By Keith Elliot Greenberg
The noose is tightening for the “Tough Enough” contestants.
Whatever playful spirit existed at the beginning of the season – when candidates were still exuberant over being chosen for the show – is gone. There’s too much at stake now.
As Week 7 kicked off, just three men and four women were left. Judges had become increasingly intolerant of minor shortcomings. Everyone knew that the next mistake, misinterpreted remark or sign of weakness could be fatal.
In particular, judge Paige stated that she was curious about whether Josh could establish himself as a team leader, while Daniel Bryan told ZZ that it was his burden to prove that he wasn’t as “lazy” as many thought. Indeed, early in Week 7, coach Billy Gunn blasted ZZ for his lack of conditioning.
The men weren’t the only ones held up for criticism - because The Miz used his “save” option during Week 6 to retain Amanda, the shapely blonde had to face scrutiny over whether she was simply hanging on because of her looks.
When Sara Lee and Giorgia worked together in the ring, the sultry Aussie complained that she’d been dropped on her head. “She could have paralyzed me,” Giorgia said. Generally, wrestlers who have issues backstage are able to leave the friction in the dressing room to put on a thrilling and entertaining show. That was not the case here.
On the surface, all of the contestants attempted to exude control. But, by this point, “Tough Enough” had become – to use a cliché – as serious as a five-alarm fire. Hence, it only made sense that the challenge this week involved sending teams of contestants into a four-story burning building, searching for a “victim,” and carrying him to safety.
The special advisors: WWE Tag Team Champions Titus O’Neil and Darren Young – a.k.a. the Prime Time Players.
The goal for the contenders would be to establish their abilities not as individuals, but members of a team. As O’Neil explained, at the arena, everyone from the Superstars to the merchandise vendors work in tandem.
The contest was something of a godsend for ZZ, who – unbeknownst to others – had experience as a volunteer firefighter, and was able to navigate the smoky dark and honor his unit.
Josh also performed impressively, taking the lead while partners Giorgia and Sara Lee fell in behind him. To use a wrestling analogy, Josh established himself as the ring general, ensuring everyone’s success by calling all the right spots.
Not every contender rose to the challenge, though, and back at the barracks, Chelsea and Amanda immediately started venting at each other. Amanda invoked what she said were her superior skills. Chelsea dismissed the boast, claiming that her poster girl looks would take her further. The exchange prompted Miz to say he regretted saving Amanda the week before – and he vowed to put her in the bottom three later on.
Daniel Bryan criticized Sara Lee for the haphazard way she’d handled Giorgia in the ring, characterizing her behavior as reckless. In terms of etiquette, he stressed, she at least owed Giorgia an apology. However, he also had words for Giorgia, whom he chastised for blowing the incident out of proportion.
Of all the competitors, the one who seemed to understand the importance of relying on your opponent to thrive was ZZ – a mentality that’s helped dozens, if not hundreds, of performers who might not have been as athletic or charismatic as others trapped in mid-card or preliminary matches. It also didn’t hurt that ZZ had recently lost eight pounds. “I might have started late,” he told the judges, but he was now taking his workouts seriously.
When it came to the Final Three, Paige picked Sara Lee, due to her careless treatment of Giorgia. But Bryan chose Giorgia for overreacting. And Miz shocked the audience by changing his mind and picking Chelsea – a surprise given her background at former WWE Superstar Lance Storm’s training academy.
For the first time anyone could recall, ZZ had evaded the Final Three.
Each of the bottom contestants made a contrite plea to remain on the show. Giorgia’s words apparently touched Paige – arguably the hardest of all the judges – who exercised her “save” option to keep the Aussie in the competition.
And when the fans voted, it was Chelsea who was sent home.
She refused to blame her fate on being a late addition to “Tough Enough.” And she displayed grace by forecasting that Giorgia was going to take it all.
It was a dignified end to a week that saw decorum crumble in the both the gym and the barracks. But with Week Eight looming, both the competitors and judges are likely to discard whatever politesse exists.
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.