When Place to Be Nation sought out a correspondent to watch and write about the new WWE/E! reality show Total Divas each week, they initially wanted a “female voice.” Unfortunately for them, lifelong wrestling fan Ben Morse also happens to count Melrose Place among his all-time favorite shows and already has every other E! show on in the background via his lovely wife Megan, so he whined until they let him do it.
Jen Engle doesn’t watch wrestling or E!, but the Powers at PTB roped her into this anyway.
Find out what happens when one overly enthusiastic dude and a lady who has no idea what’s going on talk about a weekly “reality” show focusing on the female side of WWE.
Ben: What a long, strange trip it’s been, but we have arrived at the mid-season finale to Total Divas! To commemorate this extra special occasion, I not only welcome back my regular collaborator Jen Engle, but also a guest who requested to be a part of this week’s epic gab-fest, none other than Senior Executive Editor-in-Chief Emeritus of Place to be Nation, Brad Woodling!
Jen: Welcome, Brad! Don’t be too intimidated, we aren’t really Divas. Well, I’m not. Not so sure about Ben…
Ben: I’m definitely a Total Diva. It’s right there in the column name. Way to kill the gimmick, Jen…
Brad: Jen – I have to deal with Ben behind the scenes at Place to Be Nation on a regular basis. There’s a reason we trademarked Total Divas Watching Total Divas.
Ben: As we go with this, I want to talk not just about the finale, but the season as a whole, as its evolution has been a fascinating beast. Really nothing like this has ever been attempted before—melding the Kardashian landscape of E! with WWE, focusing on the female side of sports entertainment to this degree, cross promotion with a pre-existing product that at least in theory targeted a very different demographic—so you could often see the strings being pulled as the formula got refined. Some changes ended up being for the better, some not so much.
Enough chatter though—you’re like a high school girl, Brad—we got some recapping to do!
Ben: Nattie and TJ’s long-awaited wedding serves as the centerpiece of this episode. In general, Nattie went in some directions I didn’t necessarily expect this season. Back during the premiere, she had a pretty sympathetic role as the veteran getting screwed over by younger talent, but they abandoned that once it became clear it didn’t give her much screen time and focused heavily on her relationship with TJ. As I’ve made clear, I didn’t so much dig this direction change, as of all the Total Divas couples, Nattie and TJ on the surface seem the least prone to drama, and all their turmoil always seemed a bit forced. For the next batch of episodes, I’d like to see them swing back to Nattie’s career, as she’s got a unique place in WWE among this cast, being the most experience and underappreciated. But first, in the pre-credits bumper, she puts her cat Gizmo in a full nelson; Gizmo does NOT seem pleased.
Jen: I’m still waiting for them to show Nattie actually being the mentor that they intended on her being in the first place. I get that she and TJ both happen to be wrestlers, but there has to be so much more to Nattie’s career that they haven’t explored. Gizmo definitely wasn’t pleased. Then again, I still can’t believe how calm he was later in the episode. Gizmo is unlike any other cat I’ve ever seen.
Brad: I like TJ but they painted him as a bit of a doofus early on as he made rookie boyfriend mistakes which ended up casting Nattie as this super patient person. Their angle did seem forced but then it ended up giving us the biggest heel on the show (sorry Vinnie!). For what it’s worth, our dogs are only dressed up on Halloween. Batman & Robin is a popular one (sorry Ben). I did like that TJ and Nattie shared that as a couple though. You could really see how close they were thanks to the cat they share.
Ben: Following the credits—during which I note to my wife that it seems unfair each Funkadactyl gets their own slate while the Bellas share one and she tells me that’s life when you’re a twin for a living—Nattie’s parents show up to help with last minute wedding preparations. Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart looks complete out of it, but Ellie Hart steals the scene in my mind, presenting her daughter with a decisively old school wedding dress that Nattie notes to her sister has a rose right over the lady business, which conjures up imagery you might not want on your wedding day; or, y’know, ever. Nattie already has her own wedding dress picked out, but has trouble telling her mom this because they’re Canadian and don’t know how to be impolite; the extreme Canadian-ness of the wedding actually highlighted most of the show to me. I also had to explain to my wife how Nattie’s part of the Hart family but her dad has the last name Neidhart and it’s not a joke.
