Sonya Deville on Joining 'Total Divas' & Bringing Positive LGBTQ Representation
Sonya Deville is no stranger to WWE cameras, dating back to her time competing for a contract on Tough Enough in 2015. Now, four years later, the signed superstar is returning to reality TV by joining the cast of the E! reality series Total Divas for Season 9, which premieres Tuesday, Oct. 1.
“When I did Tough Enough, it was in a completely different place in my life,” Deville told us. “It was a whirlwind experience. It was more nerve-wracking then because there were high stakes on the line. I hadn’t made it in the business yet. There was more of a competitive spirit in trying to make things happen. On Total Divas, I’m blessed to be in WWE and sharing my journey and story with people who never knew it. Fans get to know a different side of me, which is super exciting.”
This trailblazer of the ring as the first openly gay female talent in WWE history. But don't let her tough exterior fool you. She was admittedly nervous about putting everything out there in such a vulnerable way. At the same time the former MMA fighter felt it was important to lead by example in hopes her story can strike a chord with many kinds of people on varying levels.
“I know when people watch Total Divas there is going be a lot to relate to when it comes to my relationship to my girlfriend and being part of the LGBTQ community,” Deville. “Letting a whole new demographic able tune in and say, ‘Wow, I’m gay. She is gay.’ I want to make them feel comfortable and know they have a voice from the WWE now.”
Deville, real name Daria Berenato, is thrown in the mix alongside other newcomers to the popular E! series including Ronda Rousey. Through filming the Jersey native connected with the other ladies from girl trips to even simple behind the scenes moments in the locker room.
“Carmella and I were always close, so it gave us more time together,” Deville. “Nattie I never got to know that well before Divas because we’ve been on different brands. I really got to bond with her. Ronda, it was cool to bond with her. You’ll see during the season that her and I were not always on the same page, but it was good getting to know her. We’re friendly now.”
Before signing on Deville received some advice from her Fire & Desire tag team partner Mandy Rose, an alum of the series. The blond bombshell told her to hold on tight and get ready for the ride ahead. Toppling on more commitments to an already jam-packed WWE traveling schedule was also an adjustment. Deville is grateful to have Rose by her side since Tough Enough.
“We’re like sisters. Having someone you trust and someone that has your back in a world like this where everything is crazy,” she said. “It is super helpful because being on the road five, six days a week and being away from your family and loved ones can be hard and lonely, so it has been great to have my best friend by my side.”
As for the upcoming season of Total Divas, the performer believes it presents an actual glimpse into her life. A big part of that is her relationship with girlfriend Arianna Johnson, who wasn’t quite on board right away.
“She did not want to do it at all. You’ll see it play out on the show. And that’s real life,” Deville said. “She met me before I started doing Total Divas. She had no interest in me because of my job or what I do. She wasn’t about sharing our private moments on TV. We went through some conversations about that.
“Then she agreed to do it because I wanted her to do it. I wanted to share her with the world. I didn’t want to have to fake something on TV. I didn’t want to leave her out, so I’m glad she did it with me.”
Teasers show the "Pride Fighter" at the Pride Festival in South Florida celebrating equality and self- acceptance. Deville is always looking for ways to create awareness, whether it’s through appearances or rainbow-colored ring attire. She can see the impact of her efforts whenever meeting fans.
“I remember the last big signing I did was at WrestleMania in New York. My line was filled with people from the LGBTQ community. A lot of them were teenagers,” Deville recalled. “This one young girl was crying. She was like, ‘You helped me come out to my family.’ That was a surreal moment that reminded me why I do what I do. Moments like that. If I can influence one person or 5,000 people or whatever number to stay true to themselves, then I’m accomplishing all I want to accomplish.
“That is what is cool about having the platform of WWE. Having a voice and having the public platform on social media to share my story. Four years ago, you go back to the premiere of Tough Enough, I was scared s---less to come out at all. I had a girlfriend, but I never considered myself gay. I never said it out loud. I never acknowledged it except to my mom and dad. Look at me four years later now, not only proud of my sexuality but advocating and talking about it. Being comfortable in who I am and giving voices to those who might not have a voice. I really want to help people to do the same.”
Deville reflects on the path from Tough Enough and NXT to Raw, SmackDown and Total Divas. Despite all the goals accomplished, there are others on the horizon to attain. She wants to become WWE women’s tag team champions and grow the DaMandyz Donutz brand with Rose, as well as venturing into acting to name a few.
“I think sometimes it’s important to stop and take a breath and appreciate the journey,” she said. “It’s insane, but I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else. I’m blessed to be with, in my opinion, the best sports entertainment company in the world. I definitely have a blessed life.
“It has taken a lot of hard work to be here. I look back five, six years ago and living in a small studio apartment in Los Angeles grinding as a bartender and training MMA full-time. It has been a crazy journey. I have a lot of hopes and dreams planned in the next five years.”
Total Divas Season 9, Tuesdays beginning Oct. 1, 10/9c, E!