Tough Enough

Sarah Stanek is tough enough.

Last week, on the Tough Enough 2 casting special, we met 250 hopefuls in a whirlwind montage of laughably unsuitable candidates, failed kick-ups, and lots of eye-rolling from this year's trainers, Al Snow, Ivory, Bob "Hardcore" Holly and Chavo Guerrero Jr., as well as higher-ups from both the WWF and MTV. (The WWF's Kevin Dunn, in particular, comes across as a complete ass. Ken Mok, the executive producer from MTV, on the other hand, seems pretty cool.)

After additional interviews and a physical challenge, the finalists were announced. This year's contestants are:

Anni - this year's six-foot-tall Amazon woman

Kenny - the soft-spoken black guy with close-cropped hair

Jake - the one with the bleached-blond tuft of hair on the front of his head

Alicia - the white trash princess

Matt - the big white guy

Linda - the basketball player

Hawk - the crazy guy who jumped in the fountain twice (according to JR, "that sumbitch is goofier than a pet coon.")

Shad - the black guy with cornrows

Jessie - the tiny girl

Jackie - the trampy girl

Aaron - the really non-descript guy

Pete - the guy who used to be fat

Robert - the big black guy; this year's Darryl

As the first real episode begins, John "Big" Gaburick announces that Shad did not pass his physical, and will be replaced by Danny - the guy who came in first. There is much rejoicing, as several people feel that Danny was robbed of a chance to be in the running. (In the casting special, Dunn expressed concern that it would be hard to tell Danny and Pete apart, as they both have red hair and a similar build. It might seem ridiculous, sure, but how long did it take you to figure out the difference between Edge and Christian? Exactly. A weird reason, but possibly a valid one.)

After moving in to the gorgeous three-story house they will call home for the next few months, the contestants spend two days at Trax West in LA with their superstar trainers. The early curriculum includes taking falls, flipping over Al to land a flat-backed bump, and locking up.

Jessie, already at a disadvantage for being the same size as the average 12-year-old, is taken aside by her idol Ivory for a lecture about smiling and laughing too much in the ring. Although Jessie insists she's just a shiny happy person, Ivory doesn't care. "Stop throwing your sex around," she orders.

On the third day, they head off to the beach for the first of periodic challenges, this time a "Level 10 workout for seasoned athletes" - essentially a basic-training type confidence/obstacle course.

Other competitive reality TV shows may beat their contestants down mentally and physically, but to what end? On Survivor, the purpose is to see how quickly they will turn on each other, and who can be the thinnest and angriest when they win the million dollar prize. While that certainly makes entertaining television, on Tough Enough it's more than that. It's an important part of the learning curve for the business.

The most interesting thing about the first season was how close and friendly the contestants became. Rather than sniping at each other or stabbing anyone in the back, they worked out their differences in a mature, calm manner and encouraged each other in the ring. Every fan knows that even a crappy wrestler can have a great match against a good worker, so it was in their best interest to help each other out, contest or no contest.

But MTV has its hand in the pot too, so there's some subdued drama between Aaron and his girlfriend back in Virginia. Last year's first dropout, Jason, left in the third episode after realizing how hard it would be to have a family and be a wrestler. Aaron is drafting an ultimatum to his girlfriend, but it may be irrelevant because the episode closes with him being carried away in an ambulance after the beach challenge. (Yes, a real ambulance. You can tell because it took a while to get there.)

No one was eliminated this week, although we are promised the first cut next episode. Last season the trainers couldn't make a cut until the fifth episode, because too many people dropped out of their own accord. This year's crew seems to be made of sturdier stuff. No clear winners have emerged, but off-track betting is encouraged.

Wrestling fans who aren't watching Tough Enough are doing themselves a disservice. No matter how much of a 'smart' you are, you have no idea how tough you really have to be until you've watched this show, and even then you're probably only halfway there. Wrestling may be scripted, but it isn't fake, and this shows you exactly how real it is.


Sarah Stanek




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