NORTH PORT — Two North Port natives who made it to “American Ninja Warrior” didn’t make it on air — even though one hit a buzzer and the other had what she deemed “a pretty epic” fall.
Josh Parisi, 21, and Ashley McConville, 19, took part in the March competition in Atlanta. On Wednesday night, they watched the episode in Seminole at a large gathering of ninja competitors.
Neither Parisi nor McConville advanced to the Atlanta City Finals. Of 100 competitors, 30 make it to the second stage of the competition.
But for Parisi, who attends Florida Gulf Coast University, it seemed initially like he’d move on.
He hit a buzzer — but then found out he’d also dipped his toe.
Sworn to secrecy before the airing of “American Ninja Warrior” prior to Wednesday night, Parisi couldn’t talk about what happened until Thursday morning.
He worked his way through the obstacles at the Atlanta Qualifying in late March — completing some new and some daunting returning challenges like Bouncing Spider and Ferris Wheel.
He even made it up the Warped Wall — hitting a buzzer on his first official foray into NBC’s show.
But, upon further review...
A video check of a stumble discovered that, as he worked to save himself on Block Run — where a contestant has to run over spinning cubes — his toe skimmed a pool of water. And that disqualified his effort.
“So I went for a jump to save myself which almost worked by a centimeter — I didn’t notice it, neither did production,” Parisi said Thursday.
“I was surprised. I won’t say I was disappointed, I was just surprised because I had no idea that it happened.”
He said the organizers noted the rules state that if anything touches the water at all, be it a toe, shoelace, ponytail or hand, it’s a disqualification. And as Parisi viewed the video, he saw what they saw.
“It was clear that it happened ... so I couldn’t get upset about it and I wasn’t angry at them,” he said.
Ashley McConville also competed, surprising everyone with an early exit.
McConville said she’d never felt as comfortable going into a competition. There were no nerves.
“I felt so ready for whatever was about to happen,” she said Thursday.
The second obstacle, called Off the Hook, involved competitors jumping with a small ring from one hook to a second — and then swinging off.
McConville had been practicing on a similar obstacle but had been having a tough time with it, finding she had to use a lot of force to move the ring off the first hook.
“It was a little bit different — so I was having a little bit of a harder time,” she said.
Other female competitors were falling and telling McConville it was a tough obstacle.
“Caleb (Bergstrom) had told me the one on the course was way easier,” she said.
Not knowing what to expect, she used a lot of her upper body strength on Off the Hook.
“I put a lot of power into it and it came off really easily and I saw myself going through the air — way past where I wanted to be,” she said, adding a laugh.
“My fall was pretty epic,” she said, a bit surprised it didn’t make it to television.
Parisi said people were “shocked” by McConville falling on the new obstacle Off the Hook. He said she is widely seen as someone who will “crush” the course.
“She’s insanely good,” he said. “A lot of people think she would have made it to a buzzer ... honestly, she’s better than most competitors — male and female.”
Falling on a new object, or any object, “can happen to anybody,” he said.
McConville said she felt “a little bit sad” after the fall, feeling she’d let a lot of people down who had traveled to watch the night.
But she received only encouragement from them.
“They were there to support me,” she said.
She and Parisi attended a watch party in Seminole on Wednesday night hosted by Jason and Kathy Bergstrom, a couple with nine children who run a ninja-gym and who compete regularly on the NBC staple.
Caleb Bergstrom, 19, became the youngest person to hit the buzzer on an 18-foot Mega Wall when he ran up it. His sister, Caitlyn, failed at Bouncing Spider.
McConville was sitting next to Caleb as his run was aired.
“I almost cried watching Caleb and Caitlyn,” she said.
The large gathering in Seminole on Wednesday made for a fun evening, Parisi said. Unlike many competitions, for “American Ninja Warrior,” there is less rivalry and more camaraderie.
Like Wednesday night, his March time in Atlanta was memorable for positive reasons. It was a chance to catch up with other ninja-enthusiasts he doesn’t see as often as he’d like.
“A lot of the people who also ran Atlanta were also friends of mine, so, aside from being a competition, it was a reunion,” he said.
For his own run, he said he thinks about how he was stepping on the blocks and what he could have done to avoid the toe’s dip in the water. And he reflects on the fact he fell asleep just a little while before he began his run after 3 a.m.
“So I ran the course pretty sleepy. I want to say that’s why I wasn’t really nervous. I wasn’t really processing everything,” he said.
“There was disappointment in it, but I wasn’t upset about it. I was still happy about the run and I’m still happy that I hit the buzzer,” he said.
Now he’s concentrating on different types of obstacles for future runs, working on endurance and balance.
For McConville, she’s continuing to compete in regional runs and gearing up to help test the “American Ninja Warrior” Finals course in Las Vegas.
“I’m super excited to take on the Vegas course and see how I could take on those,” she said. “If I make it to Vegas next year, I’ll have an advantage,” she said.
Both hope to get back to the show next year. Their submission videos are due in early January.
“I stayed dry, I hit a buzzer and then I was told the news (about the disqualification),” Parisi said. “Of all the ways to go out, I’m glad that’s the way it happened.”
Having watched the show since she was 13, McConville said it’s a bit surreal to stand among the competitors and get to experience it all — and consider herself a competitor.
“Since I’ve been competing for about a year and a half, I’ve met so many of the competitors,” she said. “It was so cool to compete with all of my friends and experience it with all my closest friends ... It was a lot of fun to be surrounded by everyone who was so encouraging.”
And to anyone thinking about trying a ninja-gym workout, she said the difference is the attitude going in. It’s the element of fun.
“A lot of people get better by having fun. If you feel like you’re having fun doing what you’re doing, you’re not even going to notice yourself getting stronger and getting better,” she said.
“A lot of it is technique and how to move your body. Go into it with an open mind. Be ready to encourage yourself — but be ready to fall, too.”