This is the first entry in a potentially lengthy series of blogs dedicated to the bizarre fifth season of WWE’s oft-mocked NXT reality show, also known as NXT Redemption.
Throughout the run of this column, which could go the distance or crap out in the middle of next week – honestly, it’s a 50/50 shot – I promise to bring you witty analysis, plenty of GIFs, and my uncensored, middle-of-the-night ramblings.
Now, for those of you unfamiliar with this ridiculous hidden gem, NXT Redemption was the fifth and final season of WWE’s attempt at a hybrid developmental competition. The first four seasons, more often than not, came across more like Tough Enough for Toddlers, and while this one started with a similar concept, it sort of just… kept going. Forever.
Unlike the previous seasons, which had limited episodes and featured weekly eliminations, in NXT Redemption almost no one was eliminated. In fact, they just kept bringing in more people, and after awhile started fading away all the rest of the game show concepts as well, until WWE was essentially left with the early precursor to the black-and-gold brand that we all know and love today.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the magic, on the off-chance that I really do make it a substantial way through some of this bizarro world episodes, so let’s just jump in!
NXT Redemption – Episode 1
March 8, 2011
Todd Grisham and William Regal welcome us to the debut episode of NXT Redemption, before pitching it to the ring where our host for this season, Matt Striker, is waiting. I guess that’s as much fanfare as we’re going to get for a season premiere, but given that season four literally just ended 7 days before this show, I can understand why nobody in the crowd seems particularly excited to be there.
Striker introduces us to his new co-host Maryse, and literally the first thing out of anyone’s mouth is a comment about how she looks. Make that two. What do you want to bet that’s a running theme this season?
It’s time to meet our contestants!
First up is Darren Young from season one. Conor O’Brian from season four, who had the pleasure of having Alberto del Rio as his Pro. You may know him as one half of the WWE tag team The Ascension, today. Lucky Cannon from season two is back, wearing an incredibly ugly and glittery robe.
Up next is… Byron Saxton. That’s right, future Smackdown Live commentator Byron Saxton is here to take his in-ring career to the next level!
Next we have Jacob Novak, who was the first Rookie eliminated last season, and looks like a bowl of oatmeal brought to life. Rounding out the field is the big man himself, Titus O’Neil, who I’m now realizing somehow hasn’t aged in the last 9 years.
With all the competitors now in the ring, Maryse informs us that the winner of NXT Season 5 will earn a place on the roster for NXT Season 6.
The winner of this competition is given, as a prize for winning the whole thing, a spot on the cast of another competition? That’s like getting to the end of a long, grueling season of Survivor, and the exhausted, smelly winner who hasn’t pooped inside in 90 days finds out his grand prize for going through that hell is… to do it again, for no discernible reason.
Okay. Whatever. I’ve already written out the intro and made it this far, so I guess we’re doing this…
Matt Striker tells us that there will be no immunity points this season. Instead they will be competing for “Redemption Points” which they can cash-in for immunity, if there’s a tie between the fan voting and the voting of their Pros… Wait, what voting? Why is anyone voting?
Did they just completely gloss over the actual rules to this competition because they assume everyone has seen the other seasons? That’s a pretty bold assumption given that NXT had so little viewership by this point that it literally only existed as a web series on WWE.com.
It’s now time for the competitors to meet their Pros for the season.
First up is Darren Young, whose Pro is… Chavo Guerrero. The veteran actually gives him some sound advice, telling him to stop messing around and focus on his in-ring game, because that’s his strength, and to find a way to finally “stand out”, which is something he knows a lot about living in the shadow of the Guerrero name.
Connor O’Brian’s Pro is Vladamir Kozlov, who mutters something in incredibly broken English about people liking you better when you’re true to yourself, and if they don’t, you “punish them”. Good Lord.
Lucky Cannon doesn’t seem to care about his Pro and would rather standing uncomfortably close to Maryse looking super creepy. His Pro is Tyson Kidd, who tells him that he’s been too nice in the past and needs to take whatever he wants going forward.
Byron Saxton gets future New Japan Pro-Wrestling legend Yoshi Tatsu and Jacob Novak gets one half of the Cryme Tyme tag team, JTG.
At this point Todd Grisham and Striker both are openly making fun of not being able to understand any of the Pros. Todd complained that it was like they were at an International House of Pancakes, and said “When does it end!” Geez dude, build a wall…
Finally, Titus O’Neil’s Pro is revealed as Hornswoggle, who apparently doesn’t speak English. He grunts like a caveman for some reason, because I guess that’s his gimmick, and then does Titus’ famous bark which he thinks is hilarious. Good Guy Titus is being a great sport about this.
JACOB NOVAK vs. DARREN YOUNG
JTG and Chavo Guerrero are up on the apron watching their Rookies up close and personal. Novak controls early on with some basic power offense; a big boot here, a clothesline there. Nothing fancy. Young fights back and hits a Northern Lights Suplex with a bridge out of nowhere, which was barely glossed over by commentary and nearly missed by the cameras. Young hits a big back body drop that barely gets enough air, then drops him with a Full Nelson into a Mic Check, or something like that. That’s all folks! Apparently zero people knew that was his finisher, including the commentators.