Jen: When Nattie’s mom brought in the wedding dress, I just about died. What a great and caring mother she is, but really how did she not know that Nattie already planned on another dress? She’s getting married that week! The dress, while I can tell it was made with care, was very old fashioned and nobody wants a rose over their lady parts on their wedding day. I understand how polite Canadians are, but Nattie you are a big bad wrestler, it’s time to tell your mom you already bought a dress! Not to mention she’s probably already spent hours getting that dress altered…
Brad: Throughout the season my wife and I talked about the reverse-nature of the show. WWE is fake but these characters are supposed to be real, except when things are heavily scripted and obviously fake – just like the entertainment industry they are a part of. It’s quite the paradox. Jen hit on something that really stuck out to us. Is this really their wedding? Are we sure this wasn’t their TV wedding and reception? I’m glad Jim Neidhart got a paycheck out of it but where was everyone else at the reception? It was the cast of the show and her Mom and Dad.
Ben: Cut to the WWE Performance Center opening day, with Eva Marie and JoJo among the NXT crowd wearing the standard issue Performance Center t-shirts while the rest of the girls watch on. Jane from Talent Relations informs the newbies that with Nikki Bella on the sidelines, somebody’s going to get called up to take her place. The natural assumption for the seasoned wrestling fan would be that one of the girls who has been toiling in developmental will get the nod before either of these fresh faced rookies; you’d also probably rightly guess those more seasoned ladies hate Eva Marie and JoJo because that scenario I outlined ain’t happening. Eva Marie and JoJo’s feud continues to simmer and I remain fairly uninterested since I prefer them having wacky adventures together to scowling at one another.
Jen: I am slowly gathering the WWE Diva process while watching this show, and I have to say that if I were one of the Divas in developmental, I would have been pretty pissed that Eva Marie got called up. I am sure this deal with Total Divas is helping her WWE career. I’m interested to see how the girls even got picked for the show. I still think that the show was initially developed for the Bellas, and I have to wonder if the rest of the girls “auditioned” somehow.
Brad: While disappointing for the real in-ring female talent currently in NXT, Eva Marie is talentless when it comes to the squared circle (they foreshadow this a bit in the previews for next season) and her big opportunity was walking Nattie out to the ring for a Main Event or Saturday Morning Slam taping. I agree with Jen, these two seemed to be cast for these specific parts so maybe there isn’t as much heat as one would think with the others. JoJo’s brooding shtick gets a big WORST from me. She makes me sympathetic that Eva Marie has to put up with her immaturity.
Ben: At Castle Cena, John wearing a shirt that’s probably two sizes too small for him tells Nikki he has news. On that front—the shirt, not the news—I forgive it on the grounds that very few shirts likely fit John Cena and that if I had his upper body I would likely wear children’s smalls to show it off. Anyhow, John drops the bomb that his whole family will be getting together in Boston—represent!—a rare occurrence that he wants to bring Nikki to, but it’s the same day as Nattie’s wedding. As always, understanding Cena says he’s cool with whatever she wants to do, but he has to go to his thing and would really like to have her there. Speaking for myself, solely based on seeing John’s dad in his hilarious appearances on Raw, I’d be going to the Cena family reunion over Nattie’s wedding whether I’m dating him or not (and to clear Internet rumors, I’m not).
Jen: I’ll forgive John Cena’s choice of a shirt is that this tight any time. He’s got the body for it, and he is definitely gaining a new fan base with this show. Work it if you got it, Cena. At this point, Nikki and John have been together a year and she still hasn’t met the family? All the touring that they do, I’m assuming they’ve made it up to New England in that time haven’t they?
Brad: Given his recent divorce I wasn’t too surprised she hadn’t met the Cena clan but if this truly was Nattie’s wedding, John has to leave out the “I’d really like you to go with me” line and almost push her to be at her close friend’s special day. Especially with what turned out to be dinner at On the Border.
Ben: Nikki Bella on crutches takes a header going into the arena. She’s ok, so it’s funny. Also, they didn’t cut it, so we’re allowed to laugh. She then breaks the news to Nattie that she won’t be at the wedding. Nattie doesn’t take it well in her voiceover, but remains suitably Canadian to Nikki’s face and tells her she gets it.
