All hail the glorious return of go-sees! Or, um, “castings,” as we call them in a post-Ora world? For a Top Model cycle that seems intent on deflating every remaining pocket of fun and levity that makes the show great, the least the producers could do was keep such a silly, charmingly outdated term alive. Tyra does let a Freudian “go-see” slip just once at the end of this episode, and that’s the only vestigial thing we as a loyal viewing audience can eulogize at this point. Gone are the halcyon days of Brittany screaming at her cab driver in cycle eight and throwing her purse down on an agency’s front porch. For now, we’ll just settle for deep discussions between the models about what kunst means in German.
At the top of the episode, Jeana and Kyla thank their lucky stars that their swanlike necks were both spared after last week’s non-elimination. After some confessional filler about having to step up their game, the girls come home to Shanice’s winning parachute photo and celebrate by performing Sha-Ungainly’s trademark dance-and-clap, and everyone gets a big, hearty laugh out of it. Except for Jeana.
Jeana is salty that someone as gauche as Shanice got Best Photo, and proceeds to talk about her difficult path to the competition after growing up in the foster-care system. This immediately follows Shanice’s own childhood-photo package tinged with hardship and resilience and head-shaking, and we smell a rivalry building more and more tension. We then cut to Erin, whose confessional is accompanied by adorable department-store family photos and a friendly, necessary reminder that she is 42. You may take your limoncello shots now if you are still participating in the Erin Is Old drinking game (and still have a functioning liver).
Tyra Mail arrives and hints at a challenge rooted in the “real world,” which bravely eschews M-theory. Image architect Law Roach visits the house and gathers the girls outside to announce that they will all be going on castings at three designers, each looking to book one model for a runway show. To get them warmed up, Law has the models practice their runway walks on the back patio before getting some small tweaks to their outfits, mostly in the vein of being less “nighttime.” He clocks Shanice’s walk for being “stank,” and rather than give some nurturing morsel of advice, laughs his taunting Law Roach laugh. Ashley Graham he is not.
The models are split into two groups of three, one with Erin, Rio, and Kyla, and the other with Shanice, Jeana, and Khrystyana. They hop into their separate Chevrolet Suburbans and venture into the cultural hot spot that is Downtown L.A. Group Two stops by the Kunst.NYC studio and meets with its designer and erstwhile surfer bro Chris Mena, who is known for his sustainable and recycled fashions. All three models are eager to please, and Khrystyana asks Chris to talk about what the name behind the brand means. He coolly talks about his late grandfather being an inspiration, which makes Shanice unartfully bring up her deceased brother. Cue the childhood photos and shutter sound effects.
Meanwhile, the other group is at Band of Gypsies (woof), a basic boho-chic caftan label that specializes in, get this, floral prints. It’s run by three straitlaced white women who bristle as a peppy Erin tries on one of their rompers. She’s overcompensating, sure, but we’re on Erin’s side here when it comes to dealing with icy blondes in positions of power. Barbara, the owner, says that she loves Rio’s androgynous vibe after stating moments before that she’s looking for someone feminine, so there ya go. Group Two gets swapped in and makes a decent impression with the B.O.G. ladies, who do make note of Jeana getting overwhelmed by the size of the clothing. This is the first time we as an audience are getting keyed in on Jeana’s small frame, a handicap that was only vaguely alluded to in last episode’s photo shoot, but apparently we’re supposed to take that tidbit and run with it. Jeana is tiny and that’s bad, think fast!
Finally, we arrive at our last studio, that of the fun and sequin-loving Maggie Barry. She has both groups model her metallic pastel creations, which Rio and Jeana excel at with flying iridescent colors. Cut to Law and his manager friend traipsing in and announcing that Rio has beat out Jeana for both the Kunst.NYC and Maggie Barry bookings, which Jeana ultimately lost for reasons having to do with her height, wildly. Kyla wins the Band of Gypsies booking, and Law works in a quick jab at Erin for being too extra at the Band of Gypsies meeting. God bless him for not having a single nurturing bone in his body.
Also, surprise, the runway show is happening now! The unbooked models sit in the crowd and watch as Rio and Kyla stomp the floor with, cruelly, other runway models not named Erin, Jeana, Khrystyana, or Shanice, who politely blink at the proceedings.
Next day, after some B-roll of the girls waking and some gorgeous inserts of Pantene products, Tyra Mail hints at making “paper,” and the girls breathlessly decipher the message that loses all stakes once we jump-cut to set. Drew informs the girls that in the spirit of the real world, they will be shooting a Paper magazine cover under transformed personas. Most notable are Erin’s ’90s hip-hop video girl and Shanice’s red-carpet-ready glamour stories, which initially show lots of promise.
But Shanice’s psoriasis rears its head again, and she struggles to cope with the wig she’s provided. Drew gravely ushers her back to the makeup chair as soon as he sees her put through the works, and her original red-carpet look pivots to a “1970s hooker” getup, in Shanice’s own words. We are meant to understand that she is being “difficult,” but we’d be snippy too if Drew smugly asked us, “Do you know what Louboutins are?” while we were in the makeup chair. Go off, Shanice, don’t let anybody stunt on you.
Elsewhere, Erin struggles a bit and is shown having maybe a little too much fun again, but dangle 20-something nostalgia in front of a woman’s face and we can’t blame her for feeling her oats! Khrystyana and Rio nail their shoots while Jeana is told to “make it jazzy” to Drew’s beautiful, atonal scatting. Kyla struggles with interpreting what “cybersexy” means, and we’re honestly stumped, too. But it’s Drew Elliott’s world and we’re all just living in it.
At the judges’ panel, we get some expected critiques. Jeana earns high marks for her androgynous Black Swan look, followed by Erin who is, again, having too much fun. Law and Drew aren’t fans of her best shot, but Tyra rushes in to defend it as being “atypical” and interesting. With Kyla, we get to dust off a classic Tyra-ism — “Your features wear you. You don’t wear your features,” — which we can cherish as the tiniest modicum of the show’s old glory. Out of nowhere, Law asks Kyla how many guys she’s been with because he can tell that she hasn’t been sexually liberated yet, and yeah, hard pass on Law from here on out. Who image architects the image architects from saying horrendously inappropriate shit?
Khrystyana stuns in her executive androgyny cover, as does Rio in her ’50s pixie cut. Shanice’s photo gets middling remarks and another reprimand from Drew for her on-set behavior, which she deeply regrets. This launches Tyra into a bizarrely conceived analogy about how young models should behave like newborn babies in order to get what they want. We’ll never know what the takeaway is, but at least we got a goofy Tyra Banks baby impression out of it.
Rio edges out Khrystyana for Best Photo, and Kyla barely escapes landing in the bottom two. Her track record is as inconsistent as ever, but we’re still rooting for her. Between Shanice and Erin, Tyra lets Sha-Nasty live another day, and seeing Erin go is as bittersweet as departures come in the Top Model universe. We’ll miss her liveliness and gumption and constant mention of her age, and we’ll forever have a Pavlovian craving for Espolòn tequila whenever someone says the number 42. Here’s to Erin getting at least a triple-figure Instagram following.