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CIRCA
Where Are They Now? Tough Enough 1.
November 11, 2004

by Denny Burkholder
Courtesy of WrestleLine.com

 

It's been a busy couple of weeks for the graduates of WWE's first season of Tough Enough.
Nidia got the axe last week. Josh Matthews actually worked a Smackdown main event as an active wrestler. Maven finally found himself planted firmly in the upper card... at least for now. Even the chronically injured Christopher Nowinski is just now getting some rest after taking WWE's Smackdown Your Vote campaign on the road with Mark Henry.

 
With the TE1 quartet making headlines and WWE reviving the Tough Enough concept as a sideshow to Smackdown, I thought it'd be fun to take a look back at the first time we ever saw or heard Maven, Josh Matthews, Nidia, or Christoper Nowinski - the one-hour casting special for the original season of WWF Tough Enough on MTV.

Tough Enough 1: Episode 1 (the Rough Cut)
Original Airdate:
June 5, 2001
MTV

Kurt Angle, Matt & Jeff Hardy, Chris Jericho, Chyna, Triple H, The Undertaker all start off the show introducing the concept of how hard it is to become a WWF Superstar, how great it is to be one of them, and why this chance shouldn't be taken lightly. Triple H: "That's why we'll ALL have a hand in their training!" The Undertaker says it all started with a bunch of hopeful contestants sending in a three-minute video.

We cut to clips of various videos. First on deck: the smallish kid known today as WWE announcer Josh Matthews, who speaks into the camera, almost shyly:" Hello, my name is Josh Lomberger. And why do I wanna be a WWF wrestler?" This is a montage of clips, so they cut away to other hopefuls before he answers. We see various guys posing and preening for the camera, one thick woman bodyslamming another woman onto a bed mattress, and the now-famous black woman in a white body suit, smacking herself on the ass and telling the world, she's "NINE... TEEN!"

Next clip is a two-second blip of future WWE diva Nidia wearing a black hood, rolling her eyes back into her head and convulsing. Whatever happeend to that gimmick, huh Nidia? We see the future most disrespectful Tough Enough contestant in history, Darryl, telling us "You can't handle the Moose! You can't HANDLE the Moose!" A bleached-blonde frat boy looking dude in a Gold's Gym tank top does the worst Shane Douglas impersonation, overdramatizing the revelation of his character name, "Boy Gone Bad." The black woman in the white jumpsuit is back with her infamous catch phrase: "YOU... MUST BE... STOOP... IFIED!" Independent wrestler Cham Pain is shown, but this was back when the Tough Enough rules disqualified people who had already begun their wrestling careers in the indies.

A panning shot of the pre-9/11 New York skyline, and we cut to the huge line of contestants waiting outside WWF New York at 6 a.m. The graphic says "230 are chosen to audition live. Only 25 will be picked to be the semifinalists."

We get a few of the contestants that did not advance saying some jibberish about why they'd be crazy enough to wait so long for the audition, and why they want to be a wrestler. James Hood, 23, Tennessee: "I'm here because God sent me here. I am the Wrestling Pastor."

We meet the judges: they show two female "MTV Judges" and two male "MTV Judges" (no names given), but the key WWF people get the full intro. WWF Superstar Al Snow. WWF Superstar Tazz. WWF Superstar Jacqueline. WWF Executive Producr Kevin Dunn. WWF Talent Manager John "Big" Gaburick.

Al Snow: "What I'm looking for when I evaluate these people is a number of things: an innate charisma, determination, their dedication to this personality, dedication, and most importantly, physique."

All of the judges are sitting at a big banquet table on the stage at WWF New York. Also at the judge's table, but not introduced by MTV, are Michael Cole, Jonathan Coachman and Mick Foley. There's a ring set up below them where the contestants are called, one by one, to audition. And the madness begins...

The first question they ask: "Show us your physique." We see a montage of people trying (to varying degrees of success and wild failure) to show how buff they are, and then we cut to Jacqueline asking one contestant how often he works out, because he's in good shape. It's Chris Nieong, 23 years old, from North Carolina. If I'm not mistaken, that's the guy Nidia was sweet on in the very beginning, like Episode Two or something. Jackie asks him to drop his pants so she can see his legs, which prompts the MTV judges and the other WWF judges to reach an agreement to keep the contestants dressed from now on, except for the guys removing their shirts.

