By Keith Elliot Greenberg
Since “Tough Enough” began, two female competitors have especially stood out: the blonde bikini model Dianna Dahlgren, and fierce MMA fighter Daria Berenato.
Then, on Week Three, both were gone. Dianna by her own hand, Daria at the hands of the voters.
Who would fill the void? That question was answered tonight in Week Four with a new contestant: another blonde, Chelsea Green. But Chelsea was more than just a replacement for the controversial Dianna. She’s a graduate of former WWE Superstar Lance Storm’s rigorous wrestling academy. Will that give her an edge over the other contestants?
Immediately, Amanda Saccomanno and Gabi Castrovinci started bickering, with Gabi once again invoking Amanda’s personal enhancements. Observed Sara Lee, “They’re fighting over fake boobs, which they both have.”
Even new arrival Chelsea got into the act. “This is what I signed up for?”
The mood changed when the week’s special guest arrived: Wade Barrett, known as “King Barrett” since capturing the King of the Ring title this year. Perhaps more than anyone else, Barrett, a former bare-knuckle boxer and multiple Intercontinental Champion, can teach contestants about the art of survival after one is elevated to the WWE roster. Over the past few years, he’s experienced a succession of triumphs and setbacks, yet always finds a way to muscle back to the top.
Barrett revealed tonight’s theme of Promos as he explained that a promo is the one way to project a Superstar’s character to the WWE faithful. Then, he immediately showed how it’s done, pointing at the trainers and demanding that they bow to the king. When he invited the contestants to try their own promos on him, Zamariah “ZZ” Loupe impressed by vowing to turn Barrett into “gator bait,” while Egyptian powerhouse Mada Abdelhamid went nose to nose with the King, displaying might and attitude.
The promo theme continued when the group gathered at a comedy club and “Tough Enough” host Chris Jericho incited them into a “promo battle.”
Giorgia Piscina faced off with Chelsea and bragged about her “G Force,” drawing applause from the group. Patrick then squared off with his off-camera nemesis Tanner Saraceno, boasting about his superior wrestling ability, as well as his encyclopedic knowledge of WWE history. Outside the club, the jabs continued when Patrick claimed, “Tanner has the personality of a pear.”
As cruel as it sounded, the crowd responded enthusiastically, offering Patrick the loudest cheer, even as he shouted at the other contenders that – physique and background aside – he could twist them into knots.
On stage, ZZ bashed Sara Lee, “If a mosquito flew by you too fast, you’d fall down.”
Sara Lee appeared lost for words, prompting Jericho to demand that Sara Lee show that she wasn’t so nice. Sara Lee eventually went nose to nose with Y2J and boasted that she would soon prove that everyone else was wrong in their assessment of her.
But back at the studio, Paige declared that, of all the contestants, the clean-scrubbed Sara Lee did not belong on “Tough Enough.”
At the “Tough Enough” barracks, Tanner seemed to forget his problems with Patrick and flirt with Chelsea, surprising the newcomer by kissing her on the lips when she went in for a platonic hug.
The reaction of the judges was mixed. Paige thought Tanner’s move was hackneyed and lame. But Daniel Bryan – perhaps conjuring up memories of his own early experiences with the opposite sex -- praised the maneuver as “cool.”
In the training center, the “Tough Enough” coaches showed no interest in romance. It was time for the contenders to get in the ring and start slamming each other. Noted ZZ, “I lift gators all day long,” so the challenge would be easy.
This was another drill in which Sara Lee came up short. When Amanda lifted her for a slam, Sara Lee held on, not going with the momentum. Exasperated, trainer Billy Gunn shouted for Sara Lee to tune her brain properly – or get out of the ring.
As “Tough Enough” trainer Lita pointed out, it was crucial for the candidates to trust one another between the ropes – regardless of whatever animosity existed outside of it.
Back at the barracks, the other female competitors showed rare compassion, comforting a teary Sara Lee, as she recounted her shortcomings. “I have Jericho yelling at me,” she said. “I have Billy yelling at me. I feel so deflated.”
In the studio, Jericho insisted that he wasn’t a bully. By yelling, his goal was to motivate – and save Sara Lee from elimination.
When the candidates were called in front of the judges, no compassion was shown. Paige, in particular, laced into Sara Lee for not stepping up. “I would not trust you to lift me off my feet,” the former WWE Divas Champion declared, before rising from her chair and demanding, “Show me some passion!"
To no one’s surprise, Sara Lee was the first contender chosen for the “bottom three.” She was flanked by Gabi and Tanner. Rather than allowing the candidates a final plea, Jericho challenged each to cut a promo on the judge who’d picked him or her for possible elimination.
Gabi explained her goals, something that might work in a job interview, but not on “Monday Night Raw.” Tanner raised his voice slightly as he claimed that the people could feel his “passion and drive.” But Sara Lee shocked everyone by bragging that, one day, she’d defeat Paige in the ring and “you won’t be able to hide behind your judge’s table. What then?”
Even Paige had no choice but to applaud.
In the end, it was Gabi who was sent home by the fans for her inability to cut a promo, and her divisiveness behind the scenes. Yet, on the way out, she showed uncharacteristic grace, wishing the underdog, Sara Lee, not only luck, but also claiming that this was the one female contestant the tempestuous Brazilian hoped would win “Tough Enough.”
Whether she can last another week, though, is anyone’s guess.
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.