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NinjaGate: Who Is The True 'American Ninja Warrior'?

Two men finished the course. One won $1 million, while the other got nothing. Ninjas are not happy.

When Geoff Britten became the first person to ever finish the very difficult obstacle course on "American Ninja Warrior," he never expected he'd face obstacles when it came to getting recognition for the achievement.

On Sept. 14, Geoff Britten climbed up a 75-foot rope in less than 30 seconds, becoming the first person in seven seasons of the show to complete all six obstacle courses. But just afterward, Isaac Caldiero climbed the same rope, clocking in with a faster time when he reached the top.

Caldiero was declared the "American Ninja Warrior" because he climbed up the rope a few seconds faster. He won $1 million, and Britten won nothing -- not even the honor of calling himself "American Ninja Warrior."

Britten, a 36-year-old freelance sports cameraman from Olney, Maryland, is trying to take the high road, but he admits he believes he deserves some credit for what he did.

"I never went on the show for money. If the prize had been $5,000, I still would have done it," Britten told The Huffington Post. "It's clear in the rules that whoever finishes in the fastest time wins the prize, but I feel like [Caldiero and I] are co-champions since we're the only ones to complete the course."

Some "Ninja Warrior" competitors like Sam Sann feel Britten should actually be considered the true champion.

 "Geoff deserves either the title or some money," Sann told HuffPost. "He's the only one who completed all six courses. I think only people who complete the whole course should get the $1 million prize."

Caldiero did not complete the course in the City Finals, but did well enough to be invited to the ANW finals in Las Vegas.

"I believe that only people who complete the whole course should win $1 million," said Sann, who runs a gym in Houston that trains wannabe Ninjas. "That's how it is in Japan. You don't complete a course, you don't go on to the finals."

Caldiero did not respond to a request from HuffPost, but told the International Business Times that he alone is the "American Ninja Warrior."

"There are pictures of me holding the trophy that says I’m the first American Ninja Warrior. I think they are trying to give [Geoff] a moment too because he does deserve it, but as far as the rules go, there is one title," he said. "It’s an all-or-nothing deal. If you look at other sports, if Michael Phelps beats everyone in the Olympics by a fraction of the second that’s the way it is, even if everyone else 'finishes the course.'"

ANW competitor Dustin McKinney said he worries the situation is turning the show from one that is focused on the athlete versus the course to one where it's athlete versus athlete.

"The spirit of 'American Ninja Warrior' is that everyone pulls for everyone," McKinney told HuffPost. "I don't want to take anything away from Isaac's achievement, but Geoff is the only person with a perfect record -- he hit the buzzer every single time."

McKinney believes that the rules should be altered so that Britten can be declared an "American Ninja Warrior," with Isaac being declared the "Grand Champion."

"ANW" competitor Ryan Stratis is sympathetic, but said that the rules as written have been there from the beginning.

"We turned a blind eye to them because the odds of having two winners were astronomical," Stratis told HuffPost. "Geoff was the first one to make it to the top. I think he deserves something. You can't mention what Isaac did without mentioning Geoff."

NBC did not respond to requests about "NinjaGate," but some fans of the show are trying to honor Britten's achievement by raising $1 million via GoFundMe. As of Tuesday afternoon, the campaign had made about $9,000.

"Geoff did something no one else had done and got nothing. He got hosed!" said Martin, who runs a sports memorabilia shop in Buffalo, New York, and organized the online campaign. "I think Geoff deserves some money for his achievement. So far, we haven't raised a lot, but it's a big statement."

Britten said he's been humbled by the support he's received from his fellow competitors and fans of the show.

"I'm proud that I've received thousands of letters from people who are supporting me because I cheered on someone who beat me out of a million dollars," he said.

Regardless of what happens, Britten vows he'll be back next season.

Some competitors like McKinney would like to see a clarification of the rules moving forward to ensure anyone who completes all courses gets something for their effort. But Stratis believes the aspiring Ninja Warriors are at the mercy of the show's producers.

"So many people are willing to go to great lengths to be on this show," he said. "We're all pretty replaceable." 

 

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