Next in the ring: Nidia Guenard, 21 years old, from Texas. She looks rather unprepared for a wrestling show audition, wearing a pair of tight jeans and a pink top. Cut to a Nidia studio interview: "I get in the ring, and I swear to you, I wanted to get in the middle and spin around, and it's just like, wow... part of that world! It was beautiful; I just wanted to roll around in it." Nidia does some jump rope exercises for the judges, which get's Tazz's attention.

"I noticed that you're pretty out of breath after jumping rope for thirty seconds," Tazz accused Nidia.

"I can always work on that," Nidia counters.

"You didn't know that you were gonna come here and get in the ring tonight?" Tazz asks.

"No, I have no shoes. If not, I would have worn my tennis shoes," Nidia says, implying that she's only out of breath because she jumped rope barefoot. Tazz isn't happy with that excuse.

"You're tellin' me that you DID NOT KNOW that you were gonna get in the ring?" Tazz repeats.

"No, I didn't. I just told you. Not today." Nidia snipes back, taking an attitude with the Human Suplex Machine.

"Oh, so now you just told me," Tazz says sarcastically. "I'm sorry that I pissed you off."

Nidia, back in the studio: "Tazz was, you know, jumping down my throat. So as fast as I could, I tried to jump down HIS throat." Back to Nidia's tense in-ring tryout, and this time, it's Jacqueline sticking up for Tazz.

"Do you think you can hang with ME? Do you really think you can hang with ME, girlfriend?" Jacqueline's riding her big time, and the onlookers start cheering. "Do you work out? I can't tell, with that potbelly!" She may be out of shape, but Nidia doesn't seem that intimidated.

"I can LOSE my potbelly, and girl, it's ON... me and you!" Nidia says. The camera catches Al Snow grinning at the comment.

Next audition is Greg Whitmoyer, 22 years old, from Pennsylvania. Greg's another one of the original cast, and at one time was favored to win the men's competition until an injury forced him out of the contest. Greg says he's tired of living in the shadow of his baseball star brother, and it's time to do something for himself.

A montage of assorted, unruly characters is next, as they try - and fail - at shuffling from one side of the ring to the other without falling, losing their technique, or just plain tiring out.

Tazz asks an overweight fellow named Robert McCarthy (23 years old, Massachusetts), what makes him think he can be a WWF superstar. This guy is no athlete, and Tazz is a very proud wrestler, so this question is loaded as all hell. Tazz is setting the poor kid up, obviously insulted that a flabby non-athlete considers himself on par with the WWF "boys." McCarthy says he has the drive, the determination, and the endurance... that last one set Tazz off.

"You just fell down touching the bottom rope," Tazz states. "This is an audition, and you're in atrocious condition. I just don't understand how you can come THAT unprepared to try to be a WWF superstar."

Al Snow tells us they're seeing a lot of dreamers (read: people who are completely unfit to be a pro wrestler but are delusional enough to think they are). The next montage shows people failing miserably at a simple jump rope test, tripping over their feet, losing their hair extensions, and with pale, flabby man-boobs flying every which direction.

Paulina Thomas, 24, Colorado. She tells Tazz she's 6'3" and she's tired of big girls always being pigeonholed as basketball players.

Daniel Lue, 25, Texas: Daniel is a short and thin Asian guy, but he refuses to be told he's too small to compete in the ring. In the studio, Tazz tells us he was told he was too small in the beginning too, and he'll be damned if he'll overlook a worthy contestant just because of their physical size.

Here comes Josh Matthews' audition. Josh Lomberger, 20, Indiana: He grabs the top rope and flips into the ring lucha-style, and immediately makes the wrong impression as the judges scold him for it. John Gaburick tells Josh to state his name and show them his body. Josh removes his shirt and flexes... funny, because he actually made himself look LESS chiseled by flexing. He wasn't in bad shape, but when he flexed, he arched his shoulderblades like skinny kids do when they're trying desperately to find their own muscle in the mirror.

