Pictured: Brent Steffensen in "American Ninja Warrior" "Finale in Japan"...

Pictured: Brent Steffensen in "American Ninja Warrior" "Finale in Japan" . Photo by: Tsutomu Fujita/NBC Credit: Tsutomu Fujita/NBC/

COMPETITION SPECIAL "American Ninja Warrior"

WHEN | WHERE Two-hour finals Monday night at 9 on NBC

REASON TO WATCH "Warrior" is the real "Wipeout" -- only three of 2,600 competitors have ever completed the "world's most punishing obstacle course."

WHAT IT'S ABOUT What's a "double salmon ladder," and why is it so impressive? Find out when 10 American finalists attempt to complete a four-stage obstacle course that defeats some of the world's best athletes.

"American Ninja Warrior" has become a sensation on cable's G4 channel (now owned by NBC). More than 8 million viewers have watched Americans train for the right to head to the finals in Japan, where the test they call "Sasuke" originated in 1997 and quickly mesmerized the country, having since been staged 25 more times.

Unlike "Wipeout," this competition is serious sports, attracting gymnasts, military men and weekend athletes to the one-day finals at Mount Midoriyama near Yokohama. There they tackle such challenges as the arm bike (traveling across a wire), the wall lift (trying to pass under three walls growing progressively heavier to 110 pounds), that double salmon ladder (hanging from a bar while leaping it up from grooved indent to grooved indent) and the rolling escargot (can't concisely describe that).

And then there's the never-before-completed (by Americans) ultimate cliffhanger in the third stage. It requires inching oneself along from ledge to ledge, only fingertip-deep and also separated, inclined and otherwise made nearly unachievable.

Three out of 2,600, my friends. "Ninja Warrior" don't mess around.

MY SAY Sound confusing? Nah, it's easy to get up to speed -- which is another challenge for competitors in stages that have time limits. (If you really want to be ready for tonight's finals, watch season 3's qualifying and boot camp episodes today from noon to 8 p.m. on G4.)

Play-by-play moves swiftly through the American attempts, while interspersed interviews and competitor profiles get up-close-and-personal.

Because it's all taped, "American Ninja Warrior" is edited as tightly as a reality show, racing along to keep you on the edge of your seat.

BOTTOM LINE "Wipeout" is for wimps. Here's the real deal.

GRADE B+

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