A few weeks ago, Paige made her long-awaited return to WWE television, then promptly confused everyone by aligning herself with the unlikely duo of NXT rookies Sonya Deville and Mandy Rose.
But if you had wasted your time like I did watching Tough Enough back in 2015, you would have an explanation: both rookies were part of the show’s cast that season, when Paige was a judge.
Not saying it’s a particularly good explanation, but it’s an explanation.
And Tough Enough 2015 wasn’t a particularly good season, but it was a particularly bad season, which is why you’re reading about it on Wrestlecrap.
Every Tough Enough, a huge field of prospective wrestlers with video auditions gets narrowed down, with supposedly the best of the bunch auditioning in person.
This year, only 40 such applicants made the first cut, so there weren’t as many truly embarrassing auditions as in years past, but that didn’t stop Alex G from introducing himself to top WWE brass as “the strongest motherf**ker” there, and that “you can quote me on that.”
Apparently he had not watched wrestling since the Attitude Era, and even then, he remembered it wrong.
Needless to say, Mr. Ass chastised him for his language.
— Art O’Donnell (@Art0Donnell) December 5, 2017
And also needless to say, the Suplex City Bitch did not make the cut.
There were also the identical twins Jeremiah & Nehemiah Kingdom. Their upside was that they were twins and that they had biblical names, which WWE loves for its black male wrestlers.
Their downside was that only one of them could win the competition and the contract, and that they would probably be given new, trademark-able names anyway – I’m thinking, “Isaiah & Lamentations Jefferson”. The twins refused to quit; instead they withdrew from the competition because the trainers were rude to them.
But they didn’t quit.
Other contestants came within a hair of making it. Ashley, who now wrestles as Shotzi Blackheart on the indies, was chosen for the cast of thirteen.
Sadly, she got cut at the last minute because of alleged heart issues that came up during her physical exam, but I have an unsubstantiated suspicion that she was excluded for her vulgar language.
Nah, everyone on the show used that word.
I mean, “wrestle”.
The rest of the cast used WWE-speak at all times, even during “candid” conversations.
After the casting special came the main season, which aired on the USA Network and featured some slightly convoluted rules.
In most previous seasons, it was the trainers who made the cuts, which they based on the contestants’ performance during the eight hours a day they spent with them, rather than on their extracurricular activities. In fact, they wouldn’t see the non-training segments until the shows aired months later.
This season, three judges made those decisions each episode: Hulk Hogan, Paige, and the only judge without an unauthorized sex tape, Daniel Bryan.
These judges only got to see the 20-30 minutes of footage that WWE had edited together that week, but they nonetheless decided which three contestants deserved to leave.
The final decision each week was put to a vote by the viewers, who also only got to see the 20-30 minutes of footage that WWE had edited together that week.
And the opinions of the trainers who spent all week with the contestants? Not important.
But those trainers (Booker T, Billy Gunn, and Lita) did have an important role in imparting wisdom to the sports-entertainers in training.
Take Billy Gunn, who once heckled the contestants through a megaphone during training to teach them that in the ring, they absolutely must not get distracted by third parties or noises…
…unless that’s the finish of the match, which it usually.
Or take Booker T, who provided sage advice such as, “There’s no wrong way of doing it as long as you do it right.”
Thirteen contestants made it onto the show, although only one man and one woman could win the prize: a one-year, $250,000 contract with WWE.
Among the contestants was Giorgia, or GiGi, the adorable Australian. Since she is not currently on NXT teaming with Peyton Royce and Billie Kay as the Iconic Trio, you already know she didn’t end up winning.
There was also Mada, the imposing physical specimen who took part in the Egyptian revolution.
Another notable hoss was Josh, who called himself “The Yeti” and at every opportunity made his “yeti call”, a Chewbacca noise.
MMA fighter Tanner said that his hair was one of his best qualities because it made him stand out. At least, it would have, if Josh didn’t have almost the same exact hair.
Patrick was such a smart mark that he had actually crossed over to the other side, modeling himself after what WWE wanted to see and hear. He watched WWE Network specials like Beast in the East live, no matter how inconvenient the time, rather than watching on demand. When called out by another contestant over hiding his prior training and indy career, Patrick claimed that anything one did before getting to WWE is irrelevant.
He even watched TV at a weird angle like a real WWE Superstar!
There were the aforementioned Mandy Rose and Sonya Deville, then known respectively as Amanda Saccomanno, daughter of Bob…
…and Daria Berenato, an MMA fighter who came out during the casting special and hoped to be perhaps the first lesbian WWE wrestler since Wendi Richter.
There was also Sara Lee, who was physically incapable of not smiling…
…and Gabi, who was initially cut, but who replaced Ashley when she failed her heart tests.
This, despite Kristin Prouty, Senior VP of Entertainment Relations, calling her “a huge bitch”.