Josh's mom and dad are interviewed. Mom: "I don't think he's going to be a Stone Cold Whatever-His-Name-Is, but... who knows."

Gaburick asks Josh if he is concerned about the level of physical punishment he'd endure in the ring against a wrestler the caliber of Al Snow or Tazz. "I don't think so," Josh answers in a rather high-pitched voice. Tazz is officially pissed off at his future Smackdown announcing colleague.

"You don't think so?" Tazz starts. "You're saying we can't hurt you?" Josh looks and sounds nervous.

"Well, you can hurt me, but you guys are professionals," he answers.

"I hurt people for a living," Tazz says. "For 13 years I hurt people. Sometimes I hurt 'em accidentally, but most of the time [Josh tries to interrupt] ... let me finish talkin'. So either you're implying that Al Snow and myself ain't tough enough to hurt you... [Josh tries to speak again] ... you got an attitude, now. I'm here to screen people. If you don't like what I'm doing to you verbally, then that's too fuckin' bad! Watch your smartass mouth!"

We cut away to Josh's studio interview where he says it was cool to get to call all of his friends back home and tell them he was punked out by Tazz. Then, we cut back to Tazz ripping into Josh at the audition.

"Excuse my French, but I'm wonderin' if you're a pussy," Tazz says.

"No, I don't think so," Josh answers, and by this point he does't even sound like he believes himself.

"OK, we'll find out, I guess," Tazz says, as if it's a threat. "Thank you."

At this point, to keep things focused, I'm going to skip over the majority of the footage of people NOT named Maven, Josh, Nidia or Nowinski.

A few minutes pass before we're shown a clip segment of various contestants leaping from side to side over some kind of big punching bag or tackle dummy. One of those contestants is Nidia, who apparently didn't learn her lesson about pissing off Tazz as she LOOKS AT HER WATCH while in the middle of the exercise, implying it was too easy.

"This is NOT a joke, though," says Tazz with a very serious look on his face. "You DO realize that."

Nidia wasn't breaking any land speed records with the physical test, but she also wasn't tripping over the bag or her own feet like many other contestants were. Given her ill-advised attitude, she may have advanced in the next round of cuts just because the judges wanted to prove something to her. All she's demonstrated at this point is an average look, average physical ability and a way-above-average propensity for seeming arrogantly dismissive about the whole contest, even if her comments about being in awe of the ring support the idea that Nidia really did care after all.

After a few more auditions, Al Snow stops to give us his thoughts on charisma, as a lead-in to a fine example of that: Maven Huffman's audition.

"Charisma is a very important factor," Snow said. "It's not something that you necessarily can learn. You can learn and develop a personality. You can learn and create energy. You can come out of your shell. But to have that innate charisma..." And we cut to Big John asking our next contestant his name.

Maven Huffman. 24 years old, from Oregon.

Maven stands tall and supremely confident, not shaking or quivering at all in front of the judges. Not only is he poised and relaxed in the ring even before they ask him to do the bag test... but he's also FLIRTING! He gives Jacqueline a grin and winks at her casually.

Tazz is perplexed.

"You WINKED. At JACQUELINE," Tazz tells Maven, and not even the Red Hook bruiser can hold back a smile at the absurdity of it all.

"It's been a dream of mine for years," Maven answers.

"Is that right?" says Tazz.

"Yes sir."

"Well guess what? If you get picked, you might get more of Jackie than you want."

In the studio interview, Maven defends his actions.

"Man, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity!" he reasons. "When am I EVER gonna have Jackie from the World Wrestling Federation sitting there, staring at me? She smiled. I don't care what she says, she smiled at me. When am I ever gonna have that opportunity again? NEVER!"

