America’s Next Top Model Recap: Guess Who’s Back?

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Rita Ora. Photo: VH1
America's Next Top Model

America's Next Top Model

The Comeback Season 23 Episode 9
Editor's Rating 5 stars

Welcome to the big leagues, cycle 23! If this episode were described by SNL’s Stefan, he’d say it had everything: a pointless music video, fainting, rivalry, a complete lack of self-awareness, repeated use of the word “squad,” a “this is not America’s Next Top Best Friend” variant, and finally, the thing that tops them all … not a single complaint from Courtney (I mean, mostly).

From an empathetic standpoint, I had a hard time with the conceit of this “shocking twist” episode. If I happened to be a six-foot-tall 19-year-old with striking features competing on this show, I imagine I would be pretty annoyed if I made it to the top seven only to have all the people I’d already beaten brought back into the competition. And to learn that one of those losers could potentially take my spot because I once again have to learn choreography for a fake music video — well, that might not sit well.

But from an audience standpoint, I loved it. Not because it brought drama, but because it brought stakes, something a show like America’s Next Top Model often sorely lacks this far into the competition. You’ve seen who has the talent, you’ve seen who doesn’t, and you know that pretty much no matter who wins, it’s not going to matter. If someone is destined to be a supermodel from this group of beautiful women with questionable choreography skills, they’ll get there one way or another. (Or more than likely, they won’t.) So to see a fire lit under the remaining contestants’ asses not only shows us who’s really willing to put in the work, but who can rise to the supermodel occasion.

After all, Marissa is right: She came to ANTM to model and not to dance. Out there in the real modeling world, she might have to risk frostbite in Antarctica or look mysterious in a pop star’s video, or who knows what to take her career to the next level. Being able to do whatever is put in front of you and do it well is what separates supermodels from catalogue girls and anonymous runway walkers.

Well, that, or a famous parent.

Still, I understood the shudder that went ’round the room when the remaining seven contestants learned from Rita that they faced more choreography this week for a “full music fashion video.” That’s right — still no actual music for the music video! And since they’d be needing a few more dancers for the fake video, welcome back the seven models who’ve already been eliminated: Justine, Cherish, Tash, Giah, Krislian, Kyle, and Binta. The premise of the video is that the remaining contestants will face off against the eliminated contestants as two “girl squads,” and one of those returning contestants will take the place of whomever is eliminated and be officially back in the competition. It is straight Survivor: Redemption Island up in here.

Tanisha Scott, choreographer for the likes of Rihanna and Drake (specifically of the “Hotline Bling” video, so the models ought not to be too concerned about the rigor of the moves) is brought in to teach the video’s choreography. The girl deemed best from each squad will get the feature role in the fake video. I would rank that prize perhaps even lower than the selfie. Nevertheless, the girls give it their all, especially Tash and Paige, who win the coveted lead roles for their respective squads.

Of course, there is also Marissa. She goes into the challenge saying that she will make up for her last disastrous choreography challenge (y’know, when she sassed mentor Stacey McKenzie), and then immediately has a meltdown because she can’t get the choreography, repeating variations of, “I’m over this challenge.” But after performing, Tanisha tells her that all she needs to do is rehearse nonstop and she’ll be ready for the video — a situation that Justine surely wishes she was in.

Because homegirl just PASSES THE HELL OUT mid-practice in classic ANTM fashion. The official diagnosis is “extreme dehydration,” but what it really means is that her valuable rehearsal time is spent in the hospital.

When Justine returns to the house, she gets right down to rehearsing, along with Binta, Courtney, and Giah, who seem desperate to stay in the competition. You know who seems like she couldn’t care less? Effin’ Marissa. Who swore up and down before Kyle was eliminated that she was not letting her lil’ flirtation distract her from the competition, but now that Kyle has returned, is happy to kiss and cuddle instead of rehearse, the one thing expert choreographer Tanisha said stood between her and excelling in the fake music video that determines her fate.

I’ve considered Marissa, if a little naïve, a talented model up until this point. But a good face isn’t everything — when she arrives at the shoot the next day saying that she didn’t rehearse the routine at all the night before, all I can think is: Marissa, we were rooting for you! WE WERE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU! She deserves to be eliminated, plain and simple. Dressed in wild Christian Cowan designs, every single other model gives it their all, especially once they realize their video co-star is French Montana.

Is this a French Montana music video, you ask?

Absolutely not.

Unfortunately, a few of the women trying to get back into the competition just aren’t cut out for a choreography challenge (or to be back in the competition). Kyle found it frustrating to be eliminated in a hip-hop video challenge and then be asked to come back in a hip-hop video challenge. Indeed, it is, and the judges tell her it shows. Law tells Cherish she looked like a “drunk auntie with a cigarette” in her footage. She did, and the orange lipstick didn’t help. Justine is cute, and I really think she could pull off becoming Insta-famous, but in the amount of time she was given, she just didn’t make enough of an impression.

The same goes for Binta and Krislian, who had so fully cemented in the judges’ minds the reason they were voted off in the first place (lack of energy and overly sexy, respectively), that there seemed to be no coming back, though they did a reasonably good job in their shoots. No, the potential reentry belongs to either Giah or Tash, both of whom were eliminated early enough to still raise a question of potential — plus they both killed the shoot, finding all the right angles, and demonstrating fierce personality while nailing the choreography and showing off the clothes. So question remains: Whose place will they be taking?

I feel the worst for Cody, who I’ve grown to like over the last few weeks; she’s really come into her own weeks without her sister. It was clear early on that she’s the more photogenic of the two, but her confidence immediately dims with Tash back in the mix, though she does well enough in the video. CoryAnne and Tatiana do all right as well, but they’re not natural-born movers, and certainly no competition for India or Paige, both of whom also excelled in the last not-a-real-music-video challenge. Although Paige has the experience and shows lots of confidence, it’s once again India who seems most at ease serving motion and face at the same time. The judges cannot stop looking at her body, and of her video, Law tells India, “This is superstar shit.” It looks like we have ourselves a surprising new front runner.

We’ve also collected a decided bottom tier. Courtney’s attitude is deemed much improved by the judges, but Law still says he’d be happy if he never saw her dance again. Of course, it’s Marissa whose dancing and attitude showed no improvement, so it’s her time for her to leave the competition … and Tash’s time to return. Let the games begin. Again.

America’s Next Top Model Recap: Guess Who’s Back?