You’d be hard-pressed to find TV hosts more encouraging than Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila on “American Ninja Warrior.” Each season, as the ninjas jump, swing and climb their way across challenging obstacle courses, Iseman and Gbaja-Biamila are there every step of the way, giving lively play-by-plays and rooting for each contestant’s success.

Except, maybe, when it comes to “American Ninja Warrior” veteran Eric Middleton. Because sometimes, when Middleton succeeds, it means Iseman and Gbaja-Biamila have to eat bugs — like the tempura-fried tarantula Middleton had them eat back in 2018 when he completed one of the courses.

Middleton, an entomologist who completed his undergrad in biology at the University of Utah, is known as “The Bug Ninja” in the “American Ninja Warrior” world. On Monday night, he appeared on the show’s Season 14 premiere — his sixth season competing. Middleton completed the obstacle course in the qualifying round and has advanced to the semifinals, which will air in a few weeks, the show confirmed to the Deseret News.

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Who is ‘American Ninja Warrior’ competitor Eric Middleton?

Middleton first competed on “American Ninja Warrior” Season 8 back in 2016. Over the years, he’s made it to the national finals four times, the final round of the show that features a four-stage obstacle course that gets substantially harder with each stage, the Deseret News reported.

During Middleton’s run on the national finals course in 2018, he had a rough fall that resulted in a bloody nose. Although it’s not impossible, the national finals course is hard to complete. Over the show’s 13 full seasons, only two people — including Salt Lake City’s Isaac Caldiero — have actually been declared an “American Ninja Warrior” champion and claimed the $1 million prize, the Deseret News reported.

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“Obviously they don’t want winners every time, because that would water it down and people would look at it and say, ‘Well that’s easy. Someone beats it every year,’” former “American Ninja Warrior” competitor Brian Beckstrand told the Deseret News from his home in St. George, Utah. “This is motivation — it leaves it for anybody to complete. If even the seasoned veterans that are there every year haven’t done it, then it just leaves room for improvement every time.”

Now, this season, Middleton could reach the national finals for the fifth time. And maybe, just maybe, he’ll make it all the way to the end this time.

Eric Middleton’s ties to Utah

Middleton’s love of entomology began when he was a kid. He often joined his mother, a geologist, on field trips to southern Utah, and during one particular trip, after “climbing on rocks and hopping over stuff,” he got bored, according to a feature on the University of Minnesota’s graduate school page.

That’s when Middleton looked down and developed a fascination with the insects he saw crawling along the ground.

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“They’re so ubiquitous but they’re also so alien,” Middleton told the University of Minnesota, where he attended graduate school for entomology after studying in Salt Lake City. “They live absolutely everywhere but they’re so different from us.”

Throughout his runs on “American Ninja Warrior,” Middleton has enjoyed sharing his passion for bugs with the show’s viewers.

“It’s been really great to bring more awareness about entomology,” he previously told the University of Utah. “I’ve had people reach out to me on Facebook saying their kids saw me on the show and they’re really excited about bugs and excited that there’s somebody else out there who thinks bugs are cool.”

“American Ninja Warrior” airs Mondays on NBC at 7 p.m. MT.

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