In turbulent times, many people seek solace and escape via television. For my husband Ken and me it wasn’t “Game of Thrones” or “Breaking Bad” … it was, and still is “American Ninja Warrior.” ANW is the perfect antidote to what happens every morning: I wake up thinking, “Did our Orange Foolius of a president make anything worse than the day before?” Tragically, the answer is almost always yes. “ANW” to the rescue!

The “cast” of ANW is a collection of dynamic athletes who epitomize both grit and camaraderie while running ever-more difficult obstacle courses. They are a balm for the divisiveness we are bombarded with daily. We love to cheer at their victories and groan at their defeats. As for the obstacles themselves, they are a scintilla short of sadistic; e.g., running across five diving boards on springs. Mere mortals cannot do these things.

As much as we love the show, we wonder what it would be like if they had a Senior Division: the “American Geezer Warriors,” performing amazing acrobatic feats with walkers and canes. You get the drift.

“Geezer Warriors” then morphed into a practical version: “American Underground Warriors.” What if all the derring-do, superb intelligence, Olympic-level athleticism and heart got applied to a “reality” television format for some of our real-life circumstances? The Norwegian Underground during World War II used their superb winter sports skills to liberate their country from Nazi occupation. Hmm. We could do this!

American Ninja Warriors asks audience members to design and submit obstacles that are selected and used the next season. Thus, I submit the following obstacles for our potential American Underground Warriors:

Obstacle No. 1: Mount that Wall! — At our Southern Border, Underground Warriors scale the wall then assist as many others as they can in get over within 30 minutes. The Underground Warrior (more aptly, the “Overground Warrior”) has a clock ticking and points are tallied for the highest number of people and pounds they heft over the wall. For example, contestants who lift 10 kids at 400 pounds will get a high score; extra if they lift the parents, too. Grappling hooks, pole vault poles and carabiners are allowed. Extra points for the athlete who moons Trump from the top of the wall.

Obstacle No. 2: “Friendly” Disruption — For the more theatrically inclined the Underground Warriors in this obstacle specialize in a year-long masquerade, pretending to be cis “church-goers.” This is easy, since humans look the same regardless of their belief systems or whom they love. The first difficulty is infiltrating right-wing megachurches that, despite IRS rules to the contrary, are campaign amplifiers for candidates who believe in the marriage of church and state. These patronizing pastors also preach against feminists and LGBTQ folks.

As soon as the minister begins promoting candidates, referenda or requests to vote a certain way, our AUW plant begins her or his disruption: speaking in tongues, slapping their ears while yelling “Heavens Yes!” “Preach it!” or any other CREATIVE way that is not offensive in practice to a majority of the congregants but disruptive nonetheless. If they do it convincingly enough, they can return to the services again. However, if their cover is blown, they need to crawl under pews on their bellies like reptiles, dodge kicks from hostile congregants and get the hell out! This is a big scoring event, and points are accumulated by the number of times the disrupter interrupts hate speech.

Obstacle No. 3: The Harvey Weinstein & Kevin Spacey Challenge — Big, nasty men stand in a line and our contestants must run the Harassment Gauntlet. The Harassers in the line wear protective jockstraps that, when kicked, register 10 points for the harassees. Similarly, the harassees are “wired” to register gropes and pokes and for each contact, their scores are diminished by 5. #dodgethis! The challenge is an era-appropriate version of Dodge-ball but in this case, Dodge-dicks.

I have all sorts of ideas for “real reality” programming: “Dancing With The Republican Cowards” for ABC; “Cooking with Petfood” for the Food Channel that would provide tips for those in poverty; and “Shooting Poachers With Sedative Darts” for Animal Planet. Although none of this is a game, if we get people excited and competitive they might wake up. That’s something we could all cheer for.


Ellen Snortland is a longtime columnist with the Pasadena Weekly. She is nearly finished with her third book, “Biting the Hands That Squeeze Us.” Contact her at beautybitesbeast.com.