Tough Enough: Looking Back at WWE's Original Reality Show
WWE's latest foray into the world of reality shows will look a lot different than when the company gave us Tough Enough.
Total Divas is coming to the E! Network this summer. It will be a look at life outside of the ring for WWE's female performers, including Natayla Neidhart, The Bella Twins and newcomers Eva Marie and Jo-Jo Offerman. It looks to be strikingly dissimilar to Tough Enough, a show where WWE hopefuls competed for a spot on the roster.
Trainers harped on WWE wannabes, whittling down the field over the course of a season until one or two potential stars remained and were pronounced the winners.
The cameras caught these contestants learning how to take basic wrestling moves, suffering through strange challenges and to wading through their own personal drama.
Season one aired in 2001 and the show went on for three more seasons before having a six-year gap. The final season was glossier. Steve Austin replaced Al Snow as head trainer in an attempt to revamp and rebrand the show.
Rather than try to relive the success and failures of Tough Enough, WWE is going in a new direction with this Diva-centered show.
Much of the excitement over Tough Enough in its infancy was the fact that fans were getting to see future WWE stars. The winners were supposed to go on to be the next big things. They often didn't, but some of the show's contestants have gone to have successful careers.
Both Miz and Ryback competed on the fourth season.
Ryback was known then by his real name, Ryan Reeves. His "feed me more" shtick apparently comes from his reputation for having an insatiable appetite, something that came to light on the show. If cameras weren't catching Ryback working out or wrestling, they caught him with half a sandwich crammed in his mouth.
Miz's charisma shined on the show.
He failed to win the show itself, but he has since been champion several times over and has battled John Cena in a WrestleMania main event. His former tag partner John Morrison is among the few contestants who followed up their appearance on Tough Enough with a solid career.
Morrison's hair was much shorter when he was on the show. His athleticism and physique helped him become the co-winner of the third season
An injury took Matt Morgan out of the running for season two. He went on to make to the WWE main roster but has since had most of his success with TNA.
Maven won the first season of Tough Enough. He eliminated The Undertaker in the 2002 Royal Rumble. He won the Hardcore title and battled the likes of Shelton Benjamin and Batista. His early success seemed to show that Tough Enough could produce a quality performer.
Melina didn't make much of an impact while on the show, but she went on to become WWE Women's champ.
Josh Mathews was an intriguing guy to watch on Tough Enough. He was always clearly too small to be a viable contender, but his passion for the business was clear. That must have helped him land his current job as a WWE commentator and interviewer.
Despite getting kicked off season five early on, in part for saying that Melina vs. Alicia Fox was her favorite match ever, Cameron has gone on to become a Funkadactyl. That's not top star-level success, but it's far more than some of Tough Enough's winners have accomplished.
Winners Who Didn't Pan Out
Daniel Puder and Andy Leavine are the most prominent winners who have yet to build on their Tough Enough victories.
Puder beat out Ryback, Miz, Chris Nawrocki and Mitch from the Spirit Squad in the fourth season to earn what was supposed to be a million-dollar contract.
He didn't last long with the company, appearing at the 2005 Royal Rumble and not much else. Most fans will remember him for an incident where he tried to break Kurt Angle's arm.
On the Nov. 4, 2004 episode of SmackDown, Angle challenged the Tough Enough contestants to test him in the ring. Puder veered from the script and tried to take Angle's arm home with him as a souvenir. As reported by WrestleShark.com (via WrestlingInc.com), Puder said, "I caught him in a key lock, pulled him into a kimura and tried to snap his arm off."
As for Leavine, many fans still believe that runner-up Luke Robinson or even the off-kilter Jeremiah Riggs should have won instead of him. He was clearly missing a key ingredient in the Superstar formula.
While Puder at least leaves a legacy of misguided defiance, Leavine left us with no memories. Tough Enough, on the other hand, provided several lasting ones.
The show's most intriguing points ranged from silly to moving.
In the silly category, the season four contestants had to dress in drag and hit on Hardcore Holly in one of their challenges. Miz shined here as he embraced the ridiculousness of the moment.
To open season two, Jim Ross made fun of a potential contestant with an extremely flabby body. Ross said, "You can't have a body that looks like you just had a litter of pups."
Season three, at least early on, featured a strange dude named Wendell. At one point during training, Wendell started to writhe on the floor like a pouting child. Snow gave him a few chances, but Wendell's disrespect and lack of focus eroded Snow's patience.
Snow shoved his finger into his face and told him to leave.
The show had touches of drama in every season.
Maven visited his sick mother in the hospital. Lisa left the show abruptly in the third season. Morrison knocked out a fellow contestant with a slam to the mat.
The third season showed off how close the trainers got to these contestants. Snow's eyes welled up as he struggled with making the final few cuts. This kind of emotional moment along with watching the aspiring wrestlers venture on their tiresome journey was what helped make the show special.
It was cool to see glimpses of what the industry looks like behind the curtains, but it was the people—the weird, the funny and the passionate—who really made the show.
Total Divas has a lot of work cut out for it to match Tough Enough in terms of entertainment value and emotional tug—though it should have it beat with sex appeal right away.
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