Well, here we are. Twelve episodes, eleven eliminated models and countless utterances of the word “tooch” later, America’s Next Top Model‘s Revolutionary War of the Pretty People is coming to a close tonight, and ever so predictably, there’s only one Brit and one American left. And, predictably still (if you’ve watched the last couple Top Model finales along with me), this final showdown isn’t much of a showdown at all, as ANTM continues (and will continue still!) to undermine its own formula and zap its own suspense at Tyra’s schizophrenic will. Two weeks ago, the “go-see” episode contained none of the hilarious cross-cultural miscommunications, screaming fits about confusing maps and time limit disqualifications that usually make such challenges the highlight of the season, and Anneleise’s elimination couldn’t have been more predictable, even as we all logically knew that she had outshined Laura in almost every respect, including being more likable and more commercial. And last week’s recap hour made clear that nothing truly dramatic has happened this cycle since Louise, in a moment of pure, understandable frustration, quit the show and threatened to punch Kelly Cutrone in the face. (As the season has gone on, I’ve only related more to Louise on that one.)
Sometimes it’s a delight when you couldn’t be bothered with which contesant wins in a finale; when it’s the sign that a reality TV show did the unprecedented and allowed its two best candidates to actually succeed. But it’s an even worse sign when you don’t care who wins because you don’t think it matters. To the winner; to the show; to you; to anyone. That’s how I feel tonight. And yet I’m still here watching, so what does that say? (Beyond that it’s my job.) I think it says that I miss the old ANTM, but the new one is still a pleasant enough simulation to watch. Just not emotionally invest in.
Despite the finalists’ being from different shores, this showdown also isn’t as intense as we might have hoped at the beginning of the cycle, with all its “US VERSUS UK! STARS AND STRIPES AGAINST UNION JACK!” posturing, because Sophie and Laura really aren’t that different. Both are sexy blondes — American Laura in a more “80s power band music video vixen” way, British Sophie in a more “Japanese business man’s fetish” sort of way — and have been judge favorites since the start. Both have had hiccups — Laura’s music video comes to mind, and Sophie’s droopy silkworm photo — but both have also done impressively well at jumping between the various exhausting roles that the show has asked of them, very few of which resemble the real-life modeling world. I mean anyone willing to sit on Kris Jenner’s lap dressed as an infant, then model maple syrup, then Hello Killy! merchandise, then pose on the edge of a tower, then shoot an Asian action movie, then, then, then … deserves an award. And a reward. Let’s let them both win!
OK, I guess that’s not possible. But the episode starts as if it could: Laura and Sophie express pure joy at coming back to their Macau apartment and finding it completely empty. “FINAL TWO!” they sing and dance in unison. One of them will win this season’s big prize, which still contains a spread in haute Italian Vogue (odd, considering this cycle’s uber-commercialization angle), as well as a modeling contract with LA Models & NY Model Management, along with the more appropriate “honors”: A brief and quickly buried contract with Covergirl, being the face of the Top Model perfume “Cream Dumb Poo,” and interviewing C-list celebrities now and then for Extra.
The girls are warm to each other and thrilled, rather than cutthroat and cold, as they prepare for the final tests that will determine who wins, starting with…
The Covergirl Challenge
It’s time to tape the Covergirl “commercial” that will never make it to air, which means Sophie and Laura get their most catalog-worthy makeup and hair done, so they can take by far the most normal photos we’ve ever seen of them. Each girl rehearses her scripts for the latest product from the innovative, explosion-obsessed folks at Covergirl. They want to “Blast” your EVERYTHING!
Sophie effortlessly performs her script, and her newly refreshed pink hair makes even her cheesiest lines about “blasting your lipcolor to the next level!” feel edgier and cooler.
Laura, meanwhile, struggles in her Covergirl beauty shot. With her stick-straight bleach-blonde blowout and forced smile, she looks like the newest cast member of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills on set to shoot her stiff, sparkly intro for Bravo. Not like a professional model. She has the beginnings of a meltdown, but then pulls it together for the end of the shoot. The photographer says he’s confident that she pulled out a good shot, even though “there was something quite serious going on with her,” and he was “concerned” for her wellbeing.
And it becomes evident that he was right to be concerned. Before she can shoot her script, Laura collapses in a shivering panic attack, and Jay Manuel has no choice but send her to the hospital. “My vision was blurred,” Laura recounts later, “I had no idea what was going on.”