DY looked okay here. The match was just your basic three-minute exhibition, so about the only thing I can say about it is that they didn’t really mess anything up and nobody got hurt, so… mission accomplished, I guess?
We go backstage where Yoshi Tatsu approaches Maryse and tells her she’s going to make a great host for this season of NXT. She responds by saying, “Thanks, I guess that’s a good thing.” What the hell do you think he said, Maryse?
Byron Saxton shows up and wants to go over strategy, but Yoshi yells at him because his “timing is terrible” and he chased off Maryse.
Back to the stage where all the Rookies are lined up. There is an obstacle course set up around the ring with a wall to jump over at the start, a net to army crawl under, a balance beam, some flags to run through, and finally a heavy bag they have to hoist up the entrance ramp before the clock expires. The whole thing is worth three Redemption Points.
While explaining the rules of this incredibly hard-to-grasp concept, Striker somehow makes yet another reference to Maryse’s looks, and also says the incredibly awkward line, “I salute you in many ways”. Is that a joke about having an erection? Yeah, that’s straight up sexual harassment, bud.
Titus O’Neil starts things off and gets through the course with relative ease, setting the time-to-beat at 29.8 seconds. Jacob Novak scales the wall like a beast and shaves off time in the flags, setting a new time at 24.0 seconds. Byron Saxton is up next and he does well, but can’t beat the record.
Lucky Cannon refuses to compete and says the fans are stupid if they think he’s going to be their “circus monkey” tonight. He claims he won more than half the challenges in his season and it got him nowhere, so this time around it’s all about him, and he’s focussed on stealing Maryse from Ted DiBiase, Jr… This was legitimately the first thing that the crowd reacted to the entire night, and actually got a very brief moment of real heat.
Darren Young ends up blowing everybody else out of the water and winning the whole boot camp competition, picking up his first three Redemption Points. Hooray…?
For whatever reason, when uploading these episodes to the WWE Network, they kept the throwback segments to stuff that happened on Raw that week. I’m skipping past this week’s throwback segment because it’s longer than anything on this entire show, and it’s 2011 heel Michael Cole and I swore to never endure that again if I can help it.
A video package airs featuring about a dozen cliche phrases from Byron Saxton. He talks about “taking nothing for granted” and how “learning is half the battle”. I think at one point he actually yelled “It’s my time!” and “I am in it to win it”, before actually pointing out that it’s a cliche – which in it of itself is another cliche.
TITUS O’NEIL vs. LUCKY CANNON
Lucky slaps his opponent in the face early on and gets the hell kicked out of him in the. He takes a cheap shot and fights the big man to the floor, then starts delivering repeated knees to the back. A straight-jacket submission is applied slowing things down for a beat. There’s a small smattering of “Let’s Go Titus!” chants, which is more than most of the other competitions can say. Eventually Titus rallies back and damn near kills Lucky with a flying shoulder tackle. Hornswoggle ends up chasing Tyson Kidd around the ring and the distraction allows Titus to catch Lucky flying off the top rope, planting him with Clash of the Titus for the victory.
This was actually a lot better than expected. Lucky did all the things he needed to as the heel, and built off the heat he generated earlier in the night with the obstacle course stunt. Titus looked strong in his comeback and hit two really fantastic looking moves – the flying shoulder tackle and the Clash of the Titus, which immediately set him apart as the obvious guy to beat in this competition.
The debut of NXT Redemption is its own special entity. In some ways it’s like a trainwreck so bad that you can’t take your eyes off the carnage, but in others ways it has its own charm in the same way that watching Troll 2 still brings me joy.
It would be cool if Maryse could go literally one segment without someone objectifying her, or downright sexually harassing her in one instance, or just in general pointing out her looks as if that is the only reason she is on the show. Even if that is why they hired her, just let me life in a world where everything isn’t a giant flaming ball of shit, okay? Oh, speaking of which…
— Running counter of the number of times Maryse was sexualized, objectified, hit on, or a male member of the show commented on her looks: 6
If I’m judging the competition like an objective competition, I would say that Darren Young and Chavo Guerrero are potentially a great pairing as they both seemed to take it seriously, and the veteran Pro actually gave his Rookie some genuinely good advice that didn’t come off as super scripted or produced.
In reality, with the benefit of hindsight, I would say… well, nothing because I know the competition aspect of the show doesn’t actually actually go the distance, but at this point it’s still fun to get relatively intoxicated and laugh and how bad some of the segments are.
I think my favorite part was either when Matt Striker just glossed over all of the critical rules and assumed that everyone in the building, and all the fans at home, just innately know what was going on. It’s either that, or Maryse just forgetting how to have a conversation with another human being during that awkward segment with Yoshi-Tatsu.
Until next time!