Tough Enough returned to TV last week on USA, and among its changes for its fifth season is the addition of a host: WWE’s Stone Cold Steve Austin. You might want to watch tonight at 8 p.m. ET for the challenge that involves sending angry dogs after the contestants, but it’s worth checking out just to see his surprisingly phenomenal, hilarious hosting.
This is Stone Cold Steve Austin’s show, period. Yet it is also not about him like the way Donald Trump sometimes makes the show about himself. I actually cannot think of another reality series where the host is so prominent yet also keeps the focus so strongly on the contestants. Steve Austin is walking a line here that even the best in the business, Jeff Probst and Ryan Seacrest, tend to miss sometimes, swinging too far over to one side (being critics and viewer stand-ins) or the other (thinking of themselves as stars who deserve more attention than the contestants). And hosting isn’t easy; just look at Bobby Flay and his re-recorded lines on America’s Next Great Restaurant.
Steve Austin is totally awesome. Part of it is that he’s in character here, and has a lot of experience in that character. He’s a good actor, basically. But he’s translated it flawlessly to the reality competition, and if he’s faking his passion, it’s even more impressive.
“You guys get your asses down here,” he told the contestants in the first few minutes. Then he added: “If you piss me off, for any reason whatsoever, I’ll throw your ass out.” During a challenge, he told one contestant, “Don’t die on me, goddammit. Keep running!” His language is rough but efficient. At one point, he dismissed the group by barking one word: “Get!”
It’s not just the swearing and bad-ass behavior (he showed up for training by riding in on a motorcycle). He’s immediately found a perfect groove. At the elimination, he stood in front of each of the bottom three and asked questions, challenging them and calling them bottom feeders. He told one of them, “I shit my pants and I kept working a match,” and later yelled at another “You sit there with your stupid afro and that stupid t-shirt, asking me all these questions. There ain’t nobody who can hold me down. Not your dumb ass, not her dumb ass, or your dumb ass. Do you get it? Get the fuck over there.”
This is excellent work by Steve Austin and phenomenal casting by whoever thought he’d be good at this. And above all, it proves that there’s still room for innovation and creativity in well-worn reality TV roles.