Top-Down Smackdown: Ain’t That Tough Enough?

Because Aughts

I always liked Tough Enough back in the day, even once the novelty wore off of having a WWE show that actually showed how everything was done. And the new season of the reality program for superstar wanna-bes, airing on USA rather than WWE Network, is the most star-studded yet: hosted by Chris Jericho, contestants trained by Booker T, Billy Gunn and Lita, and featuring Hulk Hogan, Daniel Bryan and Paige as a panel of experts. All-told, a great use of talent who are either under-utilized or unable to compete at the moment.

It should be a fun show. But will it actually produce anybody worthwhile? Its track record suggests not.

Maybe being handed a contract after winning a reality contest makes people lazy. Perhaps talents who don’t work the minor leagues or drive 300 miles to go to shows that pay $15 fail to develop the proper discipline. Whatever the case, Tough Enough alumni generally haven’t hung in there very long – except from season 4, which wasn’t even its own show, but a worked shoot that partially backfired when contestant and eventual winner Daniel Puder legitimately hurt Kurt Angle. Miz and Ryback, the biggest names associated with the show, came from that season. Two of the other biggest names, Cameron and the Boogeyman, didn’t make it past the first episode.

Season 5’s winner Andy Leavine has never even made it to TV. Maven, Nidia, Miss Jackie, Shaniqua…where are they now? Josh Matthews became an announcer, John Morrison is every D-grade distributor’s go-to wrestler for direct-to-DVD lead roles, and Chris Nowinski and Matt Cappotelli were felled by legitimate health issues.

Even the trainers haven’t fared well: bullies Bob Holly and Bill DeMott were exposed as, well, bullies, and Tori didn’t even make it to the season finale of her own season. Al Snow is long gone and Taz is mostly retired from the ring. Steve Austin is a category unto himself, like Hulk Hogan in the new season.

The truth is you don’t watch this to see the next big thing. You watch it to see the superstars being themselves, and vicariously enjoy the fan experience these contestants are getting. As a platform for creating stars, it has always been a flawed model – nobody trained on a taped TV show is going to be ready for live Raw right away.

Clearly the formula will be shaken up – on previous seasons, the trainer(s) was/were the host(s), and you have to distinguish this from NXT. It remains to be seen what the “panel” is there for, and if Hulk Hogan can manage to tell the truth for up to 30 minutes at a time.

But more airtime for Booker T, in an actual ring without his headset on? I can dig that.

My dream lineup for Tough Enough would be JBL, Goldberg and Chyna as trainers; Iron Sheik, Shane Douglas and Honky Tonk Man as the panel; and Mike Adamle as the host. It would be terrible for the trainees, but hilarious TV. And since winning the show hardly seems to do much for anyone, why not just say screw it and go for it?

Who would your dream picks be?