Se­ries re­turn:

No one was more sur­prised by the sen­sa­tion that was Nine’s hit Ninja War­rior than co-host Ben Ford­ham, writes HOLLY BYRNES

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - NEWS -

Pop­u­lar en­duro se­ries Aus­tralian Ninja War­rior is back with a vengeance

WHEN Ben Ford­ham first got a call from Nine man­age­ment about a new show called Ninja

War­rior, the former To­day show reg­u­lar thought he was for the ca­reer high jump.

“I got this ran­dom phone call from some­one at Chan­nel 9 re­quest­ing that I come in and meet the bosses on level three,” he says.

“When you’re a worker bee and you’re told you’re go­ing up to level three, it can only mean one of two things and be­cause I didn’t have a de­fined role so much at the time … I would fill in for Karl [Ste­fanovic] on To­day and David [Camp­bell] on Ex­tra … the first thought I had was that I was get­ting the bul­let.”

While he keeps busy jug­gling his full-time, toprat­ing ra­dio pro­gram on Syd­ney’s 2GB with re­cent shifts on Sky News, Ford­ham ad­mits he was slightly pan­icked by the news.

“The lady on the phone wouldn’t tell me what it was about,” so the 41-year-old Walk­ley-win­ning jour­nal­ist kicked into gear and started pump­ing her for in­for­ma­tion.

“She tried to calm me down by say­ing, ‘It’s not bad’ and I said, ‘Well if it’s not bad, just tell me what it is.’ And she said, ‘It’s Ninja War­rior.’ I’m em­bar­rassed to say I’d never heard of it, even though it had been a world­wide phe­nom­e­non. I Googled it quickly, then stupidly said to her, ‘Do they want me to go on it?’ and she said, word for word, ‘No, you d***head, they want you to host it.”

Any­one who fol­lows the fa­ther of two – Fred­die and Pearl – on In­sta­gram knows he’s a king of the kids; post­ing

videos of his chil­dren and a squad of neigh­bour­hood kids from his street who he turned to next for an im­promptu fo­cus group on the show.

Af­ter baulk­ing at the idea, stick­ing to his sense of him­self as a se­ri­ous news­man, it was the kids who con­vinced him other­wise. “Five out of six not only knew it, but loved it. That’s when I said to [Seven news­reader wife] Jodie [Speers], ‘I bet­ter do this thing be­cause chances are it will be a mas­sive suc­cess and I’ll be sit­ting on the couch watch­ing it go­ing, ‘I should have said yes.’”

It was prob­a­bly the best call of his ca­reer, with Ninja av­er­ag­ing 2.505 mil­lion view­ers na­tion­ally each episode – and launch­ing the former A Cur­rent Af­fair re­porter back into prime-time. Team­ing with AFL Footy

Show host Re­becca Mad­dern and former English cricket cap­tain An­drew ‘Fred­die’ Flintoff on Ninja, Ford­ham ad­mits they were blind­sided by the show’s suc­cess.

“When the first episode went to air, Jodie, my­self and the kids were up in Queens­land on hol­i­days and the next morn­ing, Re­becca and I were on the phone to­gether as the rat­ings came through,” he re­calls. “When she read out the rat­ings for the first night, they were lit­er­ally dou­ble what Chan­nel 9 had told us would be a pass mark.”

With 300 con­tes­tants, in­clud­ing 90 nin­jas from the launch year re­turn­ing this sea­son to test them­selves again on the in­tense ob­sta­cle course, Ford­ham says with the ex­cep­tion of few tech­ni­cal tweaks, the show’s essence re­mains the same.

“It’s a show that en­cour­ages peo­ple to get out­side and have a crack … to pick your­self up and dust your­self off when things don’t al­ways go to plan. There were some re­ally strong mes­sages in there about re­silience and step­ping out­side your com­fort zone,” he says.

“It’s about lift­ing peo­ple up who have a try and that for me is great.”

Adding to the show’s fam­ily ap­peal, Mad­dern will ap­pear in the pre-recorded episodes heav­ily preg­nant with her first child [a daugh­ter, Ruby Mae born in April] – a con­cep­tion Ford­ham jokes he wants credit for. “I in­tro­duced Bec to Fred­die and Pearl and bored her wit­less with my pho­tos and videos of the kids,” he says.

Work­ing through her fi­nal trimester proved her own en­durance test, her co-host ex­plains. “There was one night I turned up film­ing and the door to the dress­ing room we shared to get ready for the show was locked and one of the pro­duc­ers said to me she was in there lay­ing down on the floor, not well,” he says.

“Mean­while you’ve got 50 nin­jas on the course, 100 crew and mil­lions of dol­lars worth of light­ing and ex­plo­sives ready to go and I said, ‘Guys, there’s a chance Bec’s not go­ing to be there.’ But she picked her­self up, 10 min­utes be­fore start time and just walked on out there … she was such a trooper.”

AUS­TRALIAN NINJA WAR­RIOR

7PM, SUN­DAY, MON­DAY AND TUES­DAY, FROM JULY 8 ON NINE

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