American Ninja Warrior season 14’s first Las Vegas Finals night had some spectacular falls and fails, including by some of the 69 finalists who were expected do go far.
Season 13 runner-up Austin Gray was one of those. “A lot of people think this is Austin’s year,” Akbar said moments before Austin failed on Tether Ball, which was new and proved to be very challenging. (He dismounted and his foot hit the water.)
TikToker Bob Reese declared he’d do a front flip into the jumping spider—which took out several competitors who’d just tried to jump into it—and while he landed it, he was unable to hold on and fell into the water.
Before Jay “Lache” Lewis’s successful stage-one run, however, we learned that one finalist wouldn’t even get a chance to take on stage one: Joe Moravsky.
Joe Moravsky, whose nickname is The Weatherman because he was a weatherman, appeared via video. Matt Iseman said, “Jay’s training partner Joe Moravsky is watching but from Connecticut. Joe is unfortunately not going to be here for the national finals, due to do health and safety protocols—had to withdraw.”
But that’s not exactly the full story of what happened.
“Joe, I know it’s gotta be disappointing,” Matt Iseman told Joe, who replied, “Yeah, it’s really, really heartbreaking, and I as much as I want to be there, I’m going to do my best to be there for Jay.” He was, and Jay advanced to round two.
On social media, though, Joe’s tone was a little different. “Today’s the day I have been dreading for two months,” he said in the first of two Instagram videos.
“We filmed the first night of Vegas finals in two parts because there was a course malfunction,” Joe said. “I’m on set, was all ready to go, they’re like, You know what, we’re gonna take about 40 of you and we’re going to run you tomorrow night, and then we’ll go right into stage two.”
A Las Vegas finals obstacle malfunction
Let’s stop there for a moment. What exactly happened?
I asked NBC for more information, and a spokesperson told me that “one of the obstacles wasn’t working properly and needed to be adjusted.”
After that fix was made, the production “had to run-run some of the competitors once it was resolved.”
Anthony Storm, executive producer of American Ninja Warrior for A. Smith & Co. Productions, sent me this even-more-detailed response:
“When filming the first night of finals, we noticed that one of the rigging lines was pulling tighter than intended so we paused filming to adjust it. To keep it fair, when we resumed filming, all contestants who had failed on that obstacle up to that point were able to re-run it so everyone was running the exact same obstacles. Not everybody re-ran, but pausing to allow those select contestants to re-run affected our shooting schedule and required us to shoot the remaining contestant runs the following day.”
When I interviewed Storm about this season earlier this summer, one of the many things we discussed was the possibility that an obstacle didn’t perform as expected. My question was not about a broken obstacle, but one that may have been tougher or easier than expected. He told me that producers “would never adjust anything during the competition,” because all competitors should experience an obstacle the same.
In this case, while some finalists did attempt a broken obstacle—Was it the dropping mechanism on the new tether ball obstacle, because that’s the one brand-new thing on the course?—everyone ran the course after it was fixed.
That ensured all contestants had the same experience in terms of their stage-one runs. Of course, those who ran it the first time now had a bit of practice the others did not.
So what happened with Joe Moravsky?
Joe Moravsky considered leaving ANW forever
“I’ve dealt with stuff like this before, no big deal,” Joe said in the video. “So my wife and I go back to the hotel, we come back the next night.”
The Las Vegas finals were filmed May 14 to 17, just about two months after the show filmed all of its qualifying rounds in Texas, and about five weeks after the semifinals in Los Angeles.
“I’m on set, I got like 18 people to go, I’m all warmed up. I’m fired up. I’m so ready, so mentally clear, no illnesses, so healthy, lean, strong. And the COVID officer comes over me. He’s like, Joe, you gotta put a mask on. Come over here, please. I was like, Are you kidding me right now? What’s going on?
“We get tested before we go out to Vegas. We get tested in Vegas, see if we have COVID. I was testing negative; it was fine. He was like No, it’s not you. I’m vaccinated, also—you gotta be vaccinated to be on the show—and I had COVID in December.”
I’m not sure why that’s relevant, because we know now that neither having COVID nor being vaccinated prevent reinfection, especially with the new strains of COVID like Omicron and BA.5, which started to become dominant earlier this summer.
Joe continued: “It’s your wife. I was like, What? Your wife tested positive.” Joe thought that meant “she can’t be on set,” but the production’s COVID officer told him: “Yeah, and you can’t either. I was like, What are you talking about? I’m vaccinated. I’ve tested negative every day I’ve been here.”
“They told me I couldn’t compete,” Joe says in the second video. “It was devastating.”
Then he blames the show’s/the crew’s union: “This is something that the union, I guess, put together at the beginning of the season. I know the executives fought real hard to get me on the show. So thank you guys so much for fighting for me, but that was the COVID officer’s job, was to make sure the rules were followed. Were the rules absolutely ridiculous? 100 percent. But hopefully they learned from that because this—it’s ridiculous. I know you guys agree with me. It is what it is.”
Joe, whose website has a section “Joe’s new gear” with face masks that have his initials/logo on them, says that he “wouldn’t change anything. Honestly, my wife—I love her, love her to death. She feels so bad about this.”
“As for competing in the future,” he added, “I thought about not. I really did. I was going to not compete. I was, but I can’t walk away yet.” He adds, “I’m still in my peak. … I’ll be back for season 15, you better count on that.”
I’m glad he’ll be returning, and also curious about what happened during the day the story skips over. Did the production have rules about what cast members could and couldn’t do that day? Did Joe and his wife stay in the hotel room wearing N-95 masks? Or did they go explore Las Vegas, hanging out around people who were following what I believe are the new CDC guidelines and sneezing into each other’s mouths?
To be serious: While the U.S.’s new COVID strategy seems to be to put our fingers in our ears and go, Na na na na na, it’s still serious. “Reinfection adds or contributes additional health risks,” including long COVID, according to a researcher. Vaccination does prevent severe illness and death, but it’s not bulletproof, thanks in no small part to the people among us who refused to get vaccinated. And tests don’t catch every infection immediately.
That’s why there are protocols on set, helping to protect the other competitors, crew members, and spectators. Of course, I can understand why not being able to compete would be so disappointing.
What’s really unfortunate, I think, are not the COVID protocols, but the problem with the course. The fact that stage 1 had to be split over two nights sucks, and Joe obviously would have run that first night had it not happened.
Of course, if Joe ran the first night and made it through stage one, and then his wife still tested positive the next day, he would have had to pull out of stage two.