A few more auditions, including the infamous Darryl, who says he goes by the name "Moose." Darryl made history by being one of the most disrespectful contestants in Tough Enough history, who lacked the athletic ability to make any use of his large stature. More importantly, Darryl was incredibly arrogant, and became one of Tazz's favorite targets on the show once it became clear that Darryl had no respect for pro wrestlers and their craft. MTV aired a Tough Enough reunion special after the completion of the first season. On that show, Darryl sat on stage with the trainers and other contestants and flippantly dismissed pro wrestling, angering Tazz to the point where he personally kicked Darryl off the set.

One more incident with the also-rans happens in a waiting area, notable only for Tazz unexpectedly entering the room and blasting the auditioners for complaining.

"Shut up, shut up, shut up, 'cause I'm pissed off," Tazz begins. "You people are here for a reason. You're lucky to be here. And from what I'm hearing, you're already bitching. If you're gonna bitch, and you're gonna moan, there's the door. Get your shit. Get the fuck out. If you think this is gonna be a tit walk, LEAVE. If you guys get picked, you're SCREWED. You wanna be a big star? You're gonna PAY. And you... hey honey! YO!" Tazz spots a female auditioner in a fake fur coat sleeping through his diatribe. "Wake up! Am I BORING you?"

"I'm sorry," she says, half drowsy.

"You're SORRY?" Tazz asks? "Why don't ya take your shit, your glamour ass, and get out. Fuckin' primadonnas!"

We're briefly introduced to Taylor Matheny, the girl who wound up being Nidia's closest rival in the female competition. Then we get Christopher Nowinski, straight out of Harvard University... and the Killer Kowalski training school.

"Let's throw out the Harvard degree," says Nowinski, 22, from Massachusetts. "Let's ignore the All Ivy League football honors. Forget about the 440 lb. bench press." Not so fast... MTV wants to know more about that stuff. We cut to his studio interview.

"Having gone to Harvard, I don't consider it too much," he says. "It's not that special, but people perceive it as that." Tazz is more concerned with the fact that Nowinski has already spent time in a wrestling school outside of WWE's jurisdiction.

"Chris, it says on your profile that you trained with Kowalski," Tazz says.

"That's true."

"If you had to be de-programmed, you'd have no problem being de-programmed from what you've learned in the past three months?"

"No, absolutely not," Nowinski says without hesitation. Al Snow chimes in with a loaded question.

"Is there anything that we can possibly show you, do you think?" Snow asks. Nowinski uses that Harvard education to dodge the setup.

"Yeah," Nowinski says. "You guys are the best!"

"It's good to be a brown-noser," Snow says with a smile, giving Nowinski a thumbs-up.

The cast of 230 is whittled down to 25 finalists, whom we see in various stages of celebrating their advancement, getting a speech from Big John, and going for their physicals. There's one final interview for the next round of cuts, and Big John tells the contestants to be themselves in it. Nidia discusses her career as a dancer.

"I started dancing for two months," Nidia explains. "Nobody gets to see you dance except for the people that pay to get their dances. You just go to the booth, do your little thing, and poof. Get out. Mmmm-hmmm." With nothing more to say, Nidia improvises and sticks out her tongue at the camera.

Maven Huffman: "Am I a player? I used to be."

Christopher Nowinski: "I definitely use my size to intimidate."

Josh Matthews: "I don't know how much I masturbate. [ponders] Maybe four. Is that a lot?

Now we're in the control room, where the MTV and WWF folk are evaluating the tape of the final 25 contestants and discussing each person. They're picking eight men and five women. The first guy discussed is Nowinski, introduced to the panel as "the Harvard football player." The only real comment anyone makes comes from an MTV judge, who shrugs and says "he's big and strong."

Next up, Maven Huffman. Kevin Dunn does the honors.

"This guy reminded me of Kurt Angle," Dunn comments. "Looked me right in the eye, had a lot of self-confidence."

A few rejects later and we get comments on Josh (Lomberger) Matthews, who is held in comparison to Daniel Lue, another smallish finalist.

John Gaburick on Daniel and Josh: "Josh is great. There's no question about it. The other guy, Daniel, is great. We have 5'9" superstars, but those 5'9" superstars are special. And I don't know if the 5'9" guys we have on that board are special."

