WWE NETWORK PICK OF THE WEEK: The first season of Tough Enough with Al Snow, Taz, Jacqueline, comparisons to latest version

By Ryan Tailor, PWTorch Specialist

Tazz (art credit Travis Beaven © PWTorch)


Pick of the Week: Tough Enough: S01 E01
Originally Aired: June 21, 2001
By Ryan Tailor, PWTorch Specialist

Are you tough enough? This was the question asked by the WWE over 15 years ago as they embarked upon a quest to find two new potential WWE Superstars in a ground-breaking competition that would change the lives of some of the contestants forever.

Yes, this week’s POTW looks back to the birth of the television series “Tough Enough,” in all its original glory complete with gruelling challenges, high stakes, and thirteen young men and women eager to make it. The show, originally broadcast in conjunction with MTV, could be comparable in style to hit reality based MTV shows of the time, such as “The Real World,” and it hits you smack in the face with its early 2,000s “reality” production. And true to all reality based shows, the episodes are spliced with “talking head” shots of the contestants speaking to the camera, allowing the viewers at home to develop interest in their different backstories.

Over 4,000 people submitted audition tapes to the WWE (or the WWF as it was still known then) in the hopes of being selected for the live audition process in front of an esteemed panel of judges. From the initial video entrants, just 230 were chosen to try-out in person at WWF New York (yeah, I forgot that place existed too) in an attempt to impress the judges and make the next cut. Some of the judging panel included WWE Superstars Al Snow, Tazz, and Jacqueline, who would go on to be the lead trainers in this first season, plus WWE producer John “Big” Gaburick and a handful of MTV producers and affiliates. The ensemble of 230 would eventually be cut down to just 25 semi-finalists, 13 of whom would then qualify to compete in the first ever Tough Enough competition, for a chance to win a WWE contract.

The judges at the initial live auditions wasted no time in testing the potential candidates’ resolve, and gave them a chance to cut a promo and showcase their unique personalities, coupled with some basic cardio drills. Judging by the complete lack of athleticism in some of the hopefuls, it’s a wonder how certain contestants even made it past the audition tape round. But then again, a show where 230 well-oiled machines run rings around the physical challenges set by WWE wouldn’t make for a very entertaining first episode of Tough Enough now, would it? I mean, what’s a reality audition show without watching an out of shape guy with his shirt off fall over a sandbag in the ring, hmm?

Despite the “fake reality” world that MTV and its ilk often try to force upon us, what’s great about this show is, you do get to the see the genuine spark and enthusiasm from some of the potential competitors as they come face-to-face with their own moment of truth. The chance to fulfil their lifelong dream lays before them, and you can’t help but root for some of them to succeed.

Although this is a retrospective look back at a competition where I know who the winners will be, I still find myself trying to suss out my “picks” to win, and who I think will advance further in the competition. Also, in the rare instance that you’re reading this and don’t know who the winners of season one are, I shall refrain from spoiling the outcome!

In terms of the WWE’s own talent involved in Tough Enough, each trainer adds their own character and spice to the mix, offering up different dynamics to the student/teacher relationship. Al Snow, as well as being the lead coach during the coming weeks of intensive training, acts as somewhat of a father figure to most of the cast throughout the series. As the competition heats up, he provides a lot of sage advice and acts as a cool head (pun intended) and sounding board for the problems that the students face along the way. WWE Hall of Famer Jacqueline plays the role of the strong, feisty veteran woman wrestler who can challenge the toughness of the female competitors, but also on occasion act as a shoulder to cry on when things get intense.

And then… there’s Tazz.

The “Human Suplex Machine” gives you a taste, even in episode one, of how much he looks forward to putting these contestants in their place with his aggressive, take no-prisoners-attitude and no B.S approach to teaching. He is one of the main attractions of the show and is as funny as he is frightening! All three mentors command the respect of the contestants and, along with other appearances of WWE stars along the way (Check out Triple H’s rant about Goldberg in episode 3!), they serve as a tremendous wealth of wrestling knowledge and experience for the rookies.

When comparing the format and style of season one to the WWE’s latest Tough Enough incarnation in 2015, I can’t help but long for the programme to return to its routes in both content and production. In my opinion, the studio segments involving Paige, “he who must not be named,” and Daniel Bryan from the latest season of Tough Enough serve only to distract from the contestant’s own journeys, making them less relatable. This ultimately means that a viewer is just not as invested in who wins the show as they would have been if we got to see past the scripted drama and quest for camera time from the judges. Season one’s stripped down, “rough around the edges” style allows for a more engaging experience and lets the personalities of the contestants breathe.

A show is only as good as its cast, and the producers of season one had done a good job in mixing contestants who would be physically gifted in the ring (but maybe a little boring to watch), with those who would probably cause controversy and make it more of an entertainment/reality show and not just a pure athletic competition.

Tough Enough, through the good seasons and bad, has managed to spawn a handful of notable wrestlers that got to live out their dream and become WWE Superstars. It’s a dream that millions of people across the world can relate to and, as such, a show like this should be important not only to the history of the WWE, but to every die-hard wrestling fan who hoped to one day realize the same dream.

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: WWE NETWORK PICK OF THE WEEK: Stone Cold Podcast with Vince McMahon back in 2014 with talk about Punk, “Too Swiss” Cesaro, Lesnar ending The Streak, more

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