NBC’s hit athletic competition show, American Ninja Warrior will soon be bringing back some of its most impressive contestants to complete the obstacle course challenges once again. This time, though, the competition will be a little bit different.

The show will air its annual special, USA VS. The World early next year. The special features athletes from America, Japan and Europe, each on their own teams of five competitors.

American Ninja Warrior debuted on NBC in 2009. The show will air its eighth season next year. It’s based on a Japanese show, Sasuke. The popularity of Sasuke has led to it having full episodes shown in 157 countries, and edited versions show in at least 18 other countries. That show has aired for 31 seasons.

The competition features a series of obstacle courses with increasing difficulty known as “stages.” The top 10 competitors travel to the Mount Midoriyama course in Las Vegas, which is almost identical to the hardest course in the Japanese version of the show. Over 3,500 athletes have tried to conquer Mount Midoriyama since the show began.

All potential competitors go through a rigorous selection process. Contestants must be legal residents of the U.S.A. in decent physical condition. The minimum age is 21, but there is no upper age limit. Applicants need to be able to compete in a regional round for qualification and available to potentially participate in the Las Vegas Round. They are required to fill out a 20 page questionnaire and submit a short video about themselves. One-hundred applicants are then chosen to compete from each region.

Five new members will be featured on the American team this year. The team captain is American Ninja Warrior champion and $1 million winner, Isaac Caldiero from the seventh season, and his runner up, Geoff Britten. In June they became the first two competitors to make it all the way through stage four in Las Vegas. The other top athletes on the team are Kevin Bull, Drew Drechsel, Ian Dory and Joe Moravsky. America lost to Team Europe last year, so this year’s team is hoping to regain the winning title.

The European and Japanese teams each feature a mix of returning and new contestants. The Japanese team suffered a crushing blow last year, seeing as how the show originated in their country, and each team will be pulling out all the stop to take the title.

This will certainly be an intense competition. Contestants have to make it through some unbelievably difficult challenges to stay in the game. People who do aren’t just athletic, they have a cunning intelligence, punctuated by the right amount of patience, daring and drive. You can check out the contest for yourself January 31, on NBC.

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