Tough Enough: Ranking Each Season of WWE's Original Reality Show
WWE is returning to the reality show arena this summer with Total Divas, a show that looks to be a lot glitzier and a lot less gritty than Tough Enough.
Beginning in 2001, WWE gave fans a window to watch potential pro wrestlers struggle through training and challenges. The winners competed for a WWE contract while trainers such as Al Snow and Steve Austin barked at them.
It was a successful show in some ways, but it so often produced winners who didn't make it in WWE that the appeal of the show faded. Like with American Idol, when the winners don't become stars, it drains some of the excitement of the entire competition.
Ranked based on how much drama the season gave fans, how interesting the contestants and trainers were as well as the entertainment value of the challenges, here is every season of Tough Enough, from worst to first.
5. Season 4
Notable contestants: Ryback, Daniel Puder, The Miz
After three straight seasons of emulating Real World by having the Tough Enough contestants live together in a house, WWE went in a different direction for the fourth season.
The company tried to infuse Tough Enough into WWE SmackDown. It's a move that made sense in theory, as it should have helped bridge the gap between contestant and Superstar.
The issue was that it robbed the show of the intimacy that it had previously.
It felt much more like a game show than a personal drama. Contestants dressed in drag and hit on Hardcore Holly. They swung foam-covered weapons at each other a la American Gladiators. They arm wrestled, they boxed, they waited in the center of the ring to be judged.
It's interesting now to see Ryback on the show as Ryan Reeves. For those wondering where his "feed me more" gimmick came from, watch him chow down episode after episode.
This season was more slickly produced than its predecessors, but it was also the cheesiest.
Winner Daniel Puder's only claim to fame is an incident where he tried to break Kurt Angle's arm. Miz was clearly the most charismatic and best overall talent throughout the show. He was runner-up to Puder but eventually outshined him in a WWE career that has included a WWE title run and main eventing WrestleMania.
4. Season 5
Notable contestants: Andy Leavine, Luke Robinson, Jeremiah Riggs
After a six-year hiatus, Tough Enough returned in a revamped format with Steve Austin at the helm rather than Al Snow.
The show traded in its Real World presentation for that of a typical, contemporary reality show.
This was a season held back by a comparative lack of interesting contestants. Funkadactyl Cameron, known then as Ariane Andrew, was eliminated first when her passion and knowledge of the business was called into question.
Cameron learned that Melina vs. Alicia Fox is not the appropriate response to Stone Cold asking you, "What's your favorite match?"
The star power of Austin, along with Bill DeMott, Trish Stratus and Booker T, outshined that of the previous season's trainers. As funny as he was, Austin was not as engrossing as the head trainer as Snow was before him. Snow got more attached to the kids and pulled back his aggression when needed, but Austin seemed to be all anger all the time.
Perhaps that makes for a better trainer, but it doesn't make for better TV. Snow came off as more likable in spite of how hard he rode the contestants at times.
The challenges also felt more pointless and less fun than some of the stuff seen on previous episodes. Contestants were attacked by dogs on one episode for example, which would only come in handy in the ring if WWE ever resurrected the Kennel from Hell match.
Andy Leavine was the show's least impressive winner. He seemed to constantly be battling himself internally, trying to force his way out of his shell.
3. Season 2
Notable contestants: Matt Morgan, Jackie Gayda, Kenny King
Like the season immediately preceding and immediately following it, the second go-round of Tough Enough married MTV-style reality shows with watching men and women grunt as they repeatedly hit a wrestling mat.
This one felt a bit more repetitive and monotonous than the series' two best seasons.
The season began with a group of WWE personnel, including Jim Ross, watching as potential contestants made their case from a ring at Caesar's Palace. The casting process gave fans glimpses of those with potential and those with no shot.
In response to an overweight gentleman with an extremely flabby physique, Ross commented, "You can't have a body that looks like you just had a litter of pups."
Big Show delivered an intriguing speech about being too cocky when he first started. Contestants did push-ups on sand and rode a mechanical bull.
Some of the season's highlights include a visit from Ron Simmons and Bradshaw, the male contestants running around in jockstraps and Brooklyn Brawler ragging on Jake.
Matt Morgan was the most promising athlete in the competition and looked to be the favorite until an injury forced him to pull out early. Had Morgan stayed on, the season might have been improved.
2. Season 1
Notable contestants: Maven, Nidia, Josh Mathews
The first season had the advantage of novelty. By the third season, fans had seen everything already and were harder to impress. Al Snow led a team of trainers that included Taz and Jacqueline.
There was a buzz about this season with all the contestants unsure of what to expect.
Eventual winner Maven visited his mom in the hospital. Current WWE interviewer and commentator Josh Mathews was an interesting part of the show. He had tons of heart but always seemed too small to make it to the end.
The intro was gritty, much like WWE TV intros at the time. This season felt the most like Real World with so much time dedicated to the contestants chatting and Mathews talking to his girlfriend on the phone.
The surprise guest list was impressive. Kurt Angle, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Lita, Mick Foley and Steve Austin all showed up to teach something to the contestants.
The show's first time out was among its best efforts, topped only by a more emotional season.
1. Season 3
Notable contestants: John Morrison, Matt Cappotelli, Melina
Bill DeMott and Ivory joined Al Snow as they attempted to train the Tough Enough contestants.
Eventual multi-time champion in WWE, Melina was eliminated early. A more compelling exit came when a man named Wendell got weird. Wendell was a large dude who Snow said he saw potential in.
During a training session early on, Wendell slacked off. He writhed on the floor in dramatic fashion. After giving him a few chances, Snow got in Wendell's face and kicked him out.
Stories moving, funny and compelling unfolded over the season.
DeMott grinded his forearm down on Scott's head when he continually made the same mistake. Lisa left the show abruptly. John Morrison knocked Scott out with a slam to the mat. Jonah was a big, lovable goof throughout.
One of the highlights was Diamond Dallas Page's speech to the contestants about fighting through injury and not giving up. To see Snow get so attached to the contestants toward the end, to watch him struggle with cutting them was the most compelling part of the entire show.