Congratulations, Tyra. If your goal was to stage a Top Model finale that stuck with us, you did it. It’s been more than a week, and I’m still furious. And my fury isn’t going away.
I keep telling myself this isn’t a big deal. Because in the long run (and even in the short one), it’s not. But it’s just so damn puzzling. Tyra has never missed an opportunity to shame one of her America’s Next Top Model contestants in the past. And reality shows, especially aging ones with declining ratings like Top Model, rarely miss an opportunity to reveal a major, game-changing twist. So why, more than a week after we learned that cycle 17 finalist Angelea Preston was mysteriously disqualified, and that the show filmed a new final judging panel two months after production ended, do we still have no idea what happened?
Confused fans quickly put together that Top Model could have only one reason to re-film parts of its finale after Angelea was ousted: Preston must’ve originally won the All-Star cycle, only to have her crown retroactively revoked. But this theory only serves to increase our curiosity about her elimination, not to explain it.
Social Media Slip? Not Likely.
The most widely-accepted explanation for the disqualification, that Angelea posted information about the results of the finale before it aired on Twitter and/or Facebook, doesn’t add up. No one has been able to find a screencap of the alleged info-leak. Though Preston liked to hint that she might have won, the tweets read more as playful bravado than anything else.
Still, this explanation spread so widely across the internet that a rep from Preston’s new management team, Model Management Group, outright denied it in an interview, saying, “She would never post anything that would disqualify. That was her second season, she knew way better than that.” MMG posted a similar denial on their Facebook page.
For a Supposed Secret-Spiller, Angelea Sure is Silent Now
Depicted on the show as opinionated and honest (to a fault, at times), Preston has stayed quiet since the finale. She last posted to Twitter during the episode, when she noticed her name was trending worldwide. No acknowledgement that the mentions were almost all by confused, angry fans wanting an explanation. (Any publicity is good publicity, right?)
Rumors that Preston planned to hold a press conference last weekend were false, said her rep, who made it sound as though either her CW contract is too tight, or her infraction too severe for Preston to speak freely: “We’re just in that collection information stage. There are a lot of rules as to what someone can say, any conversations, we have advisers looking at what can be done and not done. Nobody wants to violate any rules, but at the same time, there might be things that she can do. Sometime in the future when everything is figured out, she’ll make a statement.”
Secretive Network, Closed-Mouth Models
That statement may never take place, if the CW has its way. The network has maintained a steel trap since the finale, which showed the four Top Model judges — Andre Leon Talley, Banks, Nigel Barker and Jay Manuel — vaguely dismiss Angelea by saying, “our production team and the network learned information from Angelea that disqualifies her from the competition.”
Under a barrage of questions about the incident the next day, the CW released what they claimed was a statement, though it conveyed nothing and essentially mirrored the judges’ comments: “After production wrapped on the current cycle of America’s Next Top Model, we learned information that made Angelea ineligible and she was subsequently disqualified from the competition. As a result, new scenes were filmed to address this for the audience during the finale.”
Manuel claimed on Twitter that the judges’ statement was so unclear because they didn’t know the particulars. “[A]ll of the judges were not told what happened [to] protect us,” he wrote. But there’s simply no way that Tyra, the creator and executive producer, doesn’t know why one of her All-Stars was eliminated. Not that anyone’s been able to ask her. She left the country this week and went on a “spiritual trip” to Bali. Probably not a coincidence.
When she wasn’t dodging the question altogether, cycle winner Lisa D’Amato also claimed complete ignorance about why Angelea was DQ’ed and why the finale, in which she was crowned the winner, was re-filmed. Lisa’s loyalty lies with Tyra, her contract and her prize package, so I really can’t blame her. Even though I don’t believe her.
Only runner-up Allison Harvard alluded that there may be more to this mystery. She wouldn’t offer a substantive explanation, but told me, “whatever went on [with Angelea] was something personal with the actual details of it.” Then, when I mentioned all the curiosity surrounding Angelea’s exit, compared the situation to something “Big Brother” or the “Illuminati” might conjure up.
Was It All a Publicity Stunt?