Jen: I guess I’m just thinking that if it were me, and even though it’s John Cena that I made a commitment to go to my close friend’s wedding and I would need to be there. Meeting the family is a huge deal, I get that. But your best friend only gets married once. I think it’s different for girls, if my best friends weren’t at my wedding I would be incredibly sad. Nattie is a trooper when Nikki delivers the news, but deep down that girl has to be heartbroken. And unfortunately, I’m not dating John Cena either. Sigh.
Brad: I don’t want to imply Nikki is shallow or anything but she’s chasing a ring from JOHN CENA. Of course she was going to meet his family. Sad for Nattie, especially given how late she bailed.
Ben: Now here’s where one of the changes the show underwent comes in to play, as when the season began, none of the girls really got along except to one another’s faces, but as things progressed, they got retconned into all being best friends. I’m not sure if they actually don’t get along and the E! producers asked them to pretend feeling like camaraderie would sell or they do get along and E! tried to go the soap opera route earlier and then didn’t feel like it came off genuine. Regardless, I preferred the cattiness; yes, I’m a terrible person and insensitive toward the negative stereotype of women that portrays, but I love watching shows where guys get catty toward one another too—my favorite part of the one season of Downton Abbey I watched came from the forced politeness and undercurrent backbiting—so I’m equal opportunity here. Anyhow, Nattie’s broken up because she calls Nikki “one of her best friends,” which rang false to me, not necessarily because they’re not—how would I know—but because that’s not how we “met” them.
Jen: I have to think that these girls all travel together, and do press together, and work together and train together…that it would be pretty easy for them to actually be really good friends. It felt more like it was forced at the beginning, but I’m starting to lean towards them all actually being friends. The cattiness makes for better reality TV; but I think it’s going to be hard to be catty between Nattie and the Bellas. The Funkadactyls, Eva Marie and JoJo on the other hand are having no problems with the cattiness. Especially with each other. Don’t worry Ben, I think we’ll still get to see it with them.
Brad: They definitely steered the drama as the season went on, although we did still see the Funkadactyls and Eva Marie/JoJo have pretty regular spats. Seems like they started to veer the Bellas towards being babyfaces (warning: wrestling lingo) versus the heels they first envisioned for the show.
Ben: With John Cena unavailable—except the brilliant shot of his face on the back of a truck looming over Nikki after she breaks the news to Nattie about the wedding; seriously, just perfect production there—Brie Bella fills the role of sage advisor, telling the bride-to-be that her day should be about her and she doesn’t need to worry who will and won’t be there. Like three of my good friends pulled out of my wedding the week before and at that point it really didn’t matter, I had a blast regardless; sing it, Brie.
The newbies explode as Eva Marie gets chosen to accompany Nattie during a match on Superstars. I really liked JoJo when the season began, even if she didn’t say much, but the increased focus on her immaturity and how she chooses to pout and give her friends the silent treatment has worn on me.
Jen: I find JoJo and her tantrums incredibly annoying. I just can’t see how this behavior even got her chosen to be a Diva in the first place. She’s clearly competitive, but grow up! Eva Marie has Jane and the rest of the WWE eating out of the palm of her hand. It’s been evident since the first episode when she defied their orders and dyed her hair that hideous red instead of blonde. JoJo, find a way to make a name for yourself instead of pouting over Eva Marie’s good fortune. We don’t see a lot of what goes on with their training behind the scenes unless they happen to be working with the Bellas or Nattie. I’m sure in some way Eva Marie actually deserved this opportunity (even if I hate to admit it…).
Brad: To go back to Jen’s point about being casted, I definitely wonder about that when you look at someone like JoJo. She’s petite and there is no way she could be believable in the ring. Heck, the only time we saw her she couldn’t even tuck her chin and gave herself a concussion doing a simple fall! While Eva Marie may be green, she at least has the cookie cutter look of past divas.
Ben: The Funkadactyls make their first appearance of the episode in the form of Trinity, alone in a hotel room with two beds—that happened with Nikki in Vegas too, what’s the deal?!—talking dirty with Jon Uso on the phone then getting a call from Ariane down the hall that her stomach hurts. My wife the professional nurse immediately diagnoses appendicitis and me the professional fan diagnoses that not being the case because I can’t remember Cameron missing any TV time. She gets hauled off to the hospital and following the break has already been checked out and may have endometriosis—my wife, the labor and delivery nurse, winces and explains it to me—but we’ll have to wait until the season resumes to find out for sure.
