Well, at least it’s over. In a bizarre, convoluted, and self-congratulatory finale to a season that was all of those things, it’s inspiring that the cycle’s undisputed front-runner could be felled by the lazy insults of a tacky-ass Damien Hirst wannabe. Philipp Plein is dumb and lame, as we’ve previously established, who hasn’t evolved past designing overpriced rags for wealthy, unsuspecting Balts. Coming up with a rhinestone-studded rose 18 years too late apparently gives him license to publicly insult women (and get paid for it) so that they stumble at the finish line in their addled states. So cool, Philipp! Slay, pig! Next-level fierce! Let’s get through this finale, which only manages to be slightly less boring than the rest of the season’s nonsense by resorting to horrendously tone-deaf stunts.
The episode opens on the final iteration of the True Top Four being told that they will soon be joining dumb lame Philipp to prepare for their final runway challenge, and that there will also be one last shoot for Paper magazine to determine who wins the whole shebang. At the fitting, Shanice still struggles with her supermodel runway walk, but she isn’t the one who breaks down when the girls return home. Khrystyana, who can almost sense the ludicrous injustice that is about to befall her, weeps to herself in front of the confessional cam, alarming Kyla and Shanice. She is suddenly overcome with the feeling that she is “ugly” and “different,” and it’s unfortunate that someone who’s been so strong and positive is faltering emotionally just before the finish line.
Mind you, it isn’t as unfortunate as what the show decides to do the next day, which is to arbitrarily eliminate one of the girls from the competition based on how things went with Philipp. Drew coldly informs the girls that one of them must leave immediately. No hug from Tyra, no critical explanation as to why, nada. And it’s poor Shanice that gets the ax. Honestly, it doesn’t make much sense that they wasted a perfectly good opportunity to oust Shanice with some dignity in the last episode (we can all agree that she wasn’t going to win) but, hey, we guess this is more compelling in some way? Shanice is a pretty good sport about the whole thing, despite how out of nowhere it is, and leaves disappointed but with her head held high.
The girls are informed that their final runway will take place in a big ol’ hangar and will also involve the rest of the models from the competition (except for those that could not emotionally stand this competition any longer, for which we do not blame them). Tyra arrives at the hangar with a bunch of young girls, around age 8 or 9, explaining how these children represent all the different types of beauty that America’s Next Top Model has represented over the years, especially this season. The contestants will each walk with one of these little girls down the runway. Tyra does some cute little high-five with the kids, and the finalists all take a knee to look these young girls in their eyes and tell them how pretty and special they all are right before the producers call them over for confessionals and goad them into calling one another bitches, probably.
The entire capital-E Event that is the final runway challenge starts with a video that depicts most of the contestants this season, as well as the young girls we’ve just met, and their varied versions of beauty. A powerful and knowing Tyra Banks voice-over explains our societal conception of beauty … is a lie. True beauty is everywhere, you see, and takes all forms. Hearing Tyra Banks reveal to us all that the definition of beauty isn’t as narrow as we’ve all been led to believe, as if this is some untold secret of the universe is deeply hilarious. Has there ever been such gravitas thrown behind one of the most hackneyed bromides in the world? It’s really something else to watch a show that so patently manipulates its contestants into appearing as the very worst versions of themselves pat its own back, but here we are in this hangar (why tho). In just minutes we will hear one of the judges insult the personal character of a contestant based on almost no knowledge of her whatsoever. Meanwhile, beauty isn’t just skinny and blonde. Got it.
The girls, active competitors and otherwise, all look good and perform well, and it becomes ultraclear how pointless it was to pick them all apart for This Weakness or That Flaw based on whatever a given week called for. All of these models are talented and undeserving of this show’s insipid mind games, and it’s nice to see several girls who received mean or weird edits (Christina and Sandra, mainly) commended by Tyra. As for the Final Three? It’s almost impossible to judge them against one another because they’re so different. Jeana has the best and most confident runway walk but is short, edited to be exactly one angular mustache away from being a full-on comic-book villain, and has been clocked for a lack of versatility. Khrystyana wasn’t necessarily made for the runway but always looks and feels like she’s having the most fun while racking up the most challenge wins by far. Kyla is not super memorable and would have probably been the choice of exactly no one to win the competition at its start, but clearly is a favorite of the judges for her improvement and … slight quirkiness? Or is it her height? Who cares. It was fun when she made the Life Size 2 joke a few episodes ago, we guess. One thing’s for sure: The dress they give her to walk the runway is way too fucking long.
