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April 2015: Are you Tough Enough to Win? Does it Matter?

Open auditions are currently being held for the sixth season of Tough Enough, a reality show in which contestants vie for an opportunity to become a WWE superstar. Everyone loves a good wrestling reality show. Well, when I say “everyone” I mean “me”. I’ve been a fan of the show since its inception in 2001. Although it’s presented as a competition, it seems that winning isn’t necessarily the most important thing. In fact, just being an entertaining part of the show could be enough to land you a job with the international wrestling juggernaut, or at worst, get your name out there in a very competitive indy wrestling scene.

Having been both a student at a wrestling school and a trainer, I can relate to both the participants and the coaches, but having never worked for WWE or been on a reality show, some things still really intrigue me. But I can see why WWE would want to have a competition like Tough Enough. It gives them more programming on the USA network and gets more eyes on their product. It’s also a chance for WWE to expand their brand (how’s that for an unintentional rhyme) without having another wrestling show like Raw, Smackdown, Main Event etc. WWE is admittedly in the entertainment business and as such is not limited only to producing wrestling events. They’ve already created their own film brand and network, so Tough Enough is just another bullet point on their resume.

Perhaps a bit lower on their actual list of advantages however, seems to be finding the next WWE superstar. Statistically, there haven’t been too many success stories coming out of Tough Enough. Perhaps the biggest has been The Miz. Already a reality star on a number of other programs, Mike Mizanin combined his reality show stardom with his love of pro wrestling and landed a spot on season four, finishing runner-up. He’s the only participant to ever hold the WWE Championship and / or compete in the main event of WrestleMania, a feat which he accomplished at WM 27 in 2011.

As far as the winners are concerned, their WWE futures have been meager at best. The season one winners Maven and Nadia both spent about four or five years with the company, never finding any solid footing. Season two saw two women winning the competition, both of whom found themselves in managerial roles rather than as wrestlers. Season five winner Andy Leavine also never got a fare shake, being sent to FCW, the former training center of the WWE, for a few years without ever getting the call.

So other than the Miz, the only other real success story was the co-winner of season three, John Hennigan (John Morrison / Johnny Mundo) who went on to be a multi-time tag and singles champion in WWE and is currently one of the top stars of Lucha Underground, along with season five alumni Matt Cross (Son of Havoc) and Ivelisse.

The way that I see it, if I’m Triple H, if there happens to be someone out of the 10 - 15 participants who they really believe has the potential to be successful, that’s great. Put them in NXT until they are polished and then call them up and give them a chance. If not, the winner will more than likely just waste away in NXT oblivion for a year or two before getting their future endeavors.

When you look at it this way, what’s the incentive for Tough Enough contestants? It seems the show isn’t exactly concerned with producing future WWE Champions and your odds of living every wrestling fan’s dream are quite slim. In my opinion, if you’re going to make a video submission and take the ride on the Tough Enough express, you’ve got to be ready for the fact that just appearing on the show and making an impression may be enough to get you a job, even if you don’t win. At worst, it will at least make you recognizable enough to get a pretty good head start on most of the other indy talent out there.

But keep this in mind, nowadays WWE really only tends to give people one shot. If you make it to the show, that’s your shot. Even if the coaches tell you “never give up” more than likely you will not get another chance at a WWE contract if they don’t pick you up soon after the show finishes. But when opportunity knocks you have to open the door and for many people Tough Enough could be their only opportunity.

As with most things like this, many will enter and few will win. However, this year, with the magic of social media playing such a huge role, I wouldn’t doubt it if some people with awesome audition videos who don’t even end up a part of the show actually starting garnering some kind of attention if their videos end up going viral.

It’s a crazy and messed up world, is professional wrestling. The chances of anyone making it to the top in this business are slim to none, but with Tough Enough, someone or maybe even a handful of talents will sneak into the spotlight through the backdoor. Good luck to everyone who’s trying to live their dream and I know I’ll be watching with a lot of interest.

- Daniel Austin (Don Roid) (blog) (podcast)



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