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Outside the ring, 'Tough Enough' host behaves like 'a major square' By Terry Morrow, News-Sentinel television writer July 12, 2002

CHICAGO - "Tough Enough" host Al Snow is a nerd. In fact, "I'm the biggest nerd around," says the World Wrestling Entertainment performer.

"I'm a major square - if you want to call it that." The 39-year-old pro wrestler spends around $100 a week on comic books. He attended Wizard World, the country's second largest comic book convention, in Chicago last weekend and had bags full of T-shirts, original artwork and toys. Sticking out of his bag was a model of Moon Knight, a ghostly superhero vigilante. When he is on the road for wrestling matches, he passes the time by reading comic books such as the Justice League and Astro City. He isn't alone. WWE performers including Raven, Edge and Hurricane Helms read comics, too.

"I have literally read every classic piece of literature, all the stuff you are supposed to read. ... I appreciate comic books for what they are. ... They are like a modern-day anthology," Snow says. When he isn't "geeking out," Snow can be seen as host of the reality series "Tough Enough" on MTV. The show brings together pro wrestlers in training and offers them a contract with the WWE if they can tough out the harsh training requirements.

Snow is there to supervise the candidates, pick on them and show them the ropes.

"Tough Enough 3" begins production in two weeks and will premiere in the fall.

"We would have already started production if Kelsey Grammer of 'Frasier' hadn't thrown a fit," Snow says.

What? Is "Frasier" going for a WWE contract now? "No," Snow says. "We wanted to shoot (the show) in a house right beside his, and he didn't like it."

The wrestlers packed up and moved to a different house. "Tough Enough" details the wrestlers not only in training but also in their lives as housemates.

The first two editions of the show were major successes for MTV. Snow says the show clicks with viewers because it offers reality show fans something different in its participants. "Nobody is there just to be a TV star. Nobody is there to humiliate himself or herself or to degrade themselves for a large amount of money or to suffer for a large amount of money," he says. "Whether you like wrestling or not - whether you can respect it or not for what it is - everybody can relate to what it is like to be 18 or 21 years old and to dream of something out of the ordinary. People can relate to kids going for their dream."

Snow says he isn't too hard on the contestants. "I think I am too easy on them," he says. "People say I am too tough on them, but I am not cruel. I am very direct, very blunt, very honest."

Snow doesn't regret his actions: his constant badgering and criticism of the trainees. He tries not to be a muscle-bound version of Simon Cowell, the tart-tongued judge on Fox's "American Idol." "Everything I do," Snow says, "I do it for a reason, and I do it constructively. I don't do it to tear anyone down or to belittle anybody. This is not the Armed Services, but they are going to do (the training) the way I want. "They are going to give me 100 percent, or they are not going to make it."

His tough-love approach seems to be working. Winners from the first two editions stay in contact with Snow, mainly for advice or for a friendly ear, he says.

They are beginning at the bottom rung of the WWE ladder and working their way to the top. So what does it take to be declared "Tough Enough"? "There needs to be a passion and desire to do this," he says. "That is paramount. They have to have the athletic ability to perform in the ring.

"Then they have to have the intellect to portray a character and to suspend their own self-belief and present it in a fashion where people will want to watch them more and more and more." And like the comic-book heroes he treasures, Snow says candidates cannot present "a very shallow character. If there is nothing there to bring the people back week after week (for matches), then there is no need to tune in.

"It's that simple."