Jen: I actually felt bad for Ariane during this episode. I’ve never suffered from it myself, but I know people that have had endometriosis, and it is pretty awful from what I hear. There is usually a surgery to remove scar tissue, but maybe Ariane didn’t need it or the diagnosis was incorrect. Personally, I don’t think I would have left the ER with the direction to have my lady doctor diagnose it. What if they were wrong and it came back after I got home? I don’t think the staff would have gotten off so easily if it were me.
Brad: This was terribly sad and I couldn’t believe she was released after receiving pain treatment just six hours later. Wouldn’t the WWE doctors be called for this also?
Ben: The newbies duck out of training during an NXT session—again, I’m fairly sure every other girl in developmental wants to kill them—to continue their argument. Strangely it seems like there’s a fro-yo place or something right outside the training facility, which would come off counterproductive to me, but I’m not training the next generation of WWE talent. JoJo gives Eva some real talk about how they may be friends but they’ll always be competitors, probably the most level-headed thing she’s said all season, then somewhere along the way they may or may not have agreed to quit living together; again, stay tuned, I guess.
Jen: JoJo has a point about them being competition, but in all seriousness, whose idea was it for them to move in together in the first place? They are competition and it’s bound to become an issue at some point. Especially when Eva Marie is a favorite and is going to end up outshining whiny JoJo no matter how hard she tries to prevent that from happening.
Brad: JoJo seems to get that she has to make her mark where she has talent and that they ARE in competition, yet continues to brood and be a pain in the ass. Totally counterproductive. This is what happens when you have to deal with a 19 year-old in a professional setting I guess.
Ben: It’s the day of the wedding and a storm that may or may not have at least been enhanced by the finest special effects E! will provide for a non-Kardashian program forces the ceremony inside. Ariane shows up and has Vincent with her. We get a quick recap of their dramatic break-up last episode. We then get a grey-shaded flashback type deal that Vincent heard about Ariane’s health scare and wanted to check on her. I guess he hopped on the first plane out of L.A. to Florida minutes after she got out of the hospital? With a suit? Honestly, the lack of explanation or sense just makes me love this show more. Logic has no place in the world of Total Divas, particularly when it comes to Ariane and Vinnie. She’s thrilled to have him there; Nattie does not concur and equates Vinnie to the storm as equally imposing challenges, which I find tremendous.
Jen: I get the chills every time I see Vincent. He’s just so weird and creepy! I still don’t understand his and Ariane’s relationship. I’m glad they finally gave us some back story on a resolution here though. It was rather convenient of him to show up just in time for the wedding! Great timing, Vincent. I’m sure E! had absolutely nothing to do with it. Nattie’s comparison of Vinnie to the storm is spectacular, and so true. I’m surprised he didn’t get wasted like he did in Vegas, complete with Ariane storming out.
Brad: Vincent showing up to greet Nattie as she prepares for her wedding may be the biggest stretch of the whole season. Why would they let him up there? Why wouldn’t he just go to his seat and say hello during the reception? Why hasn’t he been cast as Dr. Evil in an Austin Powers remake? Vinnie got a big “ugh” here when they first showed him BUT (staged or not), his gesture towards Ariane was well-received (by my wife). Ariane is totally being short-sighted here though in taking him back. The engagement/family stuff is still a big gorilla in the room.
Ben: Speaking of challenges, Jaret makes his triumphant return! Wearing the world’s tightest pants, he saunters into a room where TJ’s hanging out with a bunch of WWE folks—including both Uso twins which made my wife do a double take and ask me to rewind as I believe she forgot Jon had a twin brother—and promptly tells the groom with no discernible emotion whatsoever that he tried to steal his fiancée and still thinks he has a shot. It’s as spectacular a scene as it sounds, accented by the bewildered look on Bryan Danielson’s beard. TJ asks Jaret to step outside where they have the most Canadian—meaning polite—argument two men can have about one trying to indecent proposal the other’s betrothed and then TJ heads off to confront Nattie.
