While most of the world remains more static than ever due to the coronavirus-related quarantine, Jessie Graff’s action-packed schedule of 2020 television appearances continues next week.
The 2002 Urbana graduate will appear on Season 12 of NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” which debuts Monday with an All-Star Special that features Graff, a Hollywood stunt woman who has become synonymous with the obstacle course show as a ground-breaking female participant.
Fresh off her role on NBC’s “The Titan Games,” she returns to her wheelhouse. This will be her eighth season as a Ninja Warrior competitor — though the health pandemic caused a delay in production of the show and initially cast doubt over whether a season would take place this year.
This season will be abridged and much different than usual. It opens Monday with an All-Star Special that was actually filmed more than a year ago in Las Vegas after the Season 11 finale.
Among five other Ninjas, Graff takes part in an All-Star skills challenge on a partially deconstructed obstacle, The Double Dipper, in what is dubbed the Big Dipper Freestyle Challenge. She’ll go down a slide while hanging from a bar, then dismount, doing “the coolest, flashiest trick off the bar,” she said, before landing into a pool of water.
A promo video that can be seen online shows a snippet of her run.
Season 12, which was filmed in its entirety from July 16-27 at The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, will air starting Sept. 7, but it will last just eight episodes, which is about half a normal season.
Producers boiled down the series due to COVID limitations, altering many aspects of the typical format that ends with national finals in Vegas.
The first woman to reach the city finals (Season 5) and conquer Stage 1 at national finals (Season 8), Graff was among about 150 total competitors this year — a fraction of the usual number invited.
Instead of regional qualifiers in cities around the nation, there will simply be a qualifying round on a course of six obstacles. That will be followed by semifinal and final rounds on a 10-obstacle course and a playoff bracket that ends on the Power Tower, a structure introduced last year.
The grand prize is $100,000, as opposed to the $1 million reward, won just two times in the show’s history.
Graff called the whole thing “extremely unique.” She said the atmosphere was much different because there were no screaming fans in attendance. Plus, the many COVID-19 precautions that were implemented prevented all of the competitors from feeling like this season was status-quo.
Graff said she was tested for the coronavirus before leaving, just after arriving in Missouri and then after every round in which she competed. She said there were around 50 people on set during tapings.
“We were only all to take our masks off when we were on camera, and it was a put-it-in-your-back-pocket kind of thing,” she said.
Middletown’s Tristan Poffenbarger, who made his Ninja Warrior debut last season in the Baltimore qualifier, did not participate in this season of the show. He said he is recuperating from a broken leg, and he hopes to rejoin the show next season.