|Survive This--by Brian Solomon-Raw Magazine Oct 2001
The Tough Enough Trainers take Reality TV to a whole new level
When Tazz first heard about the World Wrestling Federation's newest television program, Tough Enough, he was less than thrilled. His displeasure was perhaps similiar to that of others both inside and outside the sports-entertainment business.
'I firmly believe that a lot of people are breaking into the industry too easily, and that was one of my biggest issues with the show.', Tazz says. 'I felt like it made it too easy to get into the World Wrestling Federation, and I personally wanted to make the journey a living hell for them.'
Tazz got his wish when he became one of four Federation Superstars selected as Tough Enough trainers. Along with Al Snow, Tori, and Jaqueline, Tazz was given the responsibility to work with the 13 final participants to show them what it takes to be a Federation competitor and determine who among the group possessed the qualities to succeed in the WWF.
Last spring, five women and seven men--selected from a field of thousands of young people--spent nine weeks living in the same house in the Federation's hometown of Stamford, Connecticut.
The four Superstar trainers were entrusted with teaching them the ropes, and putting them through grueling workouts in an effort not only to prepare them for their possible career, but to determine who would be eliminated. Over the course of the program, the group of 13 has been gradually reduced. This magazine hits newsstands mere weeks from the final live episode of Tough Enough, in which two finalists (one male and one female) will be awarded official World Wrestling Federation developmental contracts.
Because of his schedule as a televison announcer on both 'Sunday Night Heat' and 'Smackdown!', Tazz was unable to be present as often as Snow, Tori, or Jaqueline. His approach was the most aggressive and intimidating of all the trainers--a fact which became a point of contention between him and the others.
'Some of the trainers didn't agree with my methods, and a lot of people watching (the show) aren't gonna like me too much', he says,'They felt I was a little too rough. (The trainees) hated to know when I was coming in. I'm not saying it was easy when I wasn't there, I just think the other trainers went about things a little differently than me. I won't hold your hand while I'm training you. I just can't do it. That was my problem with some of the other trainers. But at times, they were pretty tough on these people, too.'
Tazz' attitude toward the Tough Enough experience stems in part from his days as an instructor at Extreme Championship Wrestling's notorious House of Hardcore school. Together with current Federation Superstar Perry Saturn, Tazz oversaw the training of hundreds of ECW prospects. His dojo was so difficult that only four students (Chris Chetti, 'Dangerous' Danny Doring, Roadkill, and Tom Marquez) ever actually graduated.
'I brought a no-holds-barred approach to training people on Tough Enough. I was real intense with them, real hands-on. Literally.'
Despite his drill-instructor mentality towards the trainees, Tazz grew to respect those who toughed it out as the weeks progressed. It's a respect that he believes the students also had for him--mixed with more than a little fear.
'As time went on, I started to get to know them a little better, and realized that they're hard-working athletes. I started developing respect for them. But the beatings continued.'
To summon up the attitude he felt was required to deal with the Tough Enough trainees, all Tazz had to do was think back to what he had to go through to make it in the sport.
'I thought, 'If any of these people think they're gonna get through this program and then get into the World Wrestling Federation and it's gonna be a cakewalk, I'd be a fool to let that happen after what me and my peers have been through.'For the people who graduate and get the contract, it's just gonna get harder. Whoever wins this thing has a long road ahead. I think these people were trained extremely well, but I think we still could've been a little rougher on them. I guess I'm just a pr**k.'
Al Snow's method of working with the Tough Enough participants was almost completely opposite of the approach taken by the 'Human Wrecking Machine'. Although no less serious about the undertaking, Snow emplyed a decidedly friendlier style, taking on the role of mentor rather than taskmaster. Many feel, in fact, that the relationship he forms with the students is one of the highlights of the program.
'I didn't approach it with the drill sergeant attitude, because I figured, if I have to yell at or motivate you, then you don't belong here. Because if you don't want it bad enough to push yourself, then you don't have any place in this business.'
Nevertheless, working with Snow wasn't exactly a walk in the park for the trainees. Snow's lighthearted demeanor often distracts from the fact that he is one of the most proficient, no-nonsense grapplers in the world today. In fact, he ran his own wrestling school during the 90's, producing such graduates as D'Lo Brown, The Blue Meanie, indy standout Reckless Youth, and former UFC and NWA Champion Dan 'the Beast' Severn.
'The way I look at it, these guys are gonna carry my reputation around with them for their career. That's a pretty heavy deal. I wanted to make sure these kids knew and respected every aspect of this business, and then had a proper foundation to learn the rest of it. It takes years to truly learn, and you never do stop.'
For Snow, one of the key responsibilites of being a Tough Enough trainer was knowing when to be 'tough' and when it's 'enough'. He emphasizes that the purpose of the program was to prepare the students, and believes that taking things too far would simply be counterproductive.
