'American Ninja Warrior': Kacy Catanzaro on Her Stunning Run

The first woman to climb the show's famed Warped Wall breaks down her first run of the season.
Courtesy of NBC

To say the bar was set high for American Ninja Warrior phenom Kacy Catanzaro would be an understatement.

The five-foot-tall former gymnast became the first woman to climb the show's famed 14-foot Warped Wall last season in a run that went viral, but in a surprising twist, Catanzaro saw her bid to return to the Las Vegas finals derailed during Monday night's qualifying run in Houston when she went out on the course's fourth obstacle — the Cargo Crossing.

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"I'm doing OK," a deflated yet surprisingly positive Catanzaro told THR a few weeks after the episode was taped. "I definitely don't want to take the easy way out and say that it was only because I couldn't reach it and it's not possible; I'd never want to say that or make it seem that way. I do, in my mind and at the moment, I tried hard and just couldn't reach it. But everybody always feels that they tried hard. Sometimes people couldn't reach it because they didn't get a good enough jump or they didn't do a good enough spring. It definitely could have been something that after I'm able to re-watch it or if I were able to try again, maybe if it wasn't wet out or it was better conditions in any aspect it might have been different. But in the back of my mind, I still feel that it was so much further for me. The bottom line is that that doesn't make me not want to come back and it doesn't discourage me at all. It just makes me want to train harder and that's the most important part."

The fan favorite was clearly disappointed in her performance but was elated that her boyfriend/training partner and regular ANW competitor, Brent Steffensen, completed the course after he was eliminated early last season when she went through for the first time. "I was worried about him and he was distracted by my success that he wasn't really able to be too down on himself [last year] and I feel like that's what happened to me this season," she says. "I didn't make it and I was definitely heartbroken about that but Brent came back and redeemed himself with a second-place finish the first night and qualified. I was distracted being so happy for him that I wasn't able to realize how heartbroken I was about me. But now that some time has gone by, every now and then it hits me; I'm bummed."

Last season, Catanzaro made it to the Las Vegas finals after climbing the Warped Wall not once but twice, including during ANW's considerably more challenging semifinals course. Her success became the show's most high-profile human-interest stories in a record-setting season for women.

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"I don't want to let people down and I want to prove that I can come back and do it," an optimistic Catanzaro says. "There are good and bad seasons but I don't feel this obstacle was something silly. I didn't go out on it because it was too much pressure. It wasn't a silly mistake. I was hanging on the bar and you have to swing your body weight up and when you swing up, the bar that's on this cargo net lifts up with you. But I don't weigh a lot so I was kicking up the swing and I couldn't swing it up high enough. I knew that I couldn't keep swinging and tiring myself out. So when I did the biggest swing I could and jumped the next bar, I couldn't reach it. I'm sure there are things I could have done better that I'll see after I watch it, but at the moment, I gave my all and just couldn't do it."

Catanzaro's elimination became the latest setback in a season that has already proven especially difficult for women — ANW vet Jessie Graff also advanced in the qualifying rounds though she didn't complete the course in Venice; and Meagan Martin advanced when she completed the Kansas City course.

While this season has been brutal for women, it has been a good one for the veteran reality competition ratings-wise. Ninja Warrior is currently averaging a series record among total viewers with 6.8 million. That likely is thanks in part to Catanzaro's historical season last year.

Last season, Catanzaro was eliminated during the finals on the Jumping Spider — an obstacle that seemed almost impossible for her to complete given her five-foot frame, though she has mixed feelings about Ninja Warrior potentially tailoring its course.

"I get that it's tough to accommodate for everybody and everyone is so different — where do you draw the line to make it fair for everybody?" she says. "If they were to accommodate for me and make things closer, it would be super easy for everybody else who is taller. I understand they can't do that in that way and on certain obstacles they have a few different settings they can do for your height and they move it closer, but I do feel like that is the most fair thing to do. But I do also understand that it's probably not the most possible to do for every single obstacle — mechanically, how it's built or time-wise — I get that it's not the most doable for every single obstacle. I'm not sure what the solution is."

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"I feel like I've done a good job of trying to approach things differently and do the best that I can, but I do feel like sometimes I have done the best that I could and it still isn't in my capability," Catanzaro added. "But I don't like to think that way and I don't want to give up. It doesn't mean that I'm not going to keep coming back and trying to make it happen. I do think that eventually as things evolve and more people get involved — and more ideas come up — I'm hoping that whether it's separate courses or different obstacles on that course, or it's by height, I think eventually that would be the most fair."

For now, Catanzaro will have to wait and see if she'll be invited back to participate in the Las Vegas finals as a wild card, which has yet to be determined for the season. "There's still one more region to film and I'm really hoping I make it," she says. "I'm not saying I deserve it any more than any others. Everyone who tries is amazing and deserves that spot. I do feel like I did prove myself last year and I know they always bring women to Vegas so I'm hoping they agree I deserve another shot."

Are you disappointed that Catanzaro didn't qualify? Sound off in the comments below. American Ninja Warrior airs Mondays on NBC.

Email: Lesley.Goldberg@THR.com
Twitter: @Snoodit