Jen: In what world is inviting Jaret to this wedding even a remotely sane idea? Did the producers fly him out there? They had to have their hand in this. Jaret is clearly NOT a polite Canadian. (Actually, just because he lives there, doesn’t mean that he’s actually Canadian. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s not). What polite person would EVER walk up to the groom at a wedding and say what he said to TJ? Jaret, is a creepy, creepy bastard and I really think that he deserved to have the Uso brothers, TJ, Bryan Danielson and John Cena (in spirit, as he was at dinner in Boston) pummel his ass. Bryan actually looked like he was scared about what could happen. Maybe he envisioned what I had in mind. To his credit, TJ was much calmer than I would have ever imagined he could be and I’m still surprised he didn’t yell at the producers to shut off the cameras as he went to find Nattie.
Brad: I don’t know how TJ kept it together. I also don’t know how previously, on her birthday, TJ didn’t speak to Nattie later that evening when she would presumably (you know, with being together for years) tell him she had dinner with Jaret. Jaret went from being a sympathetic good guy to being an absolute creep, especially with how deliberately he laid this all out, IN FRONT OF EVERYONE. That part just seemed so forced and fake to me.
Ben: In the scene we’ve been building to pretty much the entire back half of the season, TJ gets in Nattie’s face about the Jaret situation…and she reveals that during the second half of that restaurant scene we never got to see from the Canada episode, she told Jaret she only wanted to be with TJ. Credit for finally tying up that cliffhanger, but talk about anticlimax!
Jen: The rest of the scene really did kind of fizzle there, but I’m glad that they worked it out. They probably talked about it a lot longer than was shown on the show, but it probably made for boring TV so it was cut. It’s clear that all of Nattie’s back and forth before was in vain, as she only ever had a heart for TJ.
Jaret really should have taken off at that point, there was no place for him at that wedding. Maybe he did actually expect Nattie to call it off and run off into the sunset with him, so he stuck around. Props for Gizmo for being a great ring-cat, or wedding guest, or whatever his role in the wedding was. I’ve got a one year old cat and there is no way in hell he would have let me walk him down the aisle with all of those people, or sit calmly on someone’s lap.
Ben: With Jaret reduced to a grumbling attendee in the crowd, bride and groom make their way to the altar with a potpourri of WWE cameos including Damien Sandow—who gets to proclaim the wedding underway—Christian, Hornswoggle, Dean Malenko, Fandango, Justin Gabriel and more, all forced to sit near the back so Eva Marie and JoJo can be in the front row.
Jen: As the one writer on this site that doesn’t watch wrestling, I don’t have anything to add about the other WWE cameos that were made…except maybe the fact that Fandango is about 1,000 times creepier than Jaret. And there is someone named Hornswoggle? Really?
Ben: Also of note, David Hart Smith seems to be TJ’s best man, which threw a little wrench into my “we’re not seeing their real ceremony” theory as I doubt WWE would bother flying in a guy they fired to stand off to the side if they’d staged the whole thing.
Brad: I’m going to revise my theory and go with just the reception was fake or maybe they agreed to tape pieces of it before everyone else arrived. I originally missed David Hart Smith being there, so makes more sense in knowing now that he showed up.
Ben: During the wedding, they’ve cut a few times back to Boston, where Nikki’s having dinner with the Cena clan, including the great John Cena Sr., John’s brother who does a Stewie from Family Guy impression, and assorted wives, partners, cousins, etc. I’m also from the Boston area and have a large extended family with eight cousins, so this all rang pretty true and pretty great to me as it didn’t seem far off from Thanksgiving at my aunt’s house if I were related to John Cena.
Jen: John Cena’s brother does a really good impression of Stewie, I was quite impressed. I’m from New England and my mother is one of nine, so I totally understand the large family get together. As the kids in my family have grown up and started families of their own, our gatherings get bigger and bigger.
Brad: Given the family drama that they outlined for Nikki earlier in the season, I sincerely believed her when she noted how great it was being there with John’s entire family.
Ben: Worlds collide as Nikki calls Brie from Boston during the wedding and asks her to put Nattie on despite it being, well, the middle of Nattie’s wedding reception. Brie literally pulls Nattie off the dance floor so that Nikki can apologize once again for missing it. Nattie forgives Nikki for that, though I wonder if she now holds a perfectly reasonable grudge for missing half of her first dance as a married woman to field a call so her buddy could assuage her guilt.
Jen: I know that Nikki was feeling guilty, but was this really the time to call up Nattie? I guess she had to get her guilt off her chest, but she seemed to appease Nattie with the gesture so I’ll let it go.
