Tough Enough Stuff, Episode 1: Don’t Hate The Player

With the competition special now out of the way, WWE Tough Enough kicked into high gear yesterday with the first “real” episode of the season. More than 11,000 audition videos became 40 preliminary contenders, who in turn were narrowed down to 13 finalists, seven male and six female. Who’s on their way to NXT, and who’s going home? Find out with this recap of Episode 1, “Boot Camp or Bust.”

The First Day of the Rest of Your Life

First of all, I had seen the set preview posted on WWE’s YouTube channel, but I had no idea they were going the full “studio audience” route. It’s very strange to see the Full Sail set as anything other than the NXT arena, I must admit. I want to believe that Demon Finn Bálor is somewhere up in the rafters, muttering to himself in Gaelic. Renee Young tells us a bit about the elimination rules, revealing that each judge gets one save per season to keep a potentially eliminated contestant in the mix. I think that’s the same system The Voice is using, but I haven’t watched that since the first season. Team Vicci, all the way.

Our contestants meet at the Citrus Bowl (the home of WrestleMania XXIV, incidentally) for their first day of competition. Before any challenges begin, we get a little more biographical information on the cast. The competition special definitely failed to mention that Alexander has a Byzantine suit of armor tattooed on his body, adorned with the Cyrillic text for “Defender of Man.” So far, we have a gator wrestler (ZZ), a yeti (Joshua), and now a Russian knight. This will be a wonderful, wonderful mess.

The first challenge requires the contestants to run with drag parachutes and sandbags before finally scaling the bleachers of the stadium. Tanner jumps out to a commanding lead, while a lot of the bigger guys end up having a harder time than they anticipated. ZZ lags way behind, but he gets a lot of encouragement from the rest of the competitors. From there, it’s the mandatory “moving into the Performance Center barracks” montage that we all saw coming. Most of the cast decides to go out on the town and celebrate their first day, but Patrick and ZZ have to stay behind because neither of them are 21 years old yet. ZZ says he plans on eating all the cookies while everyone’s gone. We do not deserve him, guys and gals. Protect ZZ at all costs.

Pretty standard shenanigans ensue at the bar. Gabi makes a beeline for the stripper pole, which apparently comes completely natural to her as a native of Brazil. Is that racist? Also, Dianna can’t shut up about her impending wedding. Tanner is seen as a threat by the other men due to his charm and looks. Personally, I think that could end up working in his favor. Apart from ZZ, no one really has a gimmick here. If Tanner can start developing the cocky gym-rat persona while keeping his ego in check, he could go far. It’s now on the other guys to start standing out. Anyway, they all get back from the bar and some of the ladies join Patrick and ZZ in the hot tub. ZZ quickly sabotages himself by taking his trunks off underwater, prompting everyone to leave.

Listen, I’m trying really hard not to end every paragraph with “And then ZZ did something and it was funny,” but it’s an uphill battle.

It Ain’t Bragging If You Back It Up

Billy Gunn starts the next day with his best R. Lee Ermey impression and gets the mostly-hungover cast out of bed bright and early for workouts. NXT wrestler Jason Jordan makes a brief appearance to show the competitors how to run the ropes and lift a person-sized bag for the next challenge. Tanner ticks off a lot of people when he says he can do twice as many reps as any of the other men, but lo and behold, he ends up with the best score of the bunch. See, this is exactly what I like. What’s better than an arrogant heel? An arrogant heel who makes you look like an idiot by doing everything he boasts about right in front of your face. It’s the difference between The Miz and Mr. Perfect.

The night before the live eliminations, Dianna meets up with her fiancé and leaves the Performance Center. She eventually comes back, but emotionally, she’s been through the wringer. She seems way more focused on planning her wedding than earning a WWE contract. Regardless, everyone is sympathetic… everyone except Gabi, that is. I mean, I kind of don’t blame her for the tough love approach, but it’s needlessly harsh. Speaking of needlessly harsh, everyone gets on Tanner’s case yet again for being overly vocal about his abilities. You know, because complaining about the guy at the head of the pack is way easier than stepping up your own game. Anyway, from there we proceed to the eliminations.

This Is Her House

Best Moment of the Night Alert: When the judges finally get some face time with the cast, Paige drops WHITE-HOT NAPALM on Hank for his comment about ZZ being more out of shape than anybody, “even the women.” She’s not angry or fired up about it, she just asks a simple armor-piercing question that kneecaps Hank’s chances with the precision of a Marine sniper. You can almost pinpoint the moment in Hank’s rambling defense when he realizes, “Yeah, I’ve got nothing.” Sorry, Hank, but you’re totally the Piper here. (I don’t watch Orange Is the New Black, but I see a bunch of it on Tumblr, so I think I’m saying that right.) The bottom three are revealed as ZZ, Hank, and Josh. When the votes are revealed, Hank is sent home. ZZ continues to be ZZ when he invites Hank to his place in Louisiana if he’s ever in the neighborhood. Where has this kind Cajun stranger been all our lives?

Week 1 MVP: Tanner. He’s backed up every word, and he’s refusing to let his size hold him back. So far, he’s running away with it.
Week 1 Jobbers: Alexander, Joshua, and Mada. The Meathead Mafia’s insecurity led to a lot of talking, not much of which was backed up. Hank’s already gone, they should take that as a warning shot.
Week 1 Dark Horses: Patrick and Sara. Tanner got called the smallest guy on the cast, but that honor actually goes to Patrick. If he distances himself from the bigger guys and focuses on personality, he could really stand out. Meanwhile, tell me I’m not the only one noticing that most of Sara’s self-professed 125 pounds seems to be biceps and deltoids. Swoon.