Nineteen-year-old ZZ, a Cajun alligator-wrestler and last minute replacement for another medically-DQ’ed contestant…
All the cast members roomed at the Performance Center in rooms called, “the barracks”, although unlike typical army barracks, these had a jacuzzi…
…where ZZ soon got barrack-naked.
It was very lucky for ZZ that one of the first challenges involved swimming through alligator-infested swamp water.
In that needlessly dangerous challenge, Daria got chewed out for failing to bring to shore the NXT belt provided to everyone. This was a big no-no, as in the business, the champion is responsible for bringing the belt everywhere they go, such as on an airplane or, under extremely unlikely circumstances, alligator-infested waters.
You can’t just buy a new title belt online.
This meant that the NXT championship joined a prestigious list of titles resting at the bottoms of bodies of water, including The Rock’s IC title, Austin’s smoking skull belt, John Cena’s spinner belt, and Kurt Angle’s gold medals.
ZZ would also get chewed out frequently throught the series, as his conditioning would prove to be a constant problem.
“Z, you have got to stop being last,” said Billy Gunn. He wouldn’t.
But whenever ZZ found himself in trouble, he would pull another metaphor out of his bayou.
Every week a guest from WWE popped in to speak to the cast.
The female contestants did their part to make Roman look strong.
As the season wore on, guests from the WWE roster were brought on to the live portion to boost the ratings.
Here, Tamina delivers a splash to Sara Lee, who sells it like she’s auditioning for Madame Tussauds.
Week by week, contestants started dropping. Hank proved to be so forgettable that after he was eliminated the first week, no one even mentioned the name… uh…
…oh, right. “Hank”.
Alex F. got voted off after claiming it didn’t matter whether you knew anything about wrestling or its history. Later in the episode, he appeared to call Patrick, “Barry Horowitz” after he patted himself on the back, so you tell me whether there was some deceptive editing going on somewhere.
Another contestant, Dianna, left in the middle of the night like the quitter she was (though WWE knew full well by the time the show aired that she had flown back to Washington state to be with her military veteran friend who had just been paralyzed at the bar she owned).
She got replaced, a first in Tough Enough history, because they still needed an elimination vote every week.
Her substitute was Chelsea Green, the future Laurel Van Ness and the former physical therapist/ alleged mistress of Daniel Bryan.
The week they donned costumes and made entrances, ZZ looked like he would be eliminated for this bizarre and stupid take on the “American Hero” gimmick. However, he managed to BS his way through an explanation of the concept, placating the Hulkster and the viewers alike.
Instead, Daria got the ax because of her “Fallen Angel” entrance that saw her dress up like an angel and literally fall down. Didn’t want to infringe on Christopher Daniels’s gimmick, I guess.
Speaking of dressing up, Gabi had a very loose interpretation of the “Farmer’s Daughter” gimmick she was assigned, deciding to wear fishnets and lingerie. Paige dubbed her, “Hooker T“…
…though Patrick was a fan.
Hooker T got cut after repeatedly failing to figure out what a “promo” was.
It, uh, wasn’t that close.
In week five, the theme was “humility”…
…so the episode was packed with clips of Patrick being arrogant and other contestants talking about Patrick being arrogant.
This ticked off the judges, who put Patrick in the bottom three. I can’t imagine Hulk Hogan wanting his daughter to marry someone like Patrick (because he’s too arrogant).
But what sealed Patrick’s fate were his negative comments toward the fan-favorite ZZ. “It will be a kick in my balls if I come here and I lose to *you*!” said Patrick.
He did. And it was.
Despite their harsh words, ZZ still in many ways idolized Patrick.
And by “idolized” I mean he built a shrine to him at his bedside. The judges thought ZZ shouldn’t be wasting his time thinking about people who got taken off the show. “Bye bye, Patrick,” said Paige. “You don’t exist anymore.”
Speaking of which, The Miz became the new third judge alongside Bryan and Paige for reasons unexplained. And who knew better how important it was to win Tough Enough than The Miz (who lost Tough Enough)!
The Miz proceeded to single-handedly screw the whole show up on his first night by nominating Mada for elimination (because of a clip where he blamed ZZ for messing up their in-ring work)…
…then using the show’s first save to protect Amanda from elimination (because “she’s hot”).
Since ZZ wouldn’t lose a three-way vote, Mada got booted off the show. Thus, the last male competitor who was both unique and competent was eliminated…
…leaving the short Josh lookalike…
…the tall Tanner lookalike…
…and ZZ, whose training, conditioning, and diet had still yet to improve.
How bad could the rest of the season be?
The next week, Miz announced that he would put Amanda in the bottom three himself for letting his assessment of her hotness go to her head.
At the last minute, though, he changed his mind and instead selected her rival on this episode, Chelsea. Of course, since he had telegraphed his choice of Amanda minutes earlier, the two other judges had picked two other women who weren’t Amanda for the chopping block.
