

“The whole ethos of Ninja is encouraging and supportive, and it was a real tonic – and I hope that comes across.”

The kids McKinnon mentions are the brand new group of competitors: the teens. Aged 16 and 17, a lot of them have grown up watching the show.

“They were not what I was expecting, because I thought would be a little bit overwhelmed by the set, the cameras, the obstacles, and the legends that they’ve watched since they were kids,” says McKinnon.” But they had swag, they had rockstar energy – some of them turned up with their own merchandise, they had their names on t-shirts! 

“They have their whole ninja vibe, they were really confident and ready to take on the world –  I think they surprised some of the legends!”

With the big names and legends of the Ninja Warrior course coming up against new blood, McKinnon says that a whole new dynamic was introduced.

“There’s a fun rivalry, but actually, it did translate on the course. There were a few upsets, and there were some incredible matchups between the young guns and the legends. It added a new dimension.”

Ninja Warrior is a truly global format, with local versions of the show being found in almost every corner of the world. For McKinnon, there are three main reasons for the show’s success.

“Part of it is that anybody can compete. It’s quite an even playing field, really – some of the obstacles will actually be easier for a 45-kilo gymnast or a light, female rock climber, and then some of them are easier for the big men. 

“It’s fun, it’s not about killing people for a medal. People enjoy the obstacles and the gimmicks. 

“The third thing is the element of chance, because anything can happen. Sometimes it’s absolutely devastating, and sometimes something happens that blows your mind and gets somebody to the top of the wall.”

As for whether or not she took to the course herself, McKinnon says that she couldn’t even if she had wanted to.

“When you see it on TV, yes it looks hard, but you don’t understand really. Those obstacles are suspended four metres above the water, and are so far apart that I wouldn’t have any chance! The strength that is required is impossible, I would not even have gotten over the first obstacle.”

However, some celebrities did take to the course, in the hopes of winning bragging rights and $10,000 for charity. 

You can tell how hard it is by how they tackle it, because they’re not like the ninja competitors,” says McKinnon. “They actually show that it’s not easy, although actually, they did quite well. They did much better than I thought they would.”

Ahead of the launch, McKinnon says that at the end of the day, it’s the joy of Ninja Warrior that she’s hoping people will be left with.

“What I have enjoyed about it is that after three years of lockdowns, worries, and being isolated from each other, it’s a real moment for this show to shine. It’s a community show all about fun, fitness, and supporting each other. It’s the antidote we could all use after the last few years.”

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