Lego is a family thing for a Utah couple — now they’re on ‘Lego Masters’

Ryan and Aubrey Ninow lugged bins of building blocks for years.

(Tom Griscom | Fox) Contestants Aubree and Ryan in the “Brick Lake“ season premiere of "Lego Masters," airing Thursday on Fox.

Aubrey Nimow said she wasn’t particularly happy about it at the time, but now she’s glad she “lugged around” her husband’s bins full of Lego bricks from home to home to home.

“We moved a handful of times during the 10 years we lived up in Utah County, and we were lugging these bins,” she said. “I mean, I’m not talking like one or two bins. His mom saved, like, 20 bins.”

Ryan Ninow figured he’d keep them so that, when the couple’s kids got a bit older, they could play with them.

“I feel like Lego is very good for creativity and imagination and whatnot. And so we held on to them for all these years.”

Aubrey was less enthusiastic, asking, “Why are we lugging all these bins around?’”

Well, as it turned out, those bins led indirectly to the Ninows’ big TV adventure — competing on the fourth season of “Lego Masters,” which begins airing Thursday at 7 p.m. on Fox/Channel 13.

Ryan played with Lego as a kid; Aubrey did not. “I didn’t quite understand it because I didn’t grow up with it,” she said.

And Lego wasn’t a lifelong obsession for Ryan. He stopped building with the bricks when he reached his teens, but his mother kept all those bins.

Their son, Bo, first noticed Lego when he was 3 (he’s now 7) and the family was in the Lego aisle at a store. And Ryan was surprised to see the sets that are available as he bought his son his first Legos.

“I was, like, ‘Man, look at all these cool things they’ve done,’” Ryan said. “They make all these cool sets for adults now that are, like, 5,000 pieces. More complex. And, oh my gosh, these are actually really cool. And over the years, it just trickled more and more into our family.”

Their daughters — Ivory, 5, and Nora, 4 — got interested, and it “just became something that our kids do on a daily basis. And, as parents, we like to be involved with our kids. … It just snowballed into a family thing.”

That family thing eventually went online. They started watching stop-action Lego videos, “and at the time, I was, like, ‘Holy crap, these videos are getting millions of views. I could make a Lego stop-motion video that [Bo] could enjoy,” Aubrey said. “So that’s kind of how I got started.”

Ryan started a YouTube channel, and his “hobby of Lego really grew over the last three, four years,” he said. The couple started making their own stop-action Lego videos, and Ryan began posting video reviews of various Lego sets. Eventually, even though it’s “really fun following instructions,” he decided he “wanted to build my own things.”

His YouTube channel caught the attention of “Lego Masters” producers, who reached out to the couple to audition.

“Aubrey and I were, like, ‘Oh, this would be awesome! I can’t even imagine a more fun thing than to be able to get on to ‘Lego Masters,’ and to compete against people and show off what we can build.”

(Tom Griscom | Fox) Contestants Aubree and Ryan Nimow, at left, with judges Jamie Berard and Amy Corbett in the “Brick Lake“ season premiere of "Lego Masters," airing Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023, on Fox.

It’s harder than it looks

Watching the first three seasons of “Lego Masters,’ Ryan said he would “critique” the contestants “as if I could do better. … When you actually get on the show, you gain a lot more respect for the people building. And it’s very humbling, to say the least.”

The St. George residents, both 30, are one of 12 two-person teams competing to create the most elaborate and engaging Lego builds, and avoid the weekly elimination. Will Arnett returns as the series’ host, with judges Amy Corbett and Jamie Berard. Season 4 will feature a Cirque du Soleil challenge, an explosive volcano build and kittens, among other things.

Building at home, there’s no time pressure. You can order pieces you need. You can “trial and error a bunch of different ways to build something” Ryan said. “But when you’re competing against people, and you’ve got 10 hours to do it, you have to pick something and commit, and you just have to go. And if you didn’t do it right, you have to figure out a way to fix what you’re doing, like a Band-Aid. You can’t actually go back and fix it structurally. So it’s very difficult, but I think that’s part of the fun of the challenge.”

Plus, there’s the added pressure of the lights, the camera, the judges, and the thought of millions of viewers tuning in.

“You have cameras all over and you have competitors next to you and everybody’s rushing,” Aubrey said. “And you’re trying to see what everybody else is building and critiquing your own vote at the same time. … It definitely adds a whole ‘nother level of pressure, but it was very exhilarating at the same time.”

Being on the show, which taped earlier this year in Georgia, was fun. Eventually.

“There were times where I’d have to remind myself to just enjoy this moment,” Ryan said, “because we’re never going to be able to do this again, right? But it was hard to get myself grounded back to that point, because there’re so many talented builders in the room, and you’re looking at what you’re building compared to them.

“Once the challenge is over, you can kind of take a breath and you’re, like, ‘Ah, that was fun.’ But during it, it’s pretty high stress.”

Aubrey said that the builds were “definitely fun. And it was fun to see the interaction with the other contestants. But at the end of the day, lit is a competition. You’re competing to win a [$100,000] prize. And you want to do the best you can, while trying not to argue with your partner.”

(Fox) Utahns Aubrey and Ryan Ninow are competing on the new season of "Lego Masters."

Practicing at home

They didn’t have a lot of time between being cast and heading out to be on the show, but they “sure practiced our butts off,” Ryan said.

Aubrey added that her husband “put me through his own boot camp.”

They spent a lot of time working with motors and gears to animate their builds, something they “weren’t that familiar with,” he said, “but we knew we could make stuff look pretty. We’re really good at color. And so we were confident that we can make stuff look good. … We got comfortable with being able to make things move.”

Quiet? Or boring?

In one of his online videos, Ryan expresses some concern that he and Aubrey may not get much screen time on “Lego Masters” because they’re “boring.”

(Tom Griscom | Fox) The Season 4 contestants on "Lego Masters." Utahns Aubrey and Ryan are front right in the photo.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, there’re people there that have very outgoing personalities. And I feel like Aubrey and I may have been a little a little quiet. Maybe we were so hyper-focused, and maybe some people felt more relaxed. Maybe we were a little boring. But we’ll see. I mean, we won’t know until that first episode comes out if if we were boring or not.”

Aubrey doesn’t think they were. “I wouldn’t say we were boring, Ryan,” she said. “I think our personality types are a little more, I don’t know, reserved, I guess.”

And “probably the hardest part” of being on the show, Aubrey said, was leaving their kids with their aunts and uncle while the couple traveled to Georgia. “We’ve never left our kids for longer than maybe three or four days to go on a little quick trip. … We were parenting over FaceTime, when we had a minute. That was a little challenging.”

The couple that builds together …

Working closely together under intense pressure would test any relationship. The Ninos had their moments, but it wasn’t really anything new for them.

They’ve worked together “pretty much our whole marriage,” Ryan said. They’re entrepreneurs, and they launched their business, the RockPot portabler cooker, in August 2022 after raising almost $27,000 on Kickstarter. It is a slow cooker that requires no electricity or gas — you heat an element in a campfire (or on a stove) for 30 minutes, and then it cooks your meal, with heat that lasts more than 9 hours. It’s for use while camping, or if the power goes out at your home.

“A lot of people were, like, ‘Are you guys going to be OK? Are you guys going to need therapy after this?’” Ryan said. “No. At the end of the day, we had some head-banging and some rough discussions [about] if we’re going in the right direction or not, but we had so much fun together.”