(Amazingly, it was Amanda who would later accuse Sara Lee of “sleeping her way to the top”. How she found the time to hook up with all of those Twitter users who kept voting for her, I’ll never know.)
Paige, who absolutely hated Amanda, was none too pleased, staring at Miz like he had just stolen her spot as Santa’s Little Helper. Paige used her one save of the season to spare GiGi from elimination…
…which in turn screwed Chelsea, who, like Mada the week before, was not going to beat one of the viewers’ sentimental favorites (in this case, Sara Lee).
And then GiGi got eliminated anyway the next week.
The competition turned (more) petty between the two remaining women, with Amanda telling the cameras her secret evil plan to destroy Sara Lee, obviously forgetting that Sara Lee (along with the rest of the world) would see these comments on a weekly TV show.
Talk about “See you next Tuesday”!
Sara Lee, on the other hand, was nice to a fault, consistently failing to display any type of edge in her promos or mannerisms.
Chris Jericho even tried to light a fire under her by cutting a promo basically calling her a moron, and she just stood there, grinning moron-ily.
Oh, and she was also bad at everything.
And Paige hated them both, but because WWE needed two women for the finale, they were safe from elimination until then.
Tanner was the last male to go before the finals, coming up with the short end of the anti-ZZ vote.
This quote by Chelsea helps explain Tanner’s personal shortcomings:
No, no, no! She’s talking about Tanner’s personality, honestly!
In the end, the competition came down to ZZ vs. Josh and Sara Lee vs. Amanda. On the men’s side, ZZ had the personality, but Josh had everything else traditionally expected of a WWE Superstar: physique, strength, agility, and so on. On the women’s side, Sara Lee had likability, but Amanda had everything else traditionally expected of a WWE Diva: hotness, sex appeal, f**kability, and so on.
As “Mandy Rose”, Amanda wrestled her tryout match first.
On the one hand, she took a very dangerous-looking side slam that made the judges gasp, and then she forgot to sell it.
On the other hand, she sold this Alicia Fox clothesline so well that Paige applauded wildly, thinking she might actually be hurt.
Sara Lee wrestled the most basic of basic matches but at one point actually stopped smiling… I think.
ZZ the cardio warrior wrestled an impressive two-minute marathon against Cesaro…
…and Josh “The Yeti” wrestled a big-man-style match in briefs so tight you could see his abominable snow balls.
It’s too bad they couldn’t get Tony Schiavone to call the bout, though.
To show they could work just like real WWE Superstars, all four finalists executed their finishers, and all four times their opponents kicked out.
After the votes were tabulated, Sara Lee came out ahead with nearly double Amanda’s vote. It was unfair in many ways. Sara clearly only won because legions of viewers found her cute and sweet, which under the show’s rules was more important than one judge finding Mandy hot.
In the men’s competition, Josh bested ZZ, who after ten weeks of goofing around had finally worn out his welcome. Josh had already topped ZZ in votes the week prior, but the real kiss of death for the King of the Bayou was probably the Before and After photos shown for the male competitors.
Here, Josh lost nearly 40 pounds and wound up with rock-hard abs…
…while ZZ looked exactly the same from beginning to end.
So was Tough Enough 2015 a success? Ratings-wise, no. But as far as its purpose of creating the next WWE Superstars goes…
Sara Lee got released from developmental the following year without wrestling a single match on TV. She also had Wesley Blake’s baby, proving Amanda right: this “sweetheart” would actually have sex at least once.
Josh got released in 2017, also without having wrestled a single match on TV. Despite everyone knowing his name was Josh, he had been given the name of “Bronson Matthews” in NXT. Sheesh. He did manage to gain notoriety when he called the Social Outcasts stable, “Social Jobbers” on Twitter. That, along with pressure from Ron Reis over the use of the nickname, “The Yeti” (probably), put Josh in hot water with the company.
ZZ signed a developmental deal with WWE anyway to pursue the career he was born for: reality TV. He appeared on WWE’s Breaking Ground before being cut again.
Mandy Rose, obviously the company’s choice to win the competition, got scooped up as well, signing a five-year deal with WWE and immediately getting cast on Total Divas, where she was infamously led by the hand by pervy-looking Mark Carrano. She was also fast-tracked onto WWE television, where she now appears alongside former castmate Daria (Sonya Deville) and the judge who hated her, Paige.
Patrick the smart mark also signed with WWE and now appears on NXT as The Velveteen Dream, a character who is like Prince except taller and a wrestler.
In other words, as always, the official winners and losers of Tough Enough were in the end completely meaningless. WWE ended up signing whomever it wanted regardless of how they placed…
…Josh and Sara Lee joined such Tough Enough success stories as previous winners Big Andy and Daniel Puder…
…and John Morrison remained the last Tough Enough winner to wrestle more than one match on national TV (in any promotion).