Fact Check

Did 81-Year-Old Arthur Hickenlooper Compete on 'American Ninja Warrior?'

A video purportedly showing an 81-year-old named Arthur Hickenlooper on the game show was met with a heavy dose of skepticism.

Published Sep 6, 2017

An 81-year-old man named Arthur Hickenlooper competed on the show "American Ninja Warrior."

A video purportedly showing 81-year-old Arthur Hickenlooper completing an athletic obstacle course went viral in September 2017, after it was posted to the Facebook page for the television game show American Ninja Warrior:

Because of the apparent youthful vigor exhibited by the contestant, viewers were skeptical the video was on the level. The most common theory about "Arthur Hickenlooper" was that he was actually a younger athlete disguised as an older man:

I was more impressed that the Rubber Mask Makeup didn't fall off.

Who else was waiting for him to rip off his old man prosthetic mask and reveal in the end that he's a much younger athlete?

A few aspects of the video also made us skeptical. For example, around the 20-second mark, the video shows a woman who is supposedly Arthur's wife, Ruth Hickenlooper. However, this woman also appears to be the mother of American Ninja Warrior host Matt Iseman:

Coincidentally, Joan Iseman also "competed" during the Daytona episode of American Ninja Warrior, although that competition looked to be something of a farce:

Deceptive edits were likely used at the end of the video to make it appear as if Iseman's mother had completed the course. Changes in sleeve position and nail polish color, however, indicate that a different person actually completed the course before Iseman was edited in at the end of the video. The following comparison shows the actual athlete with a light green nail polish and rolled up sleeves (left) and a picture of Iseman's mother with long sleeves and dark nail polish (right) on the victory stage:

If the video of Arthur Hickenlooper were real, surely host Iseman would have mentioned that Arthur's wife, Ruth Hickenlooper, was also his mother, Joan Iseman.

The viral video also included two suspicious photographs purportedly showing "Hickenlooper":

We have not been able to find the sources for either of these photographs, but we were skeptical that they truly showed an 81-year-old athlete. Although the subject's face seemingly belongs to an 81-year-old man, the rest of his body did not bear any of the wrinkles you'd expect to see an octogenarian.

The announcers in the video also called Arthur Hickenlooper a "bit of a local legend" who still competed in (and won) athletic competitions in Denver. However, we found no record of an 81-year-old Arthur Hickenlooper competing in Colorado (or anywhere else). Arthur's name may have been a nod to Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

If Arthur Hickenlooper wasn't a real 81-year-old, then who wore the "old man" mask for this episode? Our best guess was Brent Steffensen, an American Ninja Warrior competitor who posted the video on all of his social media accounts, and who bore a distinct resemblance to "Hickenlooper":

Indeed, Steffensen confirmed in an email that he did, in fact, compete on American Ninja Warrior as the 81-year-old Arthur Hickenlooper: "Well, now that the cat is out of the bag I can officially say that yes, Arthur Hickenlooper was actually played by yours truly, lol. Gotta say that it was a ton of fun!!"

The idea of dressing up a younger athlete in an "old man" costume is not new. Thrillist published a video in July 2016 which purportedly showed an elderly weight lifting at Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. That video included footage of the prosthetics that were applied to Kenneth Leverich, a former Junior Olympic weightlifter, to make him appear as if he were an old man. We suspect a similar process was used to create "Arthur Hickenlooper" for American Ninja Warrior:

Dan Evon is a former writer for Snopes.