Ben: Brie then catches bouquet. At my wedding, the incredibly drunk girl one of my buddies brought claiming her as his “serious” girlfriend caught it; we never heard from her again.
Jen: As the single friend, I HATE the bouquet toss. I’m known to disappear when this terrible tradition happens. I actually hid in the bathroom at a wedding a couple years ago, and my date texted me when the coast was clear. I’m not surprised you never heard from that girl again.
Brad: Brie was one of my favorite characters of the entire season so if things turn to more about her and Daniel Bryan, it’s good with me. Again though – there were like five people for the toss. WHERE ARE THE REST OF THE GUESTS?
Ben: In the final scene of the show, at a nice club in Boston—I’m assuming, it could be John Cena’s second floor—John builds up to be what seems like for sure a proposal to Nikki and then asks her to move in with him instead. He says he misses her, but it could also be that he lives in terror of being alone in his own zip code-sized mansion. Regardless, I think they’re legitimately great as a couple from what I’ve seen on this show, so a fine ending to this half of the season.
Jen: The final scene with John and Nikki was great, I think for a second she might have thought she was getting a proposal, but I think that this step makes much more sense for them. And really, who wouldn’t leave California for a walk in closet with an elevator?? I know it’s not just me.
Brad: John was pretty great in his small roles this season (especially when he would call her out on stuff because he’s John Cena and where is she going?) and he does seem like a genuine guy so this was a nice conclusion. Of course they foreshadowed to some crucial conversations he’s going to have with her now, so there’s more story to be told here.
Ben: To touch briefly on the highlights of the “After Party” reunion show, hosted by my pal Renee Young—and you guys feel free to give more details if you watched or less if you skipped—the dynamic seemed to be back to the Bellas being mean to everybody, which I dug, John Cena said he had no interest in getting married ever again REALLY quickly, Jon Uso and Trinity both showed a lot of personality making me want to see more of them on the show, and Jaret showed up as a surprise guest to have another Canadian stand-off with TJ and then get really uncomfortable when the Bellas an Funkadactyls showed him some good old-fashioned American feistiness.
Jen: Unfortunately, I didn’t watch the after party, but I’m sure it was filled with bad catch phrases and an unnecessary amount of time spent on that low life Jaret.
Brad: The “After Party” was brief and cliché but as Ben noted, the Bellas were back to being mean, which was pretty amusing. Jon Uso also got to come out and if I had to bet, his relationship with Trinity will last longer than anyone’s on the show. Calling that one now. Jaret coming out AGAIN and just burying TJ was awkward, especially because we just saw this 15 minutes earlier in the season finale. I think we can safely say his 15 minutes of fame are over with this season concluding. Good riddance.
Ben: They also showed clips for the next half of the season which made it seem like it will be even better than this one, with increased Daniel Bryan, Nikki getting back to her Eva Marie-hating roots and Ariane being generally insane.
So there you have it: Total Divas season one part one! The show definitely underwent some growing pains, both with establishing a set dynamic for the girls as I already discussed, but also in terms of formatting the show itself. The first four or five episodes would break up the pairings—Bellas, Funkadactyls, newbies—to have three separate and distinct plots throughout; it left Nattie out in the cold a lot, but in general, I preferred that. The last few episodes worked a lot harder to get them all in the same place at the same time more often than not, and while I’m ok with that for big stuff like season finales, I think each of the girls gets to be themselves more when they’re not struggling to mesh with the entire rest of the cast.
Total Divas will continue to be a work in progress, I’m sure, but there’s not a week I didn’t look forward to it and not an episode I didn’t enjoy. If you’re a hardcore wrestling fan looking for consistency and logic…well, then you probably shouldn’t be a hardcore wrestling fan; regardless, this show may not be for you. However, if you like to be entertained, jump aboard, because Total Divas entertains big time. These ladies made me laugh and won me over. I’m very excited for the show to resume.
I’d like to thank Place to be Nation for the opportunity you gave to a 31-year-old straight dude to recap far and away the girliest show we cover and Jen for putting up with doing it with me. I had fun! See you all in November!
Jen: Until November, Divas!
Ben: Oh, and the bomb dot com. Pretty sure Ariane said it at least in the after party.