By Keith Elliot Greenberg
Last week, it seemed certain that Zamariah “ZZ” Loupe – the loveable Louisianan who’d never been on a plane or in a Jacuzzi before appearing on “Tough Enough” – would be the first eliminated from this contest to anoint a future WWE Superstar.
It was ZZ who came in dead last among the original 13 contenders in virtually every physical contest. But he displayed enough of the vaunted ACE characteristics – for “Attitude, Charisma and Effort” – to impress the fans voting from home. In particular, we saw lots of personality – or, as ZZ phrased it, a “Cajun flavor” that’s good for the business.
As a result, the WWE Universe opted to spare his scalp, and grant him another week to labor in pursuit of a WWE contract.
One week into the season, tensions are starting to rise among the competitors. There are threats of physical violence in the military-style facility where the contestants are staying. And the judges appear to be less tolerant of rookie mistakes.
Dianna Dahlgren seems to be the most controversial of the group. Says MMA fighter Daria Berenato, “I don’t respect her character” after seeing her run into the parking lot the previous week for a rendezvous with her fiancée.
Meanwhile, Patrick Clark, Jr. referred to Alex Frekey as an “A-1 idiot,” particularly because he doesn’t fancy himself as a wrestling historian.
According to Alex, though, any fan can be a so-called expert on wins, losses and title switches. “But that doesn’t make you a Superstar.”
To test the contestants’ courage, the coaches brought the contenders to an alligator-infested swamp. On Booker T’s command, the competitors were ordered into the water, to retrieve a number of NXT championship titles floating on a boat.
Proving her critics wrong, Dianna was first to make it.
Meanwhile, powerhouses like Alex and Mada Abdelhamid had a hard time swimming across the lake. Patrick admitted he couldn’t swim at all, and walked part of the way. While a rescue boat was sent to retrieve Alex and Mada, Dianna triumphantly backstroked back to shore.
Mada, a former pro basketball player in Egypt, called his wife to tell her that he felt “defeated.” But he was still motivated to overcome adversity.
What makes “Tough Enough” unique is that the competitors are able to glean insights from the most accomplished names in WWE this early in their training – a privilege few aspirants at their level ever experience.
For instance, on this week’s show, Roman Reigns was brought in as a special coach. While his devotees characterize Reigns as the future of WWE -- less than three years after first appearing on WWE television, he came within a breath of winning the WWE Heavyweight Championship in the main event of WrestleMania 31 this year – in 2010, he was in the same place as the “Tough Enough” competitors.
Despite his pedigree – Reigns is part of the same Samoan dynasty that’s produced The
Rock, the Usos, Yokozuna and the Wild Samoans – and with his background as a footballer, Roman had to start from the bottom and prove himself like everyone else.
Fans watching the repeat telecast of “Monday Night Raw” that led into “Tough Enough” saw Seth Rollins and The Authority toss Reigns through a table – before Bray Wyatt entered the ring and punished Roman with an agonizing Sister Abigal. Yet, Reigns rose after the match, brushed himself off and prepared to fight again the next night.
Does the current cast of “Tough Enough” possess the same spirit?
“This stuff hurts…I don’t think you’re ready for a Superman punch or a spear,” he said.
At the WWE Performance Center, the contestants were challenged to “take a bump” -- falling flat on their backs without getting hurt. Having faltered in the swimming competition, Alex was the first to volunteer, and he redeemed himself, doing well.
The coaches next challenged competitors to fall backwards from a platform, something former Divas Champ Lita said she no longer does since sustaining a broken neck at the peak of her career.
After several contestants went through the routine, Dianna seemed to freeze on the platform, falling awkwardly backwards, delighting Australian Giorgia Piscina, who said, “Thank God there’s something this girl isn’t good at.”
Remarkably, most of the crew passed this courage test. But Coach Billy Gunn was quick to remind them that there was no time for self-congratulations.
Someone was going home tonight.
Behind the scenes, the hazing of Dianna was relentless. Daria consistently called her nemesis “Princess Dianna,” and seemed amused that she was chatting with her rival from last week, Gabi Castrovinci. But Dianna pointed out that she considered every female competitor “mean” and “two-faced,” and was so revolted by their companionship that she offered to switch beds with ZZ.
Once again, ZZ was about to embark on a new life adventure, bunking down in a room full of fit, ferocious females.
Interestingly, the person most enriched by the tension may be Dianna herself. If she ever does make it to the main roster, she’ll be more than prepared for the mean-spirited backstage politics.
When it was time for the judges to question the contestants, Daniel Bryan praised Patrick for jumping in the water without the ability to swim. “I can’t swim either."
But Patrick couldn’t contain his disdain for Alex. Although he conceded that Alex’s lack of knowledge of WWE would not preclude him from winning, Patrick insisted that Alex needed to learn his environment now.
Paige called out Sara Lee and Amanda Saccomanno, insisting that they blended into the background. Despite possessing the same striking blonde looks as Dianna, Paige said, Amanda had made little impact. And at this stage, the Diva pointed out, the only thing Sara Lee had going for her was her sweet-sounding name.
And in WWE, a name can be copyrighted and bestowed on a more capable talent.
Argued Sara, “I’m not going to jump on camera and start fighting with another girl.”
Finally, the judges selected their bottom three: Alex, Sara Lee and Dianna. Her athleticism notwithstanding, Dianna didn’t seem to be able to get along with people.
Likewise, Alex had thrust himself in the middle of controversy. People were talking about him. And sometimes, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
Alex proclaimed, “I need to stay here on ‘Tough Enough’ because I am ‘Tough Enough.’”
In the end, though, the fans voted Alex off the show. Dianna offered a magnanimous hug. Here's looking forward to more Dianna drama, and ZZ’s forthcoming adventures among the aspiring Divas.
Two down, eleven are left. Tune in next week to see who's Tough Enough!
Keith Elliot Greenberg was a contributor to WWE's magazines for 22 years, and is co-author of the autobiographies of Ric Flair, Freddie Blassie and Superstar Billy Graham.