Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: Let’s Get Reality! (Part One)

Great-ing Gimmicks of the Past: Let’s Get Reality! – WWE, 2001-2008 (Part One)


Season One

Going into 2001 and continuing today, the WWE has always looked for that next big way to hook in viewers. After Raw left USA and headed to Spike TV, they also signed an agreement with MTV to produce a show.

That show was called “Tough Enough.” In it, a number of contestants would live together and compete against each other with one more being eliminated each week. Finally, two contestants would win WWE contracts.

The original series began in summer of 2001, a banner time for the WWF. WCW and ECW were gone and under (or in the case of ECW, being brought under) the WWF umbrella. The original show ran on MTV and the trainers were WWF stars Al Snow, Tazz, Jacqueline, and Tori. The choices were not random. Tazz had run the ECW House of Hardcore, and Al Snow was well regarded as well. Tori had competed for the LPWA and in All-Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling. Jacqueline had been trained by General Skandor Akbar in a class where she was the only female and had made her way through the USWA and WCW on her way to the WWF.

Originally there were thirteen competitors. Bobbie-Jo Anderson, Nidia Guenard, Paulina Gupta, Taylor Matheny, and Victoria were the ladies’ entrants. The guys were Chris Nifong, Chris Nowinski, Darryl Cross, Greg Matthews, Jason, Josh Mathews, Maven Huffman, and Shadrick McGee.

For the first four episodes, there were no eliminations. The third episode (the first scheduled cut) saw Jason leave after choosing his girlfriend over a wrestling career. The fourth episode saw both Bobbie Jo and Victoria leave, saying they didn’t really want to be wrestlers anyway. Bobbie Jo even went so far as to say that she only wanted to get the contract so she could appear in Playboy.

The fifth episode was no surprise. Darryl had been lagging behind the rest of the class in almost every activity they took part in. Needless to say, Darryl was cut.

Shadrick was cut in the sixth episode. The seventh saw Paulina leave after injuring a ligament in her knee. She decided to let it heal rather than continue on and risk permanent injury.

Greg was gone next. He decided to leave after aggravating an old injury in his back.

Chris Nifong was the last to leave on his own. During the in-ring training exercises he’d kept blowing moves and actually hurting others. He decided that he wasn’t right for wrestling and left.

That brought us to the finals, where two champions would be crowned. Nidia and Maven were the first winners and both received WWE contracts.

Where are they now?

Bobbie Jo Anderson was reported as being pregnant with her first child in 2002. According to that information, she was also living in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Chris Nowinski began wrestling on the independent scene as Chris Harvard. In 2002, Nowinski was signed to a WWE contract and began competing under his own name. A year later Nowinski was forced to retire from the ring after increasingly serious bouts of post-concussion syndrome. Although Nowinski continued to work backstage, he returned to public view in late 2006 when he published a book detailing the dangers of concussions on professional sports. Nowinski also pushed for Chris Benoit’s brain to be examined for evidence of concussions following Benoit’s death.

Darryl Cross has also apparently left wrestling. His Myspace indicates that he currently resides in Davenport, Iowa.

Greg Matthews returned to wrestling after recovering from his back injury and began working with CZW, where he was allied with Rockin’ Rebel. He still wrestles today, most recently with the Blackball’d Wrestling Organization where he is still teaming with Rebel.

Josh Mathews began competing on the independent scene after losing Tough Enough. He soon made his way to Jimmy Hart’s XWF. He was later hired by the WWE and used as an announcer on Smackdown and Velocity. Later, Mathews worked with former referee Tim White on a series of web-only vignettes called the “Lunchtime Suicides,” where White attempted (and failed) to kill himself each week. In the finale, White shot Mathews. Although he remains with the company, Mathews has not appeared on Smackdown since.

Maven debuted with the WWE at the 2002 Royal Rumble, where he eliminated the Undertaker. Maven was released in July of 2005. Soon thereafter, he appeared on VH1’s Surreal Life and began hosting a show on BET. Today he still competes on the occasional indy show and is also reportedly preparing to begin work as a host for the Home Shopping Network.

Nidia was sent to OVW after winning Tough Enough. She made her debut in June of 2002 as Jamie Noble’s girlfriend. By 2004, Nidia had been given overly-large implants and her looks had changed dramatically from her “trailer trash” debut. She was released in November of 2004. Nidia continued competing for various independent companies around the world, but after the WWE decided not to rehire her in 2006, she retired from the ring.