After the runway, even the finalists are unsure which way this will go. It’s a toss-up going into the last panel of the season, which the girls are told will happen … right now, as if we were all under the assumption this was happening tomorrow or something. Of course it’s happening now. Let’s go. Take us out back, please. End it.
The judges reveal to Kyla, Jeana, and Khrystyana that their Paper magazine photo shoots will now be judged, and that based on these critiques, one of them will be sent home. In our minds, this is transparently a reason to eliminate Jeana, who was brought back into this game after her elimination solely for drama’s sake, and we watch as the critiques convince us of that even further. Kyla’s picture is praised because that’s what we do now, praise Kyla’s pictures. Khrystyana is told that her personality shines through in her photo, despite some ribbing by Law who just “doesn’t like it.” Jeana is lightly complimented across the board but is disliked by Drew, who should probably have the final say here as the HBIC over at Paper. There’s some shade thrown back and forth between Law and Drew, which Tyra unfortunately stops before they can destroy each other, and a decision is made.
In an affront to logic and merit and making any goddamn sense, Khrystyana is eliminated. The only contestant left who was interesting, deserving, and winning in terms of personality is sent packing for reasons that will forever be left a mystery. Khrystyana, by far the favorite, is good-natured about her exit, but we’re salty on her behalf. Or at least we would be if there were any real stakes or meaning behind any of this. We’re left with Kyla and Jeana standing as the Final Two: the activist and the comically overdrawn sexy-bald villain, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the show is planning. We say that because they literally spell it out for us, the audience they fundamentally disrespect and have been talking down to for 14 straight weeks.
Some big-ass deal is made out of the fact that, when walking the runway with the little girl she was paired with, Jeana let go of her hand to pose. We have an informed feeling she was absolutely not the only model to do this, but she is the only one who gets flak for it. She also receives one final dressing-down from Law Roach, who should once and for all be inducted into the Shitty Reality-TV Hall of Fame for his assessment that Jeana wouldn’t run into a burning building to save anything but her purse, or something to that effect? We don’t know, it’s an insult somewhere along those lines. We will not be watching this show next season, but we truly, truly hope that whoever is calling the shots has learned not to let Law Roach anywhere near the judging panel. He does not work. He is petulant and tells models to sleep with more men to do their jobs better. In the most unfortunate of ironies, we suggest again that Law hire an image architect for himself. Shit’s bleak.
So do they choose “blank canvas” (their words) Kyla, or Jeana, who “can only do Jeana” but is damn good at it? Shocking no one, they choose the former, and Jeana gives her a hug, defeated, probably knowing none of what she has done on the show will be edited or portrayed to her advantage. What she should know is that she is a gorgeous girl and a good model, and hopefully bookers and managers in the industry will understand that this show is completely toxic and not to be taken seriously.
Congratulations to Kyla, a beautiful girl who seems like a nice person and is definitely not compelling television. We guess, in the end, that makes sense. America’s Next Top Model is not here to reinvent the wheel. In its 24th season, it has selected a safe winner, and it’s likewise safe to assume we will see many more seasons that produce similar results. We think it’s important, however, to note that this is not a good reality show. Its characterizations of the contestants jumped all over the place as it went, it lost more than one contestant who felt emotionally unsafe, its judges (save Ashley Graham) were cartoonishly self-aggrandizing, and you could strongly argue that the best contestant, on paper and in our hearts, lost for no good reason at all.
But most importantly, this show is cruel. In an era when we’re more than aware of the behind-the-scenes control-room machinations that go into creating reality TV, you can’t ignore the brazen, ruthless treatment of these women who have only opted in to attain some kind of professional success and exposure. We had admittedly hopped off this show’s bandwagon years ago, only to be lured back in with the promise that Tyra’s return would set its course anew. It feels very different from the show we watched as bloodthirsty 13-year-olds, and we’re not sure if it used to be more honest and authentic back then or if we were just 13 years old and lacking any empathy. But we see it pretty clearly now, and as grown adults, we ask it to return to the house, pack its belongings, and go home.