It’s her first panic attack, apparently brought on by anxiety, or stress, or exhaustion, or emotional torment, or low blood sugar, or all of the above. If it weren’t for those textbook-size liability waivers the girls sign before the show, I’d think she might have grounds to sue.
While we await Laura’s fate (the question being the slightly less suspenseful, “WILL SHE BE ABLE TO FINISH HER COVERGIRL SHOOT?”, not “WILL SHE DIE?”) we rejoin Sophie, who slays her Covergirl beauty script with ease. Jay announces that that is, officially, a “wrap,” as Laura is unable to film her script, because of how she’s a mess. Though they’ll let her make up the work, and though it will never be said, that feels like it will become grounds for Laura’s disqualification at judging later. The winner doesn’t have to be perfect, but she at least has to participate.
As Laura’s friend and a fellow panic attack sufferer way-back atop that high tower in Macau, Sophie is genuinely concerned, and gives Laura lots of hugs when she comes back to the house. If Sophie knows or suspects that she has this thing in the bag, she does a good job of keeping it to herself. (All the more reason for her to win?)
Italian Vogue Photo Shoot
Laura knows that — if she’s not broken already — this shoot is make or break for her. Luckily, this serious, sexy, steamy shoot, which has the girls looking like the dancers in Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” video at the spa, isn’t exactly Sophie’s forte. The stylist and the photographer (same guy from the Covergirl shoot) both decide that Laura was the clear winner today. “I think it’s neck and neck!” the photographer says. Like he knows what’s in Tyra’s brain!
They still want this to seem like a competition, so the show is gracious enough to let Laura have a second chance to film her script. Laura’s still uncomfortable being stereotypical, superficial and chipper, which is a problem for this shoot, and seems to have lost or misplaced some of that crazy fire that made her so interesting to begin with. But the filming goes fine enough (unnatural, but pretty), and Jay gives his seal of approval, saying explicitly that he thinks that Laura CAN handle the pressure of this industry. They might as well flash it over the screen: “You hear that? It’s NOT OVER YET.”
For the first time since she dropped in and dropped those inane “superhero” names on them, Tyra visits the girls in their home for a final “heart-to-heart” (surprise interview) before the end. She diagnoses Laura’s panic attack as a symptom of deep pain in her youth, which prompts Laura to talk about her parents’ alcoholism. (Never mind that she immediately called her parents for comfort and support after the panic attack.) In Sophie’s interview, Tyra says, “If I was 21, I’d want to be your friend,” and brings Sophie to tears with a few more compliments for good measure. No criticism, except that Sophie needs to work more to accept her greatness.
After those talks, I still think Sophie’s got this in the bag. But after several episodes of painting Laura as a sex-crazed “pirate” (Laura and Tyra’s agreed general term for Laura’s spontaneity, aggression and thirst for attention), at least the show is doing its best to show her more human side before it’s all over.
Final Runway Show
This final runway show is a doozy of epically mismatched proportions: The girls are walking in front of some sort of motion-aligned hologram screen, meaning they’ll walk along with images of their own bodies, and then pretend-sword-fight those images … or something. I don’t know how it works, but it’s very involved and high-tech and Asian. And they’re doing this elaborate Anime Simulacra Show for Forever 21.
Jay announces that some of the previously eliminated models — Catherine, Alisha, Eboni and Annaliese — are walking with the finalists, and Laura’s bitchier side comes out one last time, when she says she’s thrilled to see Annaliese … and no one else.
The show opens with a completely unnecessary and nonsensical skit starring six or seven different “Tyras” in different Barbie outfits saying “TYRA?” “TYRA?” at each other for a few minutes like improperly programmed sex robots. The usual.
“WHERE are my biggest fans?”
“OH, THERE I ARE!”
In the audience, unable to disappoint us even if he TRIED, Miss Jay is wearing a golden glittery Asian sun hat on his head. I think it has his name written on it. He didn’t get to say a word tonight, and yet he spoke the loudest. I’ll still miss him most of all next cycle.
Shine on, Miss J, you one-man culture and gender melting pot. SHINE ON.
Laura’s runway walk has been her biggest weakness all season, so she’s even more nervous than before and wants to prove that she can walk like a real runway model. But, ironically, there’s so much going on in this runway show that it’s hard to tell.
