Apocrypha holds that Thespis of Icaria, spurred by a moment of self-importance and inspiration, broke from the chorus’s throng to begin independently reciting lines and portraying Dionysus, who was going on a date with the dreamy Kevin Phillips and being forced to call him “Papi.” Thus, acting was invented as we know it today.
But then, when other chorus members stepped forward to do the same, they just, like, seemed wooden when they said “Papi,” and so they couldn’t be fashion models.
Does this make sense to any of you, or do you feel disoriented? We feel disoriented.
This episode is very strange, in that there is a large focus on the serious personal issues of several contestants, then a concerted effort to put them through stressful situations to exacerbate those issues. “But that’s reality television!” you might shout at us, so loudly that we truly worry for you. That’s reality television indeed, but there’s something slightly more insidious about this episode that makes the whole enterprise of it feel icky.
Case in point: Rhiyan’s body dysmorphia is incredibly tough to watch, and it’s something that won’t be solved within the shooting span of this show whatsoever. There’s clearly a serious problem here, and the subjective nature of critiquing a photograph makes us feel like they could have thrown Rhiyan a bone during judging. But they did not, and she leaves the show feeling dangerously worse about herself. It’s sad and — brace yourself, babe — problematic.
The WTF nature of the critiques don’t end with Rhiyan, mind you. We get that the judging panel are the supposed experts, but does anyone actually think that picture that Jeana took was as #NextLevelFierce as Tyra decreed? She was serving Tip-Me-Over-and-Pour-Me-Out-Teapot realness when she was supposed to be scary. Meanwhile, Sandra gets told she looks like American Horror Story-era Lady Gaga, during a challenge where the inspiration is literally American Horror Story-era Lady Gaga, and yet somehow that’s considered to be … bad? Are we in the Twilight Zone? Is this horror-themed installment of America’s Next Top Model working on some deleterious meta level? Who knows.
Someone who does not have the opportunity to hear her own bizarre critique is the previously charming-bizarre Liz. Her sudden departure is of her own accord, we’re told, after her co-habitation difficulties allegedly become overwhelming for everyone involved. This comes out of nowhere following a discussion between Tyra and Liz regarding her “health and well-being,” and suddenly we’re questioning whether maybe Liz was ever just bizarre. Looking back, maybe she shouldn’t have been there to begin with. In an episode that also contains a questionably handled storyline dealing with a potential eating disorder, this sticks out. We’d say we’ll miss Liz’s wackiness — along with the helpless faces that Liberty made as her constant sounding board — but the abrupt nature of Liz’s exit and the altogether unclear circumstances surrounding it have us feeling uneasy.
Also feeling uneasy are almost all of the contestants, who are tasked with acting in this episode. As Tyra reminds the girls at the judging panel, the best models are also skilled actors — a statement that’s been disproven by several highly successful models who happen to be atrocious thespians, but who are we to judge? It’s not like we’re Ashley Graham or anything.
Khrystyana wins this episode’s initial challenge — to try and act out horrible material, despite being a model — and does her best Taylor-Swift-surprised-face yet again. The girl is racking up enough wins at this point to be a serious contender for the finish, for reasons we’re not quite sure of anymore. She is also praised for her photograph at the end of the episode, despite appearing in said photograph to have a melted face. We’re stumped!
Struggling throughout the episode is the usually unshakable Coura, who is, unfortunately, a model in this modeling competition who can’t act worth heck. This carries into her performance in the main challenge, in which she takes a photograph that prompts a lesson in not only modeling, but grammar, from Tyra. “You are the noun. You are a model. But you need the verb. To model. The action. Not just the existence of.” We hope that not only the ladies in the competition, but SAT students everywhere, were listening.
Exhausted? There’s more.
One negative critique that keeps coming up is the age-old “the wig is wearing you — you aren’t wearing the wig.” This feels extremely arbitrary, as it’s applied willy-nilly to some of the girls. Liberty? Wearing the wig. Sandra? Being worn. However, we can confirm that each of these contestants are, in fact, wearing wigs. Them’s just the metaphysical facts! Now, we understand that this is supposed to be a critique on attitude and presence, but when you boil it down, this truly feels like a critique for the photographer, the person who chose the picture for review, or B. Akerlund, the costume designer who selected the wigs. Keeping with this week’s episode, it is our subjective judgment that must be considered fact: We eliminate B. Akerlund, the photo editors, and all the photographers.
Something we ourselves, as well as the judges, can unanimously agree on is that Christina has a fierce photo. She has really turned it around from a shaky beginning due to poor attitude, and is one we’ll be watching as this farce continues.
After Khrystyana bafflingly wins Best Photo, Tyra unceremoniously sends Rhiyan home and lets Coura eke out the last spot in the competition. For her part, Rhiyan leaves with a dangerous takeaway on her self-worth, joining a long lineage of Top Model girls who have been deeply wronged by the show. And while it’s commonplace at this point for competitive reality shows to break their contestants’ spirits, it’s by no means an acceptable part of their culture.
America’s Next Top Model has always been a glimpse into a faraway, heightened world of professional modeling that we, as layviewers, can’t ever fully understand. But at some point bullshit has to be called on the haphazard nature of its critiques, especially when those on the receiving end are having their mental-health issues so nakedly put on display. This episode didn’t serve us Next Level Fierce. In fact, here we have an hour that’s narratively, competitively, and emotionally irresponsible. And that’s scary.