Discovery Channel Uses Our Tools as Props on New Show

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Discovery’s New Show – Ultimate Ninja Challenge

Ultimate Ninja Challege contestants Josh Tyler and JD Caputo start a fire on the riverbank. Josh is holding a Japanese Carpenters Axe.

Who doesn’t like watching the Discovery Channel? It offers so many cool and entertaining shows. We’ve all learned from the Discovery educational shows such as MythBusters, Planet Earth and Dirty Jobs. We’ve also loved their reality shows, American Chopper, Deadliest Catch, Gold Rush and Alaskan Bush People, among many others. Now, Discovery is ready to air a new hour-long survival competition show, Ultimate Ninja Challenge. The show will premiere Sunday, August 5, at 10 p.m. and run for eight weeks, according to Grant Axton, Executive in Charge of Production at Renegade 83, LLC, the company that produced the show. 

Why am I telling you this? Because, we at Woodcraft, were able to play a small part in this production by providing Japanese axes and outdoor knives to be used as props. We were contacted by Bill Swano, Supervising Producer for the Ultimate Ninja Challenge, last summer about the possibility of helping them. Swano is a freelancer who gets hired by multiple production companies each year. For the Ultimate Ninja Challenge, he worked for Renegade.

We were excited and thrilled at the opportunity. After all, Discovery is an international broadcaster that reaches 431 million homes in 170 countries and on every continent.

Why a Ninja Show?

JD Caputo and Danielle Martin spar in front of the dojo during filming of Discovery Channel's Ultimate Ninja Challenge.

Ninjas have always fascinated people. They have a certain mystic – that of highly trained special warriors involved in infiltration and covert activities.

Swano believes that a lot of the Ninja attraction comes from Hollywood. Any action movie, involving royalty, the Roman era, ancient history or iconic warriors have always stood the test of time. These topics keep people coming back. 

Renegade is known for survival and outdoor type television, and it has a relationship with Discovery that led to developing the Ultimate Ninja Challenge.

Without revealing too much before the show airs, we can report that there are nine contestants on the show – a blend of people from many walks of life with different personalities who will be challenged by eight missions based on the ancient laws of the Ninja and carried out in the frigid Pacific Northwest wilderness. Those who fail will be out of the challenge.

Ultimate Ninja Challenge contestants JD Caputo and Sean Tremblay start a fire with a Spyderco Aqua Salt Black Knife.

Swano said his job as Supervising Producer is to concentrate on the execution of the shoot itself.

“What I do, with a team of people, with the help of the show runner, co-executives, the owner of the company and Discovery, is to help to shape what the show is going to be about.” 

His particular forte is developing the challenges in each episode.

“You know how on a show like Amazing Race or Survivor they have to compete in some sort of game? That’s sort of my specialty. I help come up with or develop those challenges,” said Swano. “Some challenges had development already, and I took them a step further to be actuality. I then had to marry that creative with physical locations. I scouted the back country and all around British Columbia to find those locations. It’s a fun job for an outdoor enthusiast like myself.”

Dan Shrigley chops a tree, Guy Higgins takes a nap with his bow and Dan Higgins and Robert Verhelst take a well deserved break from chopping wood.

Canada was chosen, Swano said, because it is extremely beautiful. It is a very film-friendly country and offers a very diverse terrain. For survival filming, it was a great place. 
The show was shot in many locations and under many conditions. These challenges, elements and locations made it physically and mentally demanding for the contestants.

“We shot in rain, snow, sea, swamp, hot, cold ... all of it! The weather is always a challenge with all productions,” Swano said.

A lot times, a show can take a couple of years from start to finish, and the length may change, depending upon on a lot of variables. Basically, an idea is conceived, it gets approved, it gets developed, and then goes into production, filming, and editing, and finally gets aired. It sounds simple, but a tremendous amount of work is involved in each stage.

Back to Those Props

The Japanese Carpenters Axe #155998 and the Spyderco Aqua Salt Black “Do Everything” Knife #162444 from Woodcraft were used by contestants on the Ultimate Ninja Challenge.

Everything that an actor or person in front of the camera touches is basically a prop. That adds up. That’s why there’s a specific department just for props. Swano contacted us last summer asking if we could provide them with axes and an outdoor knife for each contestant, plus a few extras. What they decided upon was the Abe Japanese Carpenter's Axe and the Spyderco Aqua Salt Black Knife, an amazingly versatile, do-everything fixed-blade knife that is 100% rustproof. Fans of this knife range from commercial fishermen to military special operations personnel.

“We used the knives almost daily on the show,” said Swano. “The knives got a lot of screen time. The Japanese Carpentry Axes were used as well. They were used for chopping. The axes you sent worked out amazingly and looked very authentic and interesting on camera.”

Production of the Show

Ultimate Ninja Challenge contestants Danielle Martin, Justine Kish, Josh Tyler and JD Caputo stand by the river with their gear.

Discovery and Renegade worked together throughout the production process until they were satisfied with the show, which was then handed over to Discovery. 

Swano said it’s hard to define a typical shooting day. 

“Every day is different. Typically we frame it up. There’s some consistencies per episodes. It varies on how we continue. Some days we are heading somewhere by helicopter or boat or cars.” Each day is different when filming but it follows a pattern. As production progresses, the crew gets stronger as they understand each other’s instincts better and better. 

The contestants are under an agreement, so the production crew only has them for a certain amount of time, and the crew has a budget that needs to be respected. They have to make it work.

Make Sure To Tune In

Guy Higgins is shown here digging an ice cave during the filming of Discovery's Ultimate Ninja Challenge.

It’s pretty cool that they contacted us. We were able to provide specific tools and props they were looking for – knives and axes – that will get some screen time on the Ultimate Ninja Challenge. We’re excited about it. It was a thrill for us to play a small part. We’ll be tuned in to see the tools on the air. It’s not something we experience every day.

Don’t forget to tune in to Ultimate Ninja Challenge on the Discovery Channel. It will a good, fun show and new territory for reality TV. The producers promise there are a bunch of surprises in store for viewers.

Contestants Justine Kish climbs over large rocks with a hand axe while Peter Leung works at digging an ice cave.


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