Tough Enough Stuff, Episode 0: Heartbreak Kids

Well, it happened a bit earlier than we were initially led to believe, but the new season of WWE Tough Enough is upon us. Tuesday’s “competition special” was our official introduction to this revamped approach to Tough Enough, documenting the process of cutting 40 hopefuls down to 13 finalists. We’ll be bringing you recaps each week, so let’s dive right in and find out who’s got what it takes and who’s the designated Person Throwing Up In The Background. To the Performance Center!

Freshman Orientation at McMahon High

We get some pretty standard vox pop stuff right off the bat. Amanda’s the first one we get any real face time with, and she’s determined to beat the preconceptions people might have about her based on her looks. Alex from Long Island gets in the ring to tell the panel of judges that he’s “the strongest motherf*cker here.” Yes, he actually says this. Eight minutes into the season, and we already have our first “Wait, What?” moment. Billy Gunn is instantly unimpressed, which is pretty rich considering he made a comfy living as one of the Suck It dudes. More introductions follow, including Adam (“The Big O”), twin brothers Jeremiah and Nehemiah Kingdom, and novelty T-shirt enthusiast Don.

I think he might secretly be a member of Odd Future.

But then there’s Mike Hayes, a former armed forces serviceman who lost a leg in 2006 while fighting in the Middle East. The man escaped a burning Humvee while carrying his own severed leg. Kind of makes you think about what “tough” really means, doesn’t it? There’s also ZZ, an alligator wrestler who is the most Cajun man walking God’s green earth. If Gambit and Bray Wyatt adopted a son, that child would turn out like ZZ. He’s probably going to be the Grado of Tough Enough, for better or worse.

Why Did You Join My Beloved Corps?

With introductions out of the way, it’s on to the initial drills. Nick, a powerlifter, becomes an early casualty when he complains of shortness of breath and is eventually taken away in an ambulance. After some deliberation among the judges, eliminations begin. Mike and ZZ advance to the next round, but The Big O is eliminated and the Kingdom twins withdraw. It’s straight back to drills the next day, where we meet Ashley Urbanski. Apart from The Big O, Ashley was the other person I was familiar with when I saw the list of the 40 preliminary contestants. She does some independent wrestling on the West Coast, most notably for Hoodslam in the Bay Area. Hoodslam is… well, it’s a hell of a trip. There’s an entire division of cosplay wrestlers, and the hottest feud in the promotion is Brian Kendrick versus a stuffed horse named Butternuts. The horse is currently dead, due to the fact that Kendrick murdered it in cold blood. So, Ashley was on my radar, and I was really pulling for her. We’re also introduced to ex-Green Bay Packer Joshua and mixed martial artist Daria. When asked about her relationship status, Daria basically comes out as a lesbian, saying that she has lots of friends who have no idea about her sexuality.

It comes out of nowhere, but it’s a great moment. Here’s hoping none of the other cast members are jerks about it. Gabi, a fitness model originally from Brazil, is certainly a frontrunner for biggest jerk. After considering dropping out, Mike rejoins the drills for the day and finishes alongside the rest. At this point, Chris Jericho joins the fray to announce the next eliminations. Unfortunately, Mike reconsiders yet again after realizing that his body isn’t keeping up with his spirit, and he tearfully removes himself from competition. Jericho and the judges select their final 13, but there are still some kinks to work out.

I’m Afraid I’ve Got Some Bad News

The day after receiving the best news of her life, Ashley learns that she’s been medically disqualified from joining the finalists due to a heart irregularity. And while we’re on the subject of hearts, if this didn’t break yours, you are dead inside. There’s a certain Randy “The Ram” Robinson spirit inside professional wrestlers that pushes them beyond what doctors say should be possible. It’s the little voice inside that says, “I don’t care if your leg is hanging off by a tendon. You still have to hit your finish.” In a pre-Benoit world, maybe Ashley would have been allowed to stick around, but modern WWE takes no shortcuts when evaluating health these days. It’s why Edge had to hang up his boots. It’s why Daniel Bryan is practically a phantom on WWE programming. It’s the most necessary kind of unfair. Lita promises Ashley that there’s a Performance Center tryout waiting for her if she’s healthy in the future, but Ashley’s spot among the finalists is awarded to Gabi. Meanwhile, former running back Khalil doesn’t pass WWE wellness screenings, and his spot is given to ZZ.

Male Finalists:

  • Alexander Frekey
  • Hank Avery, Jr.
  • Joshua Bredl
  • Mada Abdelhamid
  • Patrick Clark, Jr.
  • Tanner Saraceno
  • Zamariah “ZZ” Loupe

Female Finalists:

  • Amanda Saccomanno
  • Daria Berenato
  • Dianna Dahlgren
  • Gabi Castrovinci
  • Giorgia Piscina
  • Sara Lee

Now, the real fun begins. Come back next week for the first proper episode, which will probably feature a Real World-esque “moving into the house” montage. This isn’t my first rodeo. I know my Tough Enough.