'I didn't go out of my way to take it easy on them by any stretch of the imagination, but I also didn't go out of my way to crack them. I could have cracked every single one of them, and had them all quit in two weeks. I could have had each of them leave from here a mess--emotionally and physically--but the idea was to train them and watch them develop. I pushed them hard, but made them push themselves harder.'
Although he wasn't involved in the narrowing-down process from the very beginning, Snow assisted in working the group down from 25 semifinalists to the final 13 who appeared on the show. It was important to him to find people who had some understanding of what they were getting into. Like Tazz, Snow didn't want viewers to come away with the impression that anyone can be a Federation Superstar.
'I think Tough Enough proves that not just anybody can do it, that you can't just walk off the street and perform.' Snow says. 'There were people who showed up who were quite obviously dreamers, people who had a complete misunderstanding of what this business is all about. They were completely unprepared, and physically out of shape. For the others who were more prepared, you had to look for other aspects that weren't so obvious, (like) personality. How would they react to the actual training? Do they actually have the heart to follow through with it? Would they have the heart to stay in the business if they succeed?'
In the end, Snow walked away from Tough Enough wiser than when he walked in. Although a 19-year veteran of the mat game, he looks at the experience as proof that you never really stop learning.
'Getting to interact with these kids was one of the high points of my career. To watch them learn and grow, and deal with the fantasy of having a dream,and then the reality of what it actually took to do it.'
Tori came into Tough Enough with a clean slate. As a first-time instructor, she looked to Tazz and Al Snow for inspiration, and found their disparate but effective approaches to be helpful as she tried to find her niche.
'I really looked to them for guidance,' she says, 'I gave the students as much input as I could, and gave it to them from my heart. I took on the role of observer. I felt that my strongest suit in teaching them was going to be observing, then making suggestions. The kids responded really well to that.
There were days that they were learning some moves that I think an onlooker takes for granted, like a backdrop,'she continues. 'That's a make or break it move. You need to get it right, because if you don't, you're in a lot of pain, and a bad injury can result. Awareness has to be there at all times. I remember those were some of the most grueling days, because you were watching so hard, and they went through bump after bump. The whole thing was really reassuring to me as to why I ever embarked on this business.'
Despite her eventual optimism about the Tough Enough project, things didn't start out that way. Tori remembers meeting the 13 students for the first time, and being significantly less than impressed.
'On first glance, I thought none of them deserved to be there,' she says. 'Just knowing the day-to-day life of working for this company, I didn't see any of them as looking like they were gonna make the cut. It just seemed like they didn't know what they were getting into.'
Over the course of working with the trainees, however, her opinion changed. Of course, that happened after some of the less desirable participants began to be weeded out. In the end, Tori was pleasantly surprised at the way the elite members of the original 13 were able to stick it out.
'It was like holding a mirror in front of you, an opportunity to look inside yourself and see if you have what it takes. It was through this process that I learned they had a lot to give. With some of the kids, there was an amazing amount to work with. It was a beautiful turnaround.'
Watching the determination grow in some of the participants was an inspiration even to the Tough Enough trainers, battle-hardened veterans all. Jaqueline admits that she wasn't immune to it, in spite of the demeanor she tried to project.
'I was going to be a real hard-*ss,'she recalls.'I was in there to show them that it's not easy, and that it's gonna take a lot of work. At first, that was no problem, but as time goes by, you start to develop a relationship with the participants, like a family or something. I started out like a heel, but in the course of the show, I turned babyface. We started to bond, and I gradually lost that edge in me.'
Of course, losing one's 'edge'is a relative concept, especially with people as intense as Federation Superstars tend to be. She may have grown a soft spot for the trainees, but Jackie is still Jackie.
'I got in there and made them work their *sses off,' she declares. 'I never took it easy on them. I got in their faces a lot. There's no shortcuts. If you want it, that's what it's gonna take. I felt sorry for some of the participants at times, because some of them just couldn't get it. It just wasn't there. It was heartbreaking to see that.'
Four very different Superstars with different approaches, each of the Tough Enough trainers contributed to making Tough Enough a unique and challenging experience, unforgettable to both the participants and those who have been watching on television. At the time this magazine is published, the selection of the two winners will be only days away. Of course, as each of the trainers is quick to point out, that is literally just the beginning.
'It will be 100 percent up to them to truly see if they are tough enough to go through the developmental program, to keep their locker room etiquette intact and stay respectful of the business,'says Tori. 'But they have what it takes, in my opinion.'
'Just because they got through this doesn't mean they're gonna have an easy road,' adds Al Snow.'This was an opportunity to get their foot in the door, and now they have to fight to get all the way through it. In fact, because they got this opportunity, it's going to be that much tougher to prove they are worthy of the chance to be a WWF Superstar.'