The best career-based reality competition show (Project Runway, Work of Art: The Next Great Artist, and the many variations of Top Chefs) not only successfully follows the basic templates of the genre — a dozen or so people live and work together, compete in challenges, and are eliminated one-by-one by expert judges until a winner is declared -– but is also keenly aware of its target audience’s sweet spot. Count WWE Tough Enough as one of those shows that knows that sweet spot and is willing to hit it multiple times for maximum enjoyment. It starts off with a rocking introductory montage of each contestant getting body slammed in the ring. If you’re a fan of wrestling — or are even remotely interested in the sport — then this is the perfect show for you.
For ten episodes, fourteen contestants — nine men and five women –- with some or no experience on the wrestling circuit will compete for a shot at becoming the next WWE Superstar or Diva. And like in any reality competition show, many of them have big, colorful personalities. Luke Robinson, who currently works as a personal trainer, proclaimed that he wanted to be the “next Ric Flair.” Others have back stories filled with painful hardships. Graphic design student Eric Watts revealed how he takes care of his mentally handicapped older brother, Sean. Also among the fourteen are reigning Miss USA Rima Fakih, WWE Diva Alicia Fox’s baby sister Christina Crawford, and MMA fighter Jeremiah Riggs.)
In the Heidi Klum/Padma Lakshmi role is Stone Cold Steve Austin. Though not as pretty and gentle as the former models (he enters buildings on a motorcycle), he presides over the challenges, or “Life Lessons” as he likes to call them, like the toughest S.O.B. coach this side of Texas football. In the first “Life Lesson”, Stone Cold makes the contestants get an arena ready for a WWE event and then break it down after. Nothing “dramatic” happened there. Every contestant pitched in, even those who decided to wear high heels during the clean up.
When he wasn’t growling commands at the contestants, Stone Cold gruffly shared stories of his days as an up-and-coming wrestler –- including an unintentionally funny one about the night he continued to wrestle in a match despite defecating in his pants after being slammed too hard on the mat by his opponent. Even though he was trying to make a point about never quitting it was nonetheless hilarious. I doubt that either Klum or Lakshmi has a story like that about the modeling world.
The day after the WWE event, the contestants began their Daily Workout routine under the watchful eye of mentor-judges Bill DeMott, Trish Stratus, and Booker T. It’s during those morning regiments that other challenges started being issued, including one where contestants showed off how well they tumbled and rolled over, and one that had them bouncing off the ropes, from one end of the ring to the other, for straight three minutes.
DeMott, Stratus, and Booker T do pretty decent jobs as the mentor-judges but not enough screen time in the first episode is devoted to them as individuals so they don’t share their philosophies on wrestling, either as a sport or as a business, nor do we really get to hear about their past professional lives or their current private ones. DeMott does get to give a few of the contestants funny nicknames but that’s the extent we get of his personality.
There were clashes at the Spanish-style mansion the contestants share -– as every reality show loves to showcase — but a typical exchange in this episode consisted of New Jersey native Mickael Zaki making comments about how female contestants shouldn’t be on the show, and then getting yelled at for those sexist sentiments. At one point he threw a pillow at Fakih but she wouldn’t stand for it, told him off, and stormed out of the room they were in. From the looks of it, Zaki is going to be the WWE Tough Enough’s heel.
Honestly, the show works without that kind of drama. What makes WWE Tough Enough compelling television are the nuances about wrestling: the amount of tumbles and rolls one has to take, the crapping ones pants during a match, etc. If the nine episodes following this one are just about those nuances, then the audiences’ sweet spot will be in good hands.
WWE Tough Enough premieres Monday, April 4 at 11pm Eastern/10pm Central on USA Network, immediately following WWE Monday Night Raw, and moves to its regular timeslot — Mondays at 8pm Eastern/7pm Central — starting on April 11.
See the Contestants: