Where Are They Now? Nidia
The co-winner of the first season of “Tough Enough” leads a Girl Scout troop now. Just last month, Nidia Guenard was chaperoning a camping trip of 11 little girls, all too young to grasp the fact that the woman tying their shoes and wiping off their fruit juice mustaches was the very first female to earn a WWE contract by winning a reality show on MTV.
After all, it was nearly 15 years ago when Nidia sent in her tape (That’s right. A tape. If you need a reminder of how rapidly the world has changed, realize that in 2001 “Tough Enough” hopefuls actually had to shoot their auditions with a video camera, plop them into an envelope and head to the post office to mail them in.), beat out thousands of others to make it onto the competition, won the thing and, against all odds, had a two-year run as a WWE Diva.
“She was only in the business for the blink of an eye, but she was light years ahead,” Nidia’s former onscreen partner, Jamie Noble, told WWE.com. “She understood her job, she understood the people. She was perfect.”
Nidia’s arrival signaled a seismic shift in the way sports-entertainment was presented to the public. Before the first season of “Tough Enough,” becoming a WWE Superstar was like trying to join a secret society. If you weren’t born with the right birthmark on your butt, you didn’t stand a chance. The idea that a 22-year-old could do it by winning a televised competition that aired on the same network as “Beavis & Butt-head” was the type of modern-day concept that would have had an old-school sentinel like Lou Thesz putting his fist through a wall.
Still, it was a brilliant concept, one you could sum up in a single sentence — what they call an “elevator pitch,” in Hollywood parlance. The idea that some shining example of wrestling idealism was hiding out in a row house in Boston or a cornfield in Iowa, and that “Tough Enough” would lower down into the country like some great mechanical claw and pull them out of obscurity, was thrilling.
Nidia’s anointing as the chosen one wasn’t exactly a foregone conclusion. She wasn’t a Playboy cover girl or a D1 athlete. She was a self-described “super hippy” back then, a vegetarian who didn’t own a television and played in the high school band. Still, she had personality and, most importantly, passion.
“I did love wrestling and I knew I wanted to do it,” she said. “The plan was to go to Shawn Michaels’ school of wrestling. That was the next step. Then ‘Tough Enough’ came along.”
She had just returned from one of those early twenties wanderlust journeys around Mexico when her sister told her about the commercials she saw for the show. They worked together on the entry form and borrowed a neighbor’s camera to shoot the audition. Thousands of girls across the country were staring into lenses and explaining what made them tough or sexy. Nidia tried a different approach.
“It was just me being silly,” she said. “I had a cape on, then I rolled my eyes back and said, ‘Under-Nidia!’ To me, it was funny. I was a goofball.”
The video stood out, and in a few weeks she worked her way through the next phases of the tryouts — including a live audition in WWE’s old Times Square restaurant, The World, alongside 229 other hopefuls — until she was one of 13 competitors chosen for the premiere season of WWE’s first reality series. The next stop wasn’t an L.A. duplex or a swank Manhattan high-rise. It was a warehouse in Stamford, Conn.
Understand that reality shows back in 2001 weren’t like they are today. “Tough Enough” wasn’t a glossy Hollywood production. It was fairly crude. They filmed it in the same residential city where WWE’s corporate headquarters is located, and the kids trained in a ramshackle storeroom known as “Trax,” because it sits right alongside a train line. The goal here was to capture the genuine experience — not manufacture one.
To that fact, the competition was brutal (“It’s called ‘Tough Enough’ for a reason,” Nidia said), and within the first three days of filming, three competitors had dropped out. By the time they hit the tenth week, there were only five people left. It wasn’t that the training staff — captained by Al Snow, with Tazz, Jaqueline and Tori serving as his steadfast lieutenants — was cruel. It was just that the reality of being a WWE performer was too much for most of the contestants to handle.
“It was intense,” Nidia said. “You realize how hard people have worked to even get [to developmental]. How many years, how much dedication, how many miles, they kept going. You realize that it’s a craft that you do because you love.”
The ever-dwindling group lived together in a nice house near WWE’s offices, and were banned from speaking to each other unless their microphones were on. The only time Nidia silenced hers is when she slipped into the bathroom. Spats were rare — partly because the show wasn’t cast in a way that would have pitted personalities against one another, and partly because everyone was too physically and emotionally drained to bicker back at the house.
“We’d go to Trax for six hours and to the gym for three hours,” Nidia said. “By the time we got home you would eat dinner and go to bed. You were just exhausted.”
They filmed for 12 weeks and then broke before a winner was declared. When the show premiered on MTV on Thursday, June 21, 2001, Nidia was home watching. And in those early episodes, she never appeared to be the obvious standout. There was Chris Nowinski, a brainy, 6-foot-5 jock who graduated from Harvard, and would later make his way to WWE despite being eliminated from the competition. Greg Whitmoyer, Jason Dayberry and eventual co-winner Maven Huffman looked like they could have been September, October and November in a hunky fireman calendar. And of the five women who made the cut, Nidia was the only one who wasn’t a blonde.
“In the back of my mind, I thought that I was going to win,” Nidia said. “Once we started wrestling, a few of my competitors would tell me that I took to it like a duck in water. Then I watched the TV show, and it didn’t seem like I was very good at all. They made it seem like I struggled more in the competition than I thought. I was like, ‘Oh my God. They don’t want me to win!’”
