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EXCLUSIVE: Leila McKinnon joins the Ninja Warrior team

"I’ve always loved the show, but this season is extra exciting."
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The new season of Australian Ninja Warrior has had a facelift – and a good one at that. As one of the new hosts alongside tennis great Jim Courier, Leila McKinnon says the gig has made the Nine Network darling a celebrity in her own home.

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“I’ve always loved the show, but this season is extra exciting,” McKinnon, 49, tells WHO ahead of the season premiere, adding that her son Ted, 9, and daughter Gwendolen, 8, are huge fans, with dreams of taking on their Ninja heroes one day.

The show will introduce contestants as young as 16 to the competition, and a duel-like component, too.

“From the kids taking on the course, the head-to-heads and the fact that most of the pandemic restrictions are gone,” the show is back to full throttle, which includes the spectators.

“The kids have their schools to cheer them on, it’s fabulous and high-energy fun with the buzz of the crowd. It’s back to 100 per cent,” she tells.

Here, McKinnon spills on the new season, her co-host and what it’s like being a mother of two superfans.

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Leila McKinnon will host beside Jim Courier. (Credit: Nine Network)

Get us up to speed on the new season.

We have the youngest ninjas ever who’ve grown up watching the last six seasons. They’re taking on their heroes, which makes it very exciting. They come with their own merchandise, and they are actually really good – it’s a changing of the guard in some ways. And also, in the semis, we’re running people against each other on the course. The pairings are so cruel! It could be brother against brother, or husband against wife – one of them has to go! It’s a beautiful, supportive show, but we’ve also been very mean (laughs).

In some ways, the younger contestants are better than the adults because they have to leap further, jump higher…

Yes! They are full of energy and full of confidence. They’re raring to go! Sometimes they lack the experience of the older contestants, but it was really shocking to see how confident they were when they came out. From the sofa at home to the biggest Ninja obstacle course in the world – they are not intimidated. It’s a real treat.

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Leila at the 2022 TV WEEK Logie Awards. (Credit: Getty)

Were you a fan of the show before you took on the hosting role?

Yes, I was, because my kids are! It’s a great show to watch as a family. It never even occurred to me to put my hand up for it or that I’d be asked to do it, so it was a pleasant surprise when I was – and the children were absolutely thrilled. The first thing they wanted to do was see and go on the course. They managed to get there but didn’t go on it. They might one day!

Do they turn your home into a Ninja arena?

Oh, yes. They never walk around on their feet. They do ninja, parkour, trampolining and gymnastics, so they’re climbing everywhere, they’re cartwheeling everywhere, begging for a Ninja course in the backyard. It was the right show at the right time for our family!

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“They never walk around on their feet,” Leila says of her kids. (Credit: Instagram)

Who are some characters to watch?

The Bin Chicken! The little boy who is the Bin Chicken Ninja looks so young to me and so sweet. Every time I saw him, I just melted. Then there’s a boy called Daniel Waterman, who’s the Send It Ninja, and he just came out full of the talk. Without giving too much away, he could also walk the walk. Then there are the favourites, like Olivia Vivian.

What was it like working with Jim?

It was great! I obviously knew his work from the tennis, and I always appreciated his sense of humour. But he’s quite laid-back and dry, so I didn’t know how that would translate to the wild world of Ninja – but he was great! His children are a similar age to mine, and he really gets caught up in it, too. We’re a couple of fans gone wild at the top of the tower.

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