Relationship therapist Trina Dolenz is the gentle and prim voice of reason on each chaotic season of Tool Academy. In previous semesters, she helped lead by example, playing the role of girlfriend, mother, and teacher in therapy sessions so that the male Tools could learn how to treat the women in their lives. Now she’s playing even more roles–boyfriend and referee–as she guides Tool Academy‘s first coed, and most volatile cast toward healthier relationships. Below she discusses working with the Toolettes, Angelo’s nonstop crying, and how the therapy sessions affect her.
When you were interviewed for Tool Academy 2, you pointed out that the word “Tool” technically referred to “penis.” How does the meaning change now that you had female Tools on the show?
Hopefully I didn’t treat the original boy Tools as if they were penises, regardless of what the word meant! One of the things that was interesting was that, as a therapist, you have to be aware of gender differences. Usually I’m siding with the girl against the guy. But with Jennavecia it was quite different, because she expected me to be the girl and be on her side, but of course she’s the naughty one.
I noticed right away that Jennavecia and Courtney’s behavior was looked down on even more than the male Tools’ cheating.
A Toolette is worse, in our eyes, as viewers. To have a woman who’s cheating, disrespectful, who doesn’t listen, who isn’t caring…it goes against our gender ideas.
Did you have to change the way you worked with the lesbian couple as well?
I was more keen to show the similarities. You handle everybody differently, but no differently because they’re gay. And yet on the other hand it was quite interesting how the cast viewed it. I think the cast slightly ostracized [the lesbian couple]. The cast themselves didn’t know what to do with them. That was sad, but it was interesting. She was just as bad as they were, and they were just as bad as she, but they didn’t bandy together.
A big part of that was the initial reveal. The Tools really liked Jennavecia until they realized what show they were on.
Well, yes. The tasks throughout the series are designed to help the Tools see what they’re doing. But it was quite dramatic because there, in Cancun, they were chatting her up and thinking how they were going to get off with her. [So] the fighting in the therapy room was as much about loss of face and damage in Mexico. The guys had to backtrack and think, “What did I do? Did I chat her up?” They knew they’d been caught cheating again. Their minds are spinning. They’re in a tremendous state of anxiety.
The other interesting thing was how quickly Jacob began to pick on Kyle, though he’d had no interaction with him. The Tools seemed terrified of having a caring, good-looking male staying in the same room as their angry girlfriends.
But I was really pleased because I wanted jealousy to be on the show. Often when we see the Tools cry, they’re remorseful, they’re guilty, and the girlfriends are angry. But the girlfriends were threatened by the Toolettes who were sitting among their Tools because they know they cheat. Likewise the boys hated the fact that Kyle, this gorgeous guy, was in there doing the washing in the girls’ house. The real double standard is there, because the girls’ house is [actually for] non-cheaters. They’re the good ones! And they’re not even allowed to sit on the sofa next to Kyle, who isn’t a cheater. It’s always the case that if you’re a really good cheater that you’re always nervous and jealous that you’re partner is going to be doing it, because it’s in your framework. They’re very jealous people.
There’s another gender difference: men view other men who stay with cheating women to be weak.
Oh yeah, Kyle was [in the Tools' eyes] worse than the girls. He was the doormat. He got a tremendous amount of criticism from everybody, really: “How could a guy be treated so badly? Why did he sit there and take it?” And he was the quietest, the most submissive one, of any of the girls, even.
Chaysn is your first cast member to leave, and he left even before the first elimination. What happened?
We never really got to know, did we? But remember that the Tools are basically people with low self-esteem. They feel bad about themselves, and they feel underpowered and they puff themselves up and they have all their outfits. This is their armor. So very quickly before we could get to Chaysn and sort him out, he got crushed. And in front of national television he was looking like an idiot, getting squished by a girl, so I think it was a tremendous blow to him, and someone spending his time trying to protect his ego. It was terrifying for him.
Jordan said that this season was also the first time you’d had to break up some real fights.
They “acted out,” which is a non-therapeutic term, but it’s called “splitting” and “projection.” There was violence, fights, all sorts of stuff going on. I had to go in the middle of the night, I to calm them down. You get to see me without the makeup on, in normal clothes, dragged out of bed. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t working hard. If they just sat there and weren’t doing anything, they wouldn’t be investing themselves in the process.
Speaking of misbehavior — the first time you come out, Daniel says that you have a “real mature, sexy thing going on.”
I didn’t hear that. That’s interesting! To a certain degree, they are lapping up to me. I’m the mother, I’m the schoolteacher. Lots of them want to make sure that I like them because I’m the one that votes them off.
Angelo also seemed to have another extreme reaction to therapy. I’ve never seen someone cry so quickly.
Yes, well Angelo cried the entire time. Just cried all the time. That first session of course takes seven hours to do and they very quickly realize they’re in a safe place and they can let go, and they have to let go. Most people are terrified and crying is a very normal quick response to realizing you’re going to be under the microscope and so very quickly they break down, but they’re so nervous it’s almost like a relief to start crying.
I’m sorry, did you say seven hours on the first day?
Yeah. I’ve done 10 hours. I don’t get out of my chair for seven or eight hours every therapy session. So what you see is a tiny segment of what happens, and that’s why they do change so dramatically, because they’re getting loads and loads of therapy. You’re just seeing highlights. It’s a very harrowing process.
I’m surprised you aren’t crying after 10 hours of therapy.
I’m a wreck! I can’t do anything else, it totally consumes me. It’s a very powerful experience for me, I get very immersed in it. I don’t know how I do it. I’m a zombie at the end — I lose 10 pounds every season.
– Jessica Suarez