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The Ultimates

Monday, 21 May 2012

Titus Andronicus Forever - Titus Andronicus (mp3)
Hawthorne - Scout (mp3)

Last August, I wrote the following:
I was going to write about my love of Ninja Warrior marathons when I’m hung over from Brewfest, about how the Japanese culture glorifies strength not as some beefcakey statement, but as one part of many valued physical qualities including endurance and balance. I was going to say I love that game show because it’s a very Eastern notion of competition where all competitors are against the obstacle course rather than one another. Only in Japan could a game show end several seasons without a winner, with the winner being the obstacle course itself, because no one could manage to conquer it.
I spend a long weekend once every year totally immersed in Ninja Warrior (and Women of Ninja Warrior) on G4. I OD on it, and then I avoid it for as long as I possibly can. This past weekend, I OD'd on the next-closest thing I've seen to it: the Reebok CrossFit Games.

These shows are for people like me, who get our exercise by watching studly ripped exer-freaks brutally punish their bodies for minimal fiscal reward and TV exposure on a non-major network.

On Monday night, NBC debuted American Ninja Warrior. There has been an American version on G4 for a few years, but the purpose of those was to send America's best to Japan to compete with the original challenge.

This year's version is American-made, cradle to grave. And you know it from the get-go.

In the original Japanese version, the course is set up in four stages. Only a handful of the 40 starting competitors ever make it past Stage 1. On more than a few seasons, no one makes it past Stage 2. If you don't finish the stage, you don't move on. Simple as that.

I don't know how long a "season" of Ninja Warrior is. Neither do the Japanese. The players and the course determine a season's length.

Naturally, that shit won't fly in America. We gotta have a fixed length. We gotta have a predictable schedule.

Even more hilarious, in America, we grade on a curve, even in our damn game shows. We are such weak sauce.

In American Ninja Warrior, the top 15 advance to the next stage. No matter what. So long as the 15th dude beats the 16th dude in time and distance on the course, he advances. Seriously, is there anything more depressingly American than this?

But I will still watch. Because these competitors are studs.

The CrossFit Games can get away with this because they score their game like NASCAR. A series of heats everyone runs, with finish times earning a "place" and a prescribed number of points. Winner of the overall games is the person who accumulates the highest number of best finishes.

Watching these competitions only serves to remind me why I'm so tired of the more popular sports. The NFL looks to concuss, to play dirty, to 'roid up. College sports increasingly look to squeeze everything they can out of players -- er, "student-athletes" -- for a cheap tuition and for maximum profit. College basketball increasingly feels sleazy, perhaps because I never can get past John Calipari's oily hair and Don Corleone-esque aura. Every year I try and remember which season of The Sopranos he guest-starred. I'm sorely tired of the phrase "one and done."

In soccer it's excessive flopping. In the NBA it's excessive whining. In the NHL it's an excessively meaningless regular season.

CrossFit and Ninja Warrior competitors are conditioned in the most impressive, most adaptable, most valuable way possible. It's not about throwing an oblong ball or launching oneself into others with the pseudo-security of protective armor. It's about pure fitness, a careful combination of strength, balance, agility and guts.

What's the final monetary prize for these competitions? Get this: No one cares.

While Lebron and Mickelson and Aaron Rodgers rake in ungodly dollars, these true athletes are merely finding an entertaining outlet for what was already a lifestyle choice. Their bodies were chiseled, from day one, for deeper (arguably more frightening) reasons than fame or fortune.

When my conservative friends and family debate me on matters of economics, and they insist that someone has to have a chance to make shit-tons of money for the effort and mission to be worthwhile, I laugh at them. This fairy tale that people won't work hard unless they can be rewarded with power or money is patently untrue. It's the lie that rich people tell you to justify their multi-million-dollar bonuses.

Tell that to Julie Foucher*, who's a med student in Michigan and one helluva blogger. Tell that to Levi Meeuwenburg, who was happy just getting a free plane ride with room and board to Japan. Tell them they're in it for the millions. To their face. I dare you.

* -- Yes, it's true, I'm sort of in love. Even if she could crush bones in my body merely by looking at me.  And yes, I complimented her blog mostly because I'm just trying to kiss her granite-hard butt.

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