The same MTV guy that commented on Nowinski says he's on the fence about Nidia, and we go to commercial after they show the judges applauding with the full board of finalists chosen. When we return, it's the next morning. The 25 hopefuls return to WWF New York to find out if they've been selected to be on the inaugural Tough Enough cast. A particularly tall female contestant named Paulina gives Josh Matthews a friendly pat on the shoulder and aks him how he feels, to which Josh replies, "Short." You know, then and now, Josh really does display a lot of natural charisma, and it's too bad more of the active WWE roster doesn't have that. Like Al Snow said earlier in the show - it' more of a gift than it is a learnable skill.

"I think I'll make the thirteen," Maven says. "If I don't, then that's the way it goes. Go back, teach, and say I had this experience for the rest of my life."

"The biggest thing in my life is gonna happen right now," Nidia predicts. "Or, NOT gonna happen right now." In a weird way, looking back, she was correct on both counts.

Stephanie McMahon comes onto the stage to a rousing ovation from the finalists. She tells them that if they've been chosen, they'll be so bruised and battered over the next few weeks that they'll find out what they're really made of. She announces the first of the 13 Tough Enough cast members: Josh (Lomberger) Matthews. Of course, we know that Maven, Nidia, Chris Nowinski, Darryl, Taylor and a host of others also made the cut. As the 13 finalists stand on the stage, Stephanie says we could be looking at the future of the WWF. She was more correct than she probably knew. Not only did the WWF give the two winners - Maven and Nidia - the promised WWF contracts, but they later brought in Christopher Nowinski as a full-time wrestler and Josh Matthews as a member of the announce team.

Stephanie McMahon says good luck to the final 13 cast members. Well, they were SUPPOSED to be the final 13. One of the chosen finalists backed out of the contest before they even moved into their house, and was replaced by runner-up Greg.

"Right now I'm just happy that we're here, you know," Nidia says. "I have people to share my joy with. We're a family right now."

Cut to the night before the cast members fly out to their new home and begin training, and we see Maven at home, trying to prepare. He's running a load of clothes through the washer.

"Seven o'clock on Friday night. I fly out at 8:30 on Saturday morning," Maven says while loading the machine. "I still have laundry to do."

The show ends with the 12 finalists arriving at their temporary home in Stanford, Conn. - dubbed "The Lodge" - and being informed that Greg was now one of them. Big John sits them down and reminds them this is a competition, and they should treat it as such or risk being cut. The contestants make their first meals, check out the house, pick their bedrooms, and that's the end of the show... except for one last promise from Big John: These kids have no idea what they're getting themselves into.

It's been about three and a half years since that first episode of Tough Enough. Where are they now?

Maven, Josh Matthews and Christopher Nowinski are all still employed by WWE. Nidia was until just last week, when she was one of ten wrestlers released in a budget-cutting measure. Nowinski was quickly becoming a top prospect as a wrestler before chronic migraines sidelined him two years ago. It's a testament to just how promising Nowinski is as a wrestler that WWE still keeps him on the payroll despite the fact that his in-ring future has been in serious doubt for years. He most recently toured various cities doing meet-and-greets for WWE's Smackdown Your Vote campaign.

In happier news, Maven will wrestle in his first ever WWE pay-per-view main event this Sunday at Survivor Series (unless you count the 2002 Royal Rumble, in which Maven was one of 30 guys technically working in the main event match). Maven teams with Randy Orton, Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit in an elimination match against Gene Snitsky, Edge, Batista and Triple H, where the winner(s) will control Raw for one month. And to think it was a little over three years ago that Triple H's soon-to-be-wife was wishing Maven and his 13 fellow Tough Enough cast members luck.

And finally, Josh Matthews is a rapidly-improving personality on Smackdown as an announcer. His humor, timing and rapport with the rest of the performers improves with seemingly every show. Most recently, Josh worked his first actual wrestling match on Smackdown, delivering a whopping three moves to Orlando Jordan as Josh and Booker T defeated Jordan and John Bradshaw Layfield in a tag team main event.

And, rumor has it Josh is down to three times a day. Which is normal.

Isn't it?

 
E-MAIL DENNY
BROWSE THE CIRCA ARCHIVES


  
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