Of course, she did win. And — after an eight-week hiatus, during which time the remaining contestants continued to train off-camera in Stamford — she was awarded a guaranteed WWE contract for one year worth $52,000. That’s important to note. This wasn’t like other reality shows where the payoff was a million bucks, a job with Donald Trump or a husband — she had fought for nearly five months just for an opportunity.
Raw didn’t come next. First, Nidia was sent to WWE’s former developmental territory, Ohio Valley Wrestling, just like any other recruit. In her case, though, she found herself running with the most elite training group since Verne Gagne broke in Ric Flair, Ken Patera and The Iron Sheik all in the same winter. John Cena was there, Brock Lesnar, Randy Orton and Batista, too. And Nidia? She was the girl who just won a reality show on MTV.
“They made me pay,” she said. “I remember we did this kick-out drill. They would lie on top of you and you’d have to push them off. They would make themselves as heavy as possible so they were crushing you. I’m talking guys like Batista. I remember Rob Conway told me, ‘Hey, whenever they do that, poke them with your thumb in their private area. I’m telling you, if you do that they’ll leap right up.’ But it was tough. They gave me a really hard time.”
She wasn’t popular with the other trainees, and it all reached a head one day when Nidia was walking home from the gym and Batista pulled up alongside her in his car. He told her to get in the front seat, and he let her have it.
“He just gives me a verbal lashing,” she said. “He was like, ‘The way you’re behaving, you’re being disrespectful!’ I remember I started crying. But he told me a lot of the unwritten rules of wrestling. ‘You need to go and introduce yourself to everybody and say hi to everybody. Push through whenever you’re hurt.’ Just a lot of unwritten rules that I wasn’t aware of.”
Nidia was shaken up, but she took what he said to heart.
“It showed me that I needed to prove that I deserved to be there,” she said. “I started to follow the unwritten rules. I was the first one in practice, the last one out. Everything kind of fell into place after that.”
Less than a year after winning “Tough Enough,” Nidia debuted on SmackDown as a particularly obsessive admirer of The Hurricane. Soon, she entered into what would be her defining role as the girlfriend of Jamie Noble, who currently serves as one-half of J&J Security but used to run the Cruiserweight division as a nasty, backwoods brawler. Together, they formed a wild, country bumpkin couple, which former SmackDown producer Paul Heyman envisioned as the WWE equivalent to the torrid couple from Oliver Stone’s controversial film “Natural Born Killers.”
“[Heyman] wanted that type of crazy love,” Nidia said. “Jamie’s just a really funny guy, so he threw in a lot of that humor. We kind of tweaked it into our own thing.”
The trailer park tandem was a hit, and Nidia backed up Noble as he won the Cruiserweight Championship at King of the Ring 2002. As a team, they battled Torrie Wilson and a revolving door of partners, including Rey Mysterio, Rikishi and Billy Gunn, during a series of Mixed Tag Team Matches. They once even wrestled each other in a Blindfold Match after Nidia was blinded by Tajiri’s mist. Through it all, she formed a tight bond with the SmackDown crew, and carved out her place as one of the team.
“One time Tazz came up to me and said something about ‘Tough Enough.’ Then he looked at me and said, “Oh, man, I forgot you were on ‘Tough Enough’,” Nidia said. “That was the best compliment in the world.”
She had become a true WWE Diva, but her time with the company didn’t last much longer. In Nov. 2004, after a move to Raw proved unsuccessful, Nidia was released. She continued to compete on the independents for a stretch after that, favoring international companies that would give her an opportunity to travel the world.
“I went to Australia a few times, I went to Korea, I went to Italy and Puerto Rico,” she said. “I would take overseas things, just so I could visit places and see the world a bit.”
It was a wild lifestyle for someone whose journey started by entering a contest. Think of all the lottery tickets you’ve scratched off or the silent auctions you’ve entered. Who ever wins anything besides a couple of bucks or a Foreman grill? Hers was an impossible reality, and Nidia reflected on it with that distant regard of someone who had lived a life that hardly lined up with the one they lived today. She was a different person back then, with a different lifestyle and a different social circle. She’s married now, and dedicates her time to raising her two children.
“For me, I didn’t think I was going to be a mom,” Nidia said, “but after I decided that was the route we were going to take, it was very important for me to stay home. My parents didn’t stay home, but I was lucky that my grandparents took care of me. It was nice for me to have such a loving environment and someone who was always looking out for my best interest. That’s what I wanted to do for my kids.”
Nidia has a 17-month-old son named Roman and a seven-year-old daughter named Lilith with her husband, David. The family settled in Texas where Nidia spends her days chasing after Roman (“He keeps me very busy. He’s a handful. He’s a climber.”) and leading Lilith’s Girl Scout troop.
“I love it. It’s so fulfilling,” she said. “I have 11 little girls, and they’re a lot of fun. They look at you like you’re a superhero. You can’t beat that.”
Nidia heads up camping trips, arts and crafts projects, and the ubiquitous cookie sales. And her daughter is just beginning to understand that her mom isn’t just a troop leader, she’s a former WWE Diva, too.
“She think it’s super cool,” Nidia said. “She threatens the boys at her school saying her mom’s a wrestler.”
Fourteen years after she won “Tough Enough,” the Texas hippy with a dream is living a new one. And to the current crop of “Tough Enough” competitors getting ready to chase dreams of their own, Nidia offered this advice:
“Make sure that you love it if you want to do it,” she said. “It’s definitely a profession that you have to love if you want to succeed. It’s not easy.”