Strangely, the runway runs parallel to the audience. So everyone can see the screen, I suppose. It seems like the models only have about twenty feet to walk before they need to turn around. There’s no way to see them head-on, only from the side, as they walk in front of the screen, which is so huge and bright and constantly moving that I’m sure the audience members had a hard time seeing the models on stage, and an even harder time focusing on them. More than previous seasons’ final challenges, this feels much more like a “SHOW” than a “RUNWAY.”
With so many distractions, including an unexplained stuffed lion that Laura got to hold (some sort of therapy? Sophie didn’t get a plush buddy!), her walk didn’t look so bad after all. But her face did. Very smiley and hammy. Sophie looked much more suited to the environment, and walked well, too. Laura hung in there, but I wouldn’t say it’s neck and neck. Maybe neck and collarbone.
In perhaps his last appearance on this show EVER — *sniff* — Jay Manuel is doing his usual and rounding out the panel tonight. He joins Tyra, whose ballerina bun is so high and tight that I think she is intentionally attempting to force an Asian squint (offensive!), Kelly, who looks like she always does, which is the lazy, goth wife of the troll in the Three Billy Goats Gruff, and Nigel, who always tries so hard to be the most expressive, most British person in any room. I’ll miss his polite outbursts.
The critiques commence:
The runway show: Laura was having fun, but she needs more control, says Nigel. Kelly was unpleased (her typical mood) that Laura looked so happy, because her attitude is usually so cool and rock and roll. Tyra cartoon-mimicked Laura’s face, which is never a good sign:
Sophie made interesting angles and looked “beautiful,” said Tyra, and Jay loved how she wielded the sword against the hologram warrior.
The Covergirl commercials: The commercial is much more pleasant than cycles’ past, because they use clips of “candid” (not looking at the camera) footage of each girl from throughout the season. Laura’s clips actually makes her seem very personable and beautiful. But her script-reading is stiff, literally. Her lips don’t move enough to seem human. Laura tears up as she tells the judges about her panic attack, and Kelly curtly responds, “welcome to the fashion world.” That insensitive cow.
Sophie’s commercial is cutesy in a good way, and her script reading is much more believable, but her in-between shots weren’t as exciting or beautiful as Laura’s. Which seems unfair, because the girls didn’t even KNOW they were being filmed for Covergirl in these clips, and they had no power over which footage got used. Oh well.
The print shots:
Kelly doesn’t love Laura’s shot (what a surprise). But as a woman of color, Tyra says that she can relate to Laura’s full lips (uhhhh?), and likes the twinkle in her eyes. Kelly calls Sophie’s a “superstar” shot, and it’s really selling the lipstick.
In deliberation, the judges recap both Sophie and Laura’s highlights from throughout the cycle, and highlighting their biggest differences. Laura “makes noise” on the shoots, says Jay. Sometimes it’s amazing, like in the Kardashian shoot, but sometimes it’s a wreck. Sophie is cutesy, but she was sexy and convincing on the music video shoot, while Laura was ugly and snarly. On the silkworm shoot, Laura was dynamic and unconventional when Jay asked her to look sad, but Sophie was weepy and dull. The consensus seems to be that Laura’s “crazy” is wonderful until it overflows, while Sophie is more agreeable and, even more importantly, bookable. But Laura is more fun to watch. But Sophie more consistent! But … but … the real, unspoken question seems to be: Will the judges even allow themselves to vote a Brit as America’s Next Top Model? Because while their hearts are whispering, “Laura, maybe!” their heads are clearly thinking, “Sophie, definitely.”
It’s time to make the announcement. Tyra says that America’s Next Top Model IS …
The Brit has it! And she looks weirdly shocked!
Laura leaves with lots of encouragement from Tyra (“I think you ARE going to be a HIGH. FASHION. MODEL!”), while she then forces Sophie to ad lib a rap about her superhero name, “Illuminata,” as part of winning. And now, while Laura is knocking on all those couture designers’ doors, Sophie has to go work for Extra! So you can decide for yourself who really got the best end of that deal.
Well, what do you think, Top Modellers? Are you happy Sophie won? Think it should have been Laura? Have so many bigger concerns about this show (and its strange choices for next cycle) that you didn’t much care? Tell me what you thought down there in the comments!
I’ll be back with interviews with both Laura and Sophie before the end of the week. Until then…
Keep it classy, fierce ‘n’ lovers.
(Images courtesy of CW)