'We laugh when they fall off but still love it when they get to end'
Ninja Warrior UK is back - and it's tougher than ever, with exciting new obstacles to push competitors to their limits. Georgia Humphreys chats to presenters Ben Shephard, Rochelle Humes and Chris Kamara to find out more
If there's one gameshow viewers wish they could have a go at themselves, it's Ninja Warrior UK. And its presenters, Ben Shephard, Rochelle Humes and Chris 'Kammy' Kamara, are no exception (turns out the producers don't let them on the course in case of, well, injuries...)
"There was an obstacle this time around called a bar hop, which is a bar you have to grab, swing, jump with and land," Shephard (43) says excitedly. "If you don't land, then you fall in the water. That was one that I saw and thought in my head I'd love."
Here, the trio tell us more about the fourth series beginning tonight on ITV - and explain why it's the toughest yet.
The show begins with batches of hopeful contestants ready to show off their fitness and stamina, desperate to make it through to the semi-finals.
"The top 15 who get the furthest fastest from each heat go through," Essex-born Shephard, who also presents Good Morning Britain, explains of the updated format.
"There can be days that seem harder than others, but the best 15 on the night always get through, no matter how hard it is. And then they all face the same course."
While Ninja Warrior is already the ultimate challenge, all the obstacles are now above water, which, according to Humes (29) "makes everything harder".
"The quintuple steps at the start of the course are no longer there," reveals the Barking-born star, who spent seven years as a member of pop group The Saturdays.
"We now have the Floating Steps, which cause a lot of bother because they are at different heights - they are not evenly spread and they have a tricky dismount.
"People who thought they knew what to expect didn't, especially people who have competed on the show before. They were thrown by it."
Former professional footballer Kamara points out the atmosphere is even better this series, thanks to the show drawing its biggest-ever crowds to the studios in Manchester.
He also insists that, as the hosts, they try and root for every single competitor to succeed.
"The fact is that we laugh when they fall off - well, I laugh when they fall off - because it's funny," the 60-year-old admits with a chuckle.
"But we'd still love them to get to the other end."
"We love the ones that confound their expectations," says Shephard, before adding with a smile: "There were some contestants that came dressed up - we had a unicorn, a young lad in a tutu, a ballet dancer, a guy in a lobster outfit, a guy dressed up as Super Mario and Donkey Kong."
To be crowned Ninja Warrior champion, the athletes face the mighty challenge of successfully climbing Mount Midoriyama with a 70ft rope in the final.
There are a few famous faces joining the competition this year - Humes' husband, JLS star Marvin, appears in the first episode, where we'll see him battles obstacles such as the floating steps, the spinning bridge and the four-metre tall warped wall.
"Marvin came and took on the course very bravely while his wife nagged him as she walked along beside him," remembers Shephard.
Before the UK version arrived on our screens four years ago, the Ninja Warrior format was already successful in the USA, Sweden, Malaysia and Japan.
But why is it such a hit?
"Everyone can sit down as a family and watch it, and for me, in my house, that's important in a show," notes mother-of-two Humes.
"It also promotes fitness, and I think that's a really good thing."
For Shephard, it's the mix of different elements that makes it so entertaining.
"It's got great energy and it's great fun - there's humour and there's laughter," he says.
"But there's the exhilarating successes as well, which are really, really inspiring - competitors that are willing to put themselves through incredible pain and physical discomfort just to achieve a goal."
The trio have many other strings to their bow - Humes has her own radio show on Heart FM and also fronts fashion segments on ITV's This Morning.
Meanwhile, Kamara has acquired a huge fanbase thanks to his work on Soccer Saturday on Sky Sports, as well as Goals on Sunday, which he hosts with Shephard, on the same channel.
"The difference between Soccer Saturday and Ninja Warrior is there might not be the greatest game on a Saturday," remarks the Middlesbrough-born presenter, "but on Ninja, for every competitor that goes, you know he is giving 100%."
When asked why he loves fronting the huge Saturday night show that is Ninja Warrior, Shephard says: "It's great, because I think it appeals to me in so many ways.
"I've got two boys that absolutely adore the show, so you get a little bit of credibility - finally, I'm doing something that they're interested in!"
It's clear the three love working as a team and hope to be presenting together for a long time yet.
"People will be blown away by this series," teases Kamara. "It's the best we've ever done. The outcome is brilliant - it's just something else."
He goes on to share that they've been chatting to the man behind the US version.
"He's trying to find a way for us to get to America," he says with a grin, "because he's that impressed."
"We were trying to come up with an excuse for getting Kammy to the States," jokes Shephard.
Regardless of what happens in the future, the success of Ninja Warrior in the UK is certainly evident.
"We can't wake up without getting tweets from kids saying, 'We love the show, when can there be a kids' version?'" says Shephard.
"I can't wait, and hopefully we'll be doing it long enough, for when the first Ninja Warrior fan as a 12-year-old comes through and can do it at 18, I think that will be really special."
Ninja Warrior UK returns to ITV this evening, 6.30pm