Several months ago, WWE’s reality competition show Tough Enough was officially announced to return to the USA Network and wrestling fans were excited because, despite the disastrous result of Andy Levine winning, the fifth season was thoroughly entertaining. Now that the sixth season of Tough Enough has ended and a couple of $250,000 contracts have been handed out, it’s time to reflect on what the show got right and what the show got very, very wrong.
The format of the show was problematic at best. In addition to airing reality-show type footage (fights, drama, etc.) that was filmed throughout the week, WWE decided to add a live aspect to the show that included live fan-voting that gave the ‘WWE Universe’ final say in the outcomes of the show. Three WWE superstars – Daniel Bryan, Paige, and the Miz (who replaced Hulk Hogan when he got fired) – were named judges who had the ability to place a competitor they felt was struggling in the ‘bottom three’, and then the fans could vote to keep on. This is problematic because fan voting essentially made the show a popularity contest, which hurt competitors that showed a ton of promise, like Patrick and Amanda.
Reality shows are, in essence, popularity contests that allow the people on the show to embrace the characters they’ve been portrayed as on television. However, this isn’t the best course of action for a competition show that claims to seek the best talent available. Professional wrestling requires the athletes to connect to the audience to be successful, whether they are cheered or booed out of the building. Tough Enough didn’t allow for someone to embrace being a ‘heel’ character because fans tended to vote for the competitors they liked.
Take ZZ, the self-proclaimed ‘King of the Bayou’ who legitimately wrestles alligators on the swamps of Louisiana. He made it through 11,000 competitors to the final eleven based on his personality alone, considering his physical fitness wasn’t where it should have been, even by the end of the show. The audience loved him because he’s a funny and endearing personality, despite how clear it was he wasn’t going to win the show when he struggled to run the morning mile in the first episode. Personality is important in professional wrestling, but so is conditioning. The judges started to lose faith in ZZ’s chances to win the show and placed him in the bottom three multiple times just to have the audience keep him around. Maybe he deserved to be there and maybe he’ll be a big star in WWE some day, but, given Tough Enough’s track record, it’s not likely.
On that note, while Tough Enough winners have largely failed to amount to much in the WWE, this season feels different. Sara Lee and Josh ‘The Yeti’ were announced the winners on Tuesday’s finale and will have one year to prove to Triple H and the rest of the WWE executives that they belong. Given the success of WWE’s Performance Center and the passion to develop young talent for NXT, it seems as though Josh and Sara Lee will have the best possible resources to develop into real wrestling stars at their disposal.
Josh already has created more of a brand for himself than anyone else that competed in Tough Enough (including the Miz, at the time) with his ‘Yeti’ call. If he can figure out a way to make that character more reality-based than what he debuted on the final, it’s not difficult to see him being a fan favorite in NXT next year. He has the look and athleticism to make it in WWE, but there’s a major uphill battle ahead.
Sara Lee is a more difficult case to crack. She has the look of an edgier Diva (i.e. Paige), but has an ever-smiling personality that may not make it in WWE. As the Tough Enough coaches and judges constantly told her, she would have to take professional wrestling more seriously and learn to play different emotions on screen and in the ring. That said, she’s a likeable character that the crowd already really likes and has the physical fitness a WWE Diva needs. She picked up the wrestling aspect of things slower than almost anyone else on the show, so she needs to hope that a year will be enough time.
Tough Enough was not as entertaining as WWE fans had originally hoped for because the format of the show was problematic and the live aspect didn’t really help at all. As the ratings continued to fall every week all hope for the show seemed lost. However, there may be hope in the winners because WWE will give them everything they need to succeed.
It’s a new era of talent development in WWE and Tough Enough will hopefully be proof of that.
If you enjoyed this article please hit the ‘subscribe to author’ button below to receive e-mail updates when new content is published.