Some have speculated that Preston got pregnant, though that makes even less sense than the social media theory. Rumblings that she slept with a member of the production team were likely just created by viewers who also saw the last few seasons of The Bachelor.
Sadly, the most logical theory at this point is that this is all a carefully calculated publicity stunt by the network to drum up press, ratings and controversy after a disappointing, plodding Top Model season. That maybe the CW cut a deal with Preston that if she didn’t “win” in the traditional sense, they’d pay her off another way. After all, this so-called “controversy” has inspired more discussion about the show than it has enjoyed in years.
But if they cut her a deal, why didn’t it also include a fake reason for the disqualification? Something sensational enough to get press, but normal enough not to taint her name forever. (No more than being on Top Model has, anyway.) It’s hard to imagine the network intentionally leaving such a massive question unanswered without anticipating the massive amount of criticism it would cause.
Already fed up with Top Model’s newest “self-branding” angle, which was superficial, gimmicky and took the show even further away from its supposed premise of introducing novices to the modeling world, many fans online have said that they feel hustled, that the show owes them further explanation, and that this cover-up is the last straw. If the disqualification really was Angelea’s fault, the network could have just as easily explained the reason and avoided the backlash, directing all the negative attention on to the contestant while still collecting their press and ratings boosts. Tyra’s a savvy businesswoman, or so she enjoys telling us. You’d think she would have put that one together.
Writer Rich Juzwiak, whose years of in-depth blog posts about the show make him a leading Top Model scholar if ever there was one, notes that all this tight-lippedness flies in the face of pretty much everything the show typically stands for:
“America’s Next Top Model has no problem humiliating its contestants and making examples out of misbehavior. While it would have no doubt been devastating to those involved had Angelea slipped and revealed herself to be the winner (and I think she’s too smart and waaaaay too greedy for that — the girl knew what was on the line), I can totally see her being called out on television specifically for defying orders. They could have filmed a follow-up special to dance on her grave, to take back her crown in person. This show has punished girls for far lesser reasons (gaining weight, being sexy, listening to orders too closely, etc.). Why wouldn’t they pounce on the opportunity to punish Angelea, if they were just going to reshoot anyway?”
In Juzwiak’s mind, and also in mine, there’s only one explanation. Or, rather, there’s only one ambiguous original cause that could explain the way the show handled Preston’s elimination. They’re the ones who messed up, not her:
“Something tells me that we have no idea what this information was (that’s, of course, if there was information in the first place — I wouldn’t put it past the show to invent this development entirely for the sake of a dramatic final act). I have a feeling that it’s something that would have shamed the show far more than Angelea. […] I’d guess the secret information would have somehow revealed a lapse in background checking that would ultimately make the show look negligent for signing Angelea on in the first place.”
Why This is All So Infuriating and (Hold Your Laughter) Important
Perhaps the most frustrating thing about this whole fiasco is that, if the CW and Top Model had just been honest from the start, even if the information painted them in a negligence or negative light, they might look more responsible than they do now. Because they seem to have forgotten their responsibility to the viewer.
As reality TV viewers, we will put up with a lot. We will let you, the show, manipulate your contestants and their words. We will gloss over your extreme story-creating editing techniques, and — in certain circumstances — we’ll even abide you going back and changing the outcome of the competition, if you must. We’ll tolerate a complete lack of realism (which, as we know, is Top Model‘s strong suit). But what we won’t tolerate is a complete lack of closure.
A reality show is, in its own dumbed-down, demented way, a story. It’s the author’s job to give that story, and the characters within it, an ending, even if that ending is completely fabricated. (I mean, more than usual.) It’s not that we want to be lied to. But it happens in so many little, unknowable ways on every reality show that a lie would be better than nothing at all. We invested our time into this nonsense all season long. No matter how stupid or false, we demand an ending.
Which is why I don’t blame viewers who call this their last straw with America’s Next Top Model. I support and stand with them.
Angelea may have broken her contract with Tyra, but Tyra broke her contract with us. She refused to wrap up the story. So neither you nor I owe her a single ounce of attention for her next one.
And — perhaps most important of all — the show was starting to really suck, anyway.
(Image courtesy of CW)