In this week's episode of "America's Next Top Model," the show stumbles into uncharted territory while rabidly clinging to its roots by initiating a completely reconfigured rating system that still has no criteria. Before the episode begins, Tyra Banks materializes onscreen to inform us that for this cycle, the girls will be given three scores (on a 1-10 scale) each week: Judging, Challenge, and Social Media. Or, as she told the girls, "EVERYTHING IS GRADED ... We're talkin' 'bout NUM-bers!" These emphatic numbers will then be compiled, and the girl with the lowest "quantitative" (thanks, Harvard!) score will be exiled from the Top Model compound.
As a convoluted rejoinder to the number-twist, the would-be-model who wins Best Photo gains access to The Tyra Suite, which features a slightly larger bed and walls plastered with TyTy's posturing postures and words of wisdom, such as, "Perfect is boring." AND the weekly winner will ALSO receive $10,000 in so-called "scholarship money" (I'll assume that's a euphemism), which she can only redeem if she is the cycle's ultimate victor.
It pains me to say this, but the opening sequence format I'd come to love and trust has been re-mastered as well -- gone are the days when each girl's name appeared beneath her slowly-tilting head as stock images of Tyra circulated in the background. Instead, we are treated to some back-alley flash dance homage, in which the girls teeter around an exposed-brick studio, modeling oversized neon sweats to electro-pop beats. It's like the laziest references from the '80s and '90s merged into one anonymous mess of strobe-lit weaves, and needless to say, I'm obsessed; I didn't even realize it was the opening until its eight seconds had passed me by!
In the Top Model house, Victoria raises her owl-ass brows and drops some Oedipal truth on us by revealing that she's a virgin (duh!), and doesn't want a boyfriend because, "I get all the satisfaction I need from my mom." This disturbing semi-sexual relationship is put on hold as the house is rocked by what seems to be an earthquake but is actually just a mixed-race step team. As the boys stomp the yard, Rob Evans emerges, teeth glittering, to clue in the girls on their challenge. It has nothing to do with step dancing but everything to do with walking around a platform in a random LA club, a staple activity of almost every recent cycle.
At the club, the girls are graced by the majesty of the magical specimen whose name is simply: Jonte'. As a veteran dlisted hot slut and my personal lifestyle icon, Jonte' has been flooring the world for years with his unnatural beauty and such masterpieces as "Ya Rude!" I could not recommend a better one-time mentor for the girls, who bust out yawn-inducing struts to a soundtrack blaring the words, "I'm a drag." (I see what you did there, editors). A few girls slip and stumble, but Brittany works the stripper hoop like a pro and Yvonne spastically kicks her leg in the air, a move that ends up earning her the challenge win. Jonte' doles out words of wisdom, beginning each phrase with "sweetheart," and ending several with, "helloooooo." Nothing short of an inspiration.
Post-challenge, Jonte' ascends back to his holy perch and another of Tyra's henchgays saunters in: P'Trique, the wigged, bearded uggo from the premiere, and self-proclaimed YouTube presence. The producers convince a few girls to feign recognition, but both you and I know that he's not a thing. Sporting an animal-print loincloth, he reads them the TyraMail and disappears back to relative anonymity. The girls are confronted with their challenge scores, which may seem calculated and logical until you ask yourself who judges the girls, and on what criteria. The short answers: Tyra/interns; whimsy.
Back at the house, Kiara calls Destiny a stripper (not as a compliment), resulting in forgettable tiffs and sharpened eyebrows all around. Vicki performs some bat-shit crazy aerobic interpretive dance in the backyard. Then, off to the photo shoot, where we meet the celebrity photographer -- wait, let me rephrase -- we me the photographer, celebrity (but not for picture-taking) Shenae Grimes, teen actress of "Degrassi" and "90210" fame. The shoot's concept is simple but stupid: taxidermy. The girls stick their lollipop heads through a hole in the wall, wearing ecru onesies despite the fact that their bodies are hidden behind a partition.
The shoot is brief and eventless; most of the models blandly tilt their expressionless visages to and fro while Johnny Wujek lisps not-so-sweet nothings. Victoria, Brittany, Nastasia, and Leila are the only ones who twerk it with intensity, but everyone thinks she did well without the ego-deflating presence of Mr. Jay Manuel. Leila was especially impressive on set, mixing up her expressions and serving up some Coco-Rocha-meets-Kelly-Mittendorf realness. She's been getting a heavy-handed winner's edit, and I'm down with it for the time being. Might I just say: all of the photos struck me as stark and unflattering. I was about to disparage this season's casting (which is somewhat problematic) when I remembered that the photographer is not a professional! Jonte' could've taken a better batch of pictures than this bitch! For shame, Shenae.
Later that night, Vicki shrieks pleasantries into the phone at her mom, amid sobs: "IT'S SO GOOD TO HEAR YOUR VOICE." Home-schooled bitches be craycray. Some light shade is thrown, and we are swept to judging, whence we are greeted by the new panel: Kelly Cutrone, Tyra, and Rob man the judge's table and an asian pygmy nymph by the name of BryanBoy loiters in the corner, dispersing cruel comments purportedly pulled from the World Wide Web. I thought he'd be smug and annoying but he sort of won me over with his coyness and feminine wiles.
The watered-down prize package is reiterated: a spread in NYLON, contracts with LA Models and NY Model Management, campaigns with the "ANTM" fragrance, SmashBox, and Nine West, and $100,000 in cash (said as cartoon cash flutters form the ceiling). The girls are summoned one by one, and each judge ranks them from 1-10; it is determined that all the models-to-be must up their games, especially Jessie (plush, boneless face), Maria (flat, tired features), and Destiny (whose brows look exponentially worse when styled professionally). Leila, Laura, and Kristen emerge with the highest judging scores, but remember: "Your social media scores can make ALL the difference!"
Okay, let me just restate that the scoring system is a complete farce. Tyra has already chosen who will win this cycle. All of these "numbers" she keeps mentioning are definitely randomly chosen by a group of interns working off a roster. We don't even get to see the judges deliberate! The new premise claims to be cluing us in on the intricacies of the judging process, but in the end we are just as mystified by its randomness as ever. That being said, Tyra approaches the girls with their decimal-pointed grades. Her hair is a tangled nest and one butt cheek is exposed through her sheer dress. The breakdown is as follows:
The bottom two are mantis-like eyebrow queen Destiny and hipster cartoon-face Jessie. The choice is an easy one, and Jessie and her fabled buttocks will be forever banished to the oblivion of early "ANTM" ship-offs. BUT WAIT! As an additional, additional, additional twist, booted contestants will secretly participate in shoots throughout the cycle for an opportunity to return? I'm not clear on the details, but tune in next time for vague explication, optional makeovers, and my own personal choice for Top Three! Fierce and love, Nick.
"America's Next Top Model" airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on The CW.