By Keith Elliot Greenberg
As if the existing pressure wasn’t enough for the six final contenders going into Week 8 of Tough Enough, the night also welcomed the most celebrated guest of the “Tough Enough” season: United States Champion John Cena – a multiple WWE World Heavyweight title, and perhaps the most widely recognized Superstar on the current roster. Over the years, Cena has suffered neck, shoulder and eye injuries, among other ailments.
“Tough Enough” marked his first public appearance since his nose was disfigured by WWE kingpin Seth Rollins on “Monday Night Raw” two weeks ago.
But before Cena made his entrance, “Tough Enough” host Chris Jericho materialized in the kitchen of the barracks where the competitors have been living. Jericho explained the “it” factor that drew fans to certain personalities. Every in-ring good guy, he elaborated, needed an equally compelling bad guy to intrigue the WWE Universe.
Without ring psychology, he said, even the most athletic performer would be relegated to opening matches.
The night ended with Jericho daring the candidates to share tequila shots with him. But like the real Superstars, who struggle to make planes and workouts regardless of how hard they socialize, the competitors were woken early and ushered into the gym.
There, Jericho locked up with Josh, Amanda and Sara Lee. All did well – but, as in the past, Sara was warned not to smile so much.
At that point, the candidates were divided into teams, and told to work out both a plotline and the mechanics of a match. “Babyfaces,” or good guys, were urged to act like heroes. “Heels,” or villains, were instructed to behave like cowards.
Of course, no one knows how he or she will be received in the ring until a live audience is there. And that’s why the “Tough Enough” coaches invited the NXT Superstars into the building to cheer and jeer.
Match #1: ZZ vs. Josh. Despite their size disparity, these types of pairings are not rare. A charismatic wrestler like ZZ can frequently convince fans that he’s capable of hanging with a powerhouse. Each man played to his strengths, with Josh employing his might to get the win.
By Billy Gunn’s estimate, he was the star of the card.
In the second bout, Sara Lee tussled with Amanda, who played cocky heel, strutting before being knocked down, manhandled and vanquished.
The crowd seemed to love it.
With the exception of her “skitter feet,” Amanda looked like she belonged in the ring, Billy Gunn opined.
But once again, Booker T was annoyed by Sara’s smiling. “Take this serious for a minute,” he scolded her.
The criticism seemed to frustrated Sara: “It seems like I can’t do anything right for the coaches.”
In a mixed match, Gigi and Tanner engaged in a very entertaining contest. Tanner, the heel, allowed Gigi to get in a good deal of offense before surprising her with a schoolboy for the pin.
All the coaches agreed that this lived up to the expectations. As usual, Tanner was athletically sound, but Lita and Booker T told him to work on his facial expressions.
According to Miz, the only “Tough Enough” alum at the judge’s table, Tanner was a bit like a robot who could follow orders, but displayed limited personality.
Finally, it was time for Cena – and his surgically-repaired proboscis – to greet the candidates. He emphasized the opportunity that they were being accorded by training and establishing their personalities in front of an international audience. He also praised the “leap of faith” required to thrust themselves into the spotlight to pursue a dream.
When it came time for the Bottom Three, Miz chose Tanner, invoking his purported lack of charisma. As she has in the past, Paige picked Sara, branding her a “C-plus player.” Judge Daniel Bryan named Gigi, claiming that she acted cocky when she should have been working her match as a babyface.
With the candidates waiting nervously, the viewer votes were tallied. This time, no judge stepped forward to make a save, and Gigi was voted off the show – one week after her “Tough Enough” hopes were salvaged.
“They just didn’t like me,” she said tearfully. “They will.”
But, with Gigi gone, Amanda and Sara Lee go into Week 9 as the only women still in the running to snare a WWE Divas contract. Three male competitors remain.
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.