Taylor Matheny soon began appearing on the independent scene. She retired at the end of 2003. She has since only made one wrestling appearance – for Full Impact Pro in September of 2005. The word is that she is currently attempting to begin working as a makeup artist in Hollywood.

Season Two
Season two saw some changes in the training staff as only Al Snow returned. This time the other trainers were Hardcore Holly, Chavo Guerrero Jr., and Ivory.

The female competitors this time were Alicia, Annie King, Jackie Gayda, Jessie Ward, and Linda Miles. The men were Aaron, Danny Carney, Hawk Younkins, Jake Sokoloff, Kenny Layne, Matt Morgan, Pete Tornatore, and Robert.

Episode three saw the cuts begin fast and furious as both Aaron and Robert were cut due to their inability to keep up with the physical exercises. Episode five saw Danny cut after a round of interviews where his charisma was judged to be lacking.

Matt damaged his knee in episode six. The doctor judged that continuing could be dangerous, so Matt left the show. Episode seven saw the injury bug continue as Alicia was cut due to injury and it was revealed that Jessie had a heart condition that resulted in her leaving the show.

Hawk quit in episode 11. He was disappointed with his performance in the ring.

Pete and Annie were judged to be lagging behind the rest of the class in episode 12 and were both cut.

In the finals, Jackie Gayda and Linda Miles were crowned the winners.

Where are they now?
Hawk Younkins turned his attention to acting after leaving Tough Enough and has acted in several films, as well as having brief runs on the Young and the Restless and Passions. On his website, he also mentions that he has begun MMA fighting.

Jackie Gayda was sent to OVW after winning Tough Enough. In June of 2003 she made her WWE debut as Rico’s manager. In July of 2005 she was released from her WWE contract a week after marrying Charlie Haas. She headed to TNA where she entered a program with Jeff Jarrett. After becoming pregnant in 2006 she left the company.

After leaving Tough Enough, Jessie Ward headed backstage. In October of 2002 she was hired as a stage manager by the WWE. She left the company in 2004 and returned to college to work on a television/video degree. She had a brief stint working with TNA in late 2004 and joined them full time in 2005. She left TNA in July of 2007.

Kenny Layne continued wrestling after Tough Enough under the name of Kenny King. He immediately headed to the independent scene and continued his training in Las Vegas under Nick Bockwinkel and Scott Casey. Today Kenny still wrestles, primarily for Full Impact Pro. He also made sporadic appearances with TNA until his August 2006 release.

Linda Miles was also sent to OVW for further training. She managed Shelton Benjamin for a short time before making her full-time return, managing the Basham Brothers as Shaniqua. She was released from her contract in November of 2004. She currently lives in Cincinnati, where she is employed by the local school system.

Matt Morgan quickly signed a developmental deal with the WWE and was sent to OVW. He made his WWE debut in October of 2003 but was sent back to OVW the next year for further development. He returned in April of 2005 with a gimmick where he stuttered and was released in July. Morgan headed to Japan, where he worked for New Japan, then headed to All-Japan and HUSTLE. In HUSTLE he teamed with Mark Jindrak as Sodom and Gomorrah. In August of 2007 Morgan was signed by TNA. He remains with the company today in the role of Jim Cornette’s enforcer.

According to his Myspace, Pete Tornatore is now living in Brooklyn where he works as an engineer.

Let’s take a look at the overall results of the two seasons. From season one, only three of the thirteen contestants are still wrestling (including one of the winners). To be fair, three more continued wrestling but have since retired.

The second season fared even worse. Out of the thirteen contestants, only two are wrestling today. One, Jessie, did also continue working with wrestling companies backstage. Both winners have since retired (although Linda still reportedly has a great interest in wrestling).

So out of 26 contestants, there are still five wrestling today. Some of them retired for medical reasons, but as you can see, most of the contestants hung up the boots immediately after leaving the show.

It could be that after their initial burst of stardom, they decided they weren’t interested in pursuing the independent route. After all, Greg from season one is still out there in the indies and hasn’t made it back to the WWE or TNA yet. Of course, it also has to be noted that Chris Nowinski and Josh Mathews kept wrestling after the show ended and both were eventually signed by the WWE.

We’ll take a look at seasons three and four next week and see how their competitors have fared. Also, I wasn’t able to find any information on the following contestants.

Season One
Chris Nilfong
Paulina Gupta

Season Two
Annie King
Danny Carney
Jake Sokoloff

If you can help out with information about what these folks are up to now, or added information on Bobbi Jo, Darryl, or Pete, email it to me and we’ll include it next week.

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