American Ninja Warrior 12 is the twelfth season of American Ninja Warrior, and the first season after Drew Drechsel's total victory on American Ninja Warrior 11. Originally, the season would host three cities for qualifying rounds in Los Angeles, Washington DC (new city), and St. Louis, with the national finals being held in Las Vegas. It was also originally announced that the age limit was lowered for the competitors, catering for more teenagers to compete. The age group used to be 19 years old from the past two American Ninja Warrior seasons, competitors must now be at least 15 years old to be eligible to compete.
However, on March 12th, 2020, due to growing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, the Los Angeles taping was postponed less than 48 hours before it was scheduled to begin. As the pandemic continued to escalate in the coming days, the St. Louis and Washington DC tapings were also postponed. The producers initially reiterated their intention to film the season at a later date, but did not immediately specify when and how it would happen.
In late July 2020, some competitors shared via social media that the current season was filming with a set season debut in due time. NBC officially confirmed this on August 12th, 2020, and announced the premiere date of September 7th, 2020.
As the season was filmed during the pandemic, some significant changes were made:
The entire season was filmed inside The Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, which was one of the original taping locations. There was no tour as there had been in the past, and there would be no Las Vegas national finals.
The season featured 50 top competitors from the previous seasons, with each choosing two people from their community to compete with them (these could be rookies or returning competitors). This made for a total of 150 competitors, much less than approximately 500 which were originally scheduled to complete.
The whole season was taped without any audience, but family and close friends were able to watch the runs remotely in real time. Competitors had their two teammates on the sidelines to offer support while they were running.
Mandatory health and safety protocols were put in place for all competitors, including regular COVID-19 testing, social distancing as much as possible, and wearing masks while not competing.
The competition format was also very different. Competitors would compete in three rounds across eight episodes:
The first four episodes were the qualifiers episodes. The qualifiers course featured six obstacles, with the top 12 competitors from each episode advancing to the semifinals along with the top 3 women. In addition, the top 2 competitors from each qualifiers episode would face off on the Power Tower, with the winner being able to take their two fellow competitors to the semifinals regardless of whether or not they finished in the top 12.
The next two episodes were the semi-final episodes. Competitors who qualified would run a ten-obstacle course, with the top 12 in each episode advancing to the finals along with the top 2 women.
The finals would take place over the last two episodes. Competitors who qualified would run a ten-obstacle course, with the top 8 competitors being placed in a playoff bracket on the Power Tower (there was no special advancement rule for women). The winner would receive the cash prize of $100,000.
In addition, there are other important details to note:
Finishing a course did not guarantee advancement. If more competitors finished the course than the quota that had been set, only the fastest finishers would move on (a very similar rule to what was used during the first four seasons of American Ninja Warrior).
The competitor groups did not actually compete as a team; the only time they being significant is during qualifiers on the Power Tower, as the winner got to take their entire group to the semifinals regardless of how they fare.
The Mega Wall is still in play during the qualifiers, but the rules were reverted to those used on American Ninja Warrior 10. Competitors were given just one attempt to scale the 18-foot Mega Wall, and would earn $10,000 upon successfully doing so, but if they failed, they were given just one attempt to complete the regular 14.5-foot Warped Wall.
No Power Tower match-up was shown in the first qualifiers episode. The top two finishers, Tyler Gillett and Jody Avila, should have competed for the right to bring their teammates to the semifinals. However, after the final competitor finished the course, the final leaderboard was shown and the episode concluded. The Power Tower was never mentioned in the entire episode, and no explanation was given by the broadcaster.
After the episode was aired, it was confirmed that the reason for the Power Tower match-up not being shown is because it involved Drew Drechsel, who was edited out of the season due to NBC and A. Smith & Co permanently cutting ties with him. Likely for this reason, the producers chose to air this particular qualifiers episode first, as it would be awkward to show the Power Tower in one week, but not in subsequent weeks. Drechsel and Avila both competed on the Power Tower, and inside sources confirmed that Jody Avila won, while also confirming Taylor Johnson and Julius Ferguson were Drechsel's teammates (both formerly worked at his gym).
Drechsel's teammates were shown during the episode. However, their runs were digested and the sideline was not shown. Both of them advanced to the semifinals, as Ferguson finished and placed 5th, and Johnson failed on the Slingshot but was 2nd among the women. So, a win by Drechsel on the Power Tower would not have changed anything (but since Avila won, his two teammates, who both failed on the Weight for It, advanced).
Although Taylor Johnson was shown to be 12th place overall during the broadcast, this was not true in reality. The actual 12th place competitor was a male who failed on the Slingshot, but with Drechsel's participation, that competitor finished in 13th place and did not move on to the semifinals. To avoid a discrepancy in the semifinalists, the producers moved Taylor Johnson up to the 12th spot since she advanced as part of the top 3 women. This explains why there is such a large time difference between Johnson (2:21.53) and the 11th place semifinalist, Ryan Lashoff (1:25.63). It has been confirmed that at least one non-semifinalist reached the Slingshot faster than Taylor Johnson.