ANTM Recap: Our Brand Is Karma

America's Next Top Model

Major Key Alert
Season 23 Episode 4
Editor’s Rating *****
Rita Ora, Drew Elliott.
Rita Ora, Drew Elliott.

Know this: Rita Ora stops for no holiday. The day after Christmas? America’s Next Top Model will be shilling out makeovers and making girls pose naked in a bunch of reused fake pearls. The second day of the new year? No time for resting, there are inspirational Snapchats to send!

Also know this: When you put 12 young people in a house, make them share dresses, make them take their own photos, and tell them that they can’t win this competition without getting 2 million Instagram followers while technically not being allowed to use anything but that rotary phone with the horn earpiece from The Flintstones, they will get into arguments with each other. Inevitably, they will misappropriate the term “karma” only to have it backfire in their face in the most truly karmic of fashions.

The thing about this ANTM cycle is they’re really not taking advantage of the best thing they have going for them. (And I don’t mean Ashley Graham, whose commentary and know-how isn’t being utilized enough.) The new dominant kind of supermodel is both a high-fashion runway walker and a social-media obsessed teen. She’s famous on Instagram because she’s a model, and she’s a model because she’s famous on Instagram (or because her mom is famous, whichever comes first). The two things go together because fashion and beauty brands see value in young women with huge follower counts — not because they seem fun or take artsy pictures, but because they can advertise their brands’ products to millions of people more or less for free.

Models first sell themselves in order to sell other things, and that’s an important distinction. But before we get to why it’s an important distinction … it’s time for DJ Khaled, who must have won his own ANTM-style VH1 contract, because he’s really been making the rounds. The Snapchat star tells the ladies, “Social media is a big deal because we’re in control of it.” We don’t need to get into the semantics of how much control a model has over her own social media, but sure, that could be some variety of true.

The models are split into two teams to hit the streets and record videos with positive messages that show off their personalities while wearing Tezenis lingerie. Paige and Cody record cute, catchy messages while scootering around a crosswalk. Krislian struggles because the judges keep telling her to not to be a sexy social-media model, and then order her do social-media challenges in her underwear. Coryanne continues this new trend of hers where she says really unfortunate things like, “In L.A. all you really need to be is cute to be invited to things. But [in New York] I have to, like, talk to people to make an impression on them and stuff!”

Then there’s Courtney and Binta. Oh, Courtney and Binta. Apparently when Courtney gets frustrated, she shuts down. She also seems to forget how to use technology. Their plan seems to be showing off their beautiful diverse skin tones in the lingerie, but Courtney is so all over the place that it seems Binta stands by her side in Courtney’s video, but not vice versa. Courtney also delivers her motivational tagline with all the energy and charisma of a Twitter egg. Yet, somehow, Courtney wins because, as DJ Khaled explains, “You put a message out there and you made me not look at nothing else except your message.” I’m sure Tezenis, the brand of lingerie Courtney is supposed to be getting people to look at, will really appreciate this.

You know who else doesn’t appreciate Courtney’s shocking win? Binta, who thinks that it her contrasting skin and support actually made the message. While fuming about this, Binta unknowingly explains the true spirit of branding yourself on social media: “I feel like the message is not genuine based on what went on behind the scenes. It’s fraud!”

Soon after, Binta loses her damn mind on Courtney in the bus. Now, listen: I understand that if this many people have gone off on Courtney and think that she plays the victim, it is likely true to some extent. But in the future, I would not recommend feeding into someone who likes to feel sorry for themselves by screaming, “At the next photo shoot, it’s a fucking promise on my fucking mother, I’m gonna kill you on that, bitch.” Admittedly, topping it all off with, “You don’t fucking know me, but you’ll know me today” is one hell of a line.

When they get back to the house, Courtney gives a patented, “I’m sorry if I snapped at you during the challenge” reality-TV apology, but Binta isn’t buying it. Tash also really hasn’t been buying what Courtney’s selling — specifically eyebrows — and tells her, “You know how you’re going to look on TV, so good luck with that.” Considering that Tash was screaming about not being able to flirt with boys and wear skirts in a bathroom stall last week, this is pretty rich. But then Courtney bites it down a flight of stairs, to which Tash of course responds, “Karma is a bitch.” Giah, on the other hand, becomes my favorite person when she simply says, “I done fell down the stairs twice already and ain’t nobody helped me,” while Courtney wails and makes everyone gently apply Ace bandages to her elbow.

Finally, after all that karma is complete (or is it??), it’s time for the photo challenge. Guess what? The girls are taking their own photos! Honestly, what kind of shoestring budget did VH1 put this reboot on? First, the Zendaya prize was a selfie, now they have to take their own pictures to create a “story” on social media? It’s too much. I love it.

The goal is to attend Paper magazine’s “Sexy Issue” VIP party and capture three photos that create a story. Via RitAlert, the contestants meet Jasmine Sanders, a.k.a. Golden Barbie, a bona fide Instagram star who tells them to always find good lighting and never engage in negative comments: “Once it’s on the internet, you’re done.” Finally, someone who actually seems to understand how social media works.

All 12 women roam around the party in designer dresses, taking selfies and asking other people to take photos of them. You know, because there’s nothing partygoers love more than a bunch of girls who roll in and spend the entire evening taking picture of themselves. But as the judges explain over and over again at panel: Building a brand isn’t about making people like you; it’s about making people think they’d like you. After seeing Tatiana’s trio of photos, Law tells her that she always looks phenomenal and she just gets it. Looking at Tatiana’s one photo that shows off the Paper magazine cover they were supposed to be celebrating (and presumably promoting), Rita says, “I’m always a bit dodgy about not having myself in the photo, but that’s just me,” because if Rita Ora is three things, it’s 1) British, 2) just her, and 3) not exactly a model.

Giah gets positive feedback for looking fun while laying across various men. Cody gets knocked a bit for her photos not focusing enough on her own image, while Binta’s artsy snaps make her look inhuman, which the judges like. Rita isn’t as keen on Marissa’s story, which I think is gorgeous and dynamic, as does Ashley, who deems it “what a model would post.” India also gets mixed reviews for her party-girl group shots that make her look fun, but don’t give her enough individual emphasis, and the same goes for Kyle.

Tash, who felt very confident in the story she built about dragging two male twins back home from the party (ew) is deemed basic (gasp). Courtney has one very successful photo, but it gets boring from there. Drew says Courtney always delivers exactly what he wants from her photos, but in person, she’s a total complainer. He’s noticed that there’s always something wrong with her, and even if those ailments are real, she needs to keep them to herself. That’s the modeling world, hunty. The judges have also realized that Coryanne — who has been absurdly complaining all episode that she’s missing out on doing stuff with her friends back home — may not really be focused on this competition, or perhaps doesn’t even want to be a model.

The two ladies on top are Paige and — finally! — Krislian, which is nice, because amid all the tomfoolery, they both seem like kind people. That’s really a preferable brand to bus-screaming whiners. Paige’s story is not only moody and edgy, but also incorporates the right lighting to make all the attention go to her, while Krislian has the judges clamoring to celebrate her improvement first. Rita says she would literally buy every single thing Krislian is selling in her three photos. Law tells her that they’ve been giving her so much tough love about being overtly sexy because they knew she had more in her, and these glamorous editorial photos were exactly what they hoped for.

So Krislian wins best photo, and in what I will leave up to your karmic discretion, Tash is sent packing. At least she goes out on a sweet note, saying how proud she’ll be if her sister wins the competition — and, naturally, that she’ll be expecting half of that cash prize.

ANTM Recap: Our Brand Is Karma