True ‘Grit’: John Cena Is Going to Pump You Up for Season 2’s Cadre Competition

American Grit - John Cena
Michael BeckerFOX

John Cena is a pretty formidable dude. The 6-foot-1, 251-pound WWE superstar is famous for nabbing 16 world championships—plus kicking butt in feature films like Trainwreck—so it’s no surprise that he doesn’t typically fraternize with weaklings. (Even his marriage proposal this April to fellow pro wrestler Nikki Bella took place in the ring at WrestleMania 33…after they’d won their mixed-tag-team match, naturally.) But when Cena returned to host Season 2 of Fox’s reality competition American Grit (which premiered June 11), he was surrounded by some of our country’s least spectacular specimens: 17 subpar contestants—self-described quitters, whiners, scaredy-cats and the like—sourced from sea to shining sea. Using tough love and the guidance of four military-trained team leaders, known as the Cadre, Cena will try to turn these zeros into heroes, helping them mine for their mettle and potentially score the $250,000 grand prize. Here, the 40-year-old offers front-row seats to his most challenging smackdown yet.

John Cena, Nikki Bella, WWE, proposal

John Cena and Nikki Bella

How different is Season 2 of American Grit? It’s an enormous change. Last season, we took folks who were already mentally and physically disciplined, and they fought it out. That’s a hard concept for the majority of people to relate to—this time, viewers will see themselves in these situations much more.

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Cena's 'Cadre' of mentors in Season 2 includes an infantry drill sergeant with the U.S. Army, two U.S. Marines and a Green Beret.

What are some of the mental hurdles the contestants will have to overcome? There’s a kid from Brooklyn who said, “I don’t like work, and I don’t like anyone.” A very young, talented man from Montana needs to find the courage to tell his parents who he really is. We have a woman whose motto is “When the going gets tough, I give up!” The list goes on.

It also includes George Foreman IV, son of the boxing great. He wants to make a name for himself and stand on his own two feet. This is his way.

The first challenge entailed being dunked headfirst into gator-infested waters. What else is in store? We’ve created challenges that stress leadership, teamwork, mental spirit and physical makeup—all skills that apply to normal life. And they’re unpredictable: As soon as you think you’ve figured out the game, you realize you definitely haven’t.

It’s clear from the premiere that you have some superfans in the mix. Will that be a distraction for them? You’ll get exactly out of this journey what you put in. If anyone signed up just to shake hands with me and powwow about the WWE, then they’ll get the opportunity, but it will likely be short-lived because this is truly designed to better you.

Your Cadre of mentors—Army drill sergeant John Burk, Marine Riki Long, ammunition technician Chloe Mondesir and Green Beret Grady Powell—have wildly different leadership styles. Can they play nice? Their approaches were across the map, and you won’t see a unified Cadre. There will be battles. Even with their prior experience, for everyone on board this was new territory.

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Meet the new Cadre who will lead the competitors on season two of 'American Grit' premiering June 11 on Fox.

You moved to “Camp Grit” in Hampton Island, Georgia, with the rest of the group. Do tell! It was the right decision. I shared a house with the Cadre, which made for a better bond. I was also living 100 feet from the contestants, so I was readily available if needed—and a lot of times, I was.

Did you at least call dibs on the biggest room? Ha! Naw. I leave a pretty small footprint—all I need is a comfortable bed and a place to work out, so I did not get the biggest room.

American Grit - John Cena, FOX

Both you and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson have cultivated giant careers in and out of the wrestling ring. What do you talk about over lunch? Well, that never happens because we’re both keeping ourselves busy. But I can tell you that Dwayne Johnson is a standard-bearer for staying focused. Life in the WWE moves very fast—it’s driven by hard work, and there’s no substitute for that. We share those ideals.

You have a knack for coining motivational slogans. How does inspiration strike? I just speak from experience. Over the last few years, I’ve been lucky enough to kind of have my face plastered everywhere, so people believe that I was an overnight sensation. But I literally started from nothing. I was lost, and I did a lot of work to change myself and come out clean on the other side. Folks say, “You won’t understand; you’re John Cena,” but most times I do!

American Grit, Sundays, 9/8c, Fox