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'America's Next Top Model' recap: The models' balancing act

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As if the reality TV gods had heard my plea from last week, this episode of "Top Model" showed a return to the ludicrous, over-the-top pageantry we all know and hope for from Tyra Banks and her mini-Tyras. The ladies moved into their new Venice Beach apartment, which looked, from the outside, like some sinister, metallic treehouse and the drama started a-brewin’. But most exciting of all, after a new, bizarre opening song montage -- the contestants in bondage gear prancing around a hall of mirrors -- the competition got down to business. This means, of course, a daring combination of "Fear Factor"-level stunts and couture, darlings.

Enter Diane von Furstenberg, whose collection the contestants must flaunt while balancing on a catwalk four stories off the ground, placed precariously somewhere above the Kodak Theatre. It seems like lunacy for more than one reason -- what designer wants their whole collection to be known as the “upskirt shot” show? -- but it did lead to some classic ANTM moments. Like when Sara confused ANTM with a gladiator competition: “At first I didn’t think we were going to wear a harness. I thought it was just: You fall, you die.” (I can see Tyra’s Ultimate Model Smackdown in the works now:14 models enter, only one leaves. No holds barred! Beauty! Fashion! Mayhem! Sunday, Sunday Sunday!) And Liz’s eloquent encapsulation of every model’s mantra: “Am I going to die? Do I look good?” But ultimately, the girls all did fairly well. Aside from Anamaria tripping at the end of the runway, no one even fell.  

Then it was on to the photo shoot, which took its themes from one of Tyra’s pet causes: teen bullying. Tyra encouraged each of the models to think of “the word that hurt you the most” and then find an alternate power word. (Tyra’s word was “Big Forehead,” which she replaced with “Supermodel turned Businesswoman.”) The models then had to have both those words scrawled on their body and pose in swimsuits so teenagers could see them transcending labels …or something.

Obviously, this led to tears as models dredged up whatever issue they had been teased about in high school, and let Tyra play therapist/Oprah for a few minutes. But the terms that the girls chose, by and large, struck me as somewhat dishonest -- like when you’re asked for your greatest weakness in a job interview. Terra, for example, said that she was tormented by kids who called her “soup cooler” because of her pillowy lips, which sort of seems like the model equivalent of "I'm just too dedicated to work!" Some of the women didn’t seem to understand the question -- like Jane, who changed “big face” to “big square head.”

Only a few of them tackled the nastier labels we all acquire in high school, like Kim, who turned “mutt” into “biracial beauty.” Kayla recounted the trauma of coming out by turning the word “queer” into “free,” a curious choice given that the word “queer” is often a term of self-description in the gay community. (But I guess any word can be vile if you use it the wrong way.) I wanted Miss Jay to step in, give a speech about gay rights, and hug her. But even more pressing: Could Kayla be this cycle’s answer to the fantastic Kim Stoltz from Season 5?

When it came to the judging room, though, the outcasts ruled: Ann, my gangly favorite, got best photo with Kayla as runner-up. The final two came down to Terra “soup cooler,” whose poses were a bit obvious and stilted, and Anamaria, she of the Madonna look-alike smile and New York attitude. In the end, Tyra cut Anamaria, not for her photograph but for her body. Tyra fretted that Anamaria was unnaturally thin and that her boniness set a bad example.

It’s a gesture in the right direction, but it seemed sort of like a set-up: Had Tyra not judged Anamaria too thin in the bikini shots she sent in, or in the first phase of judging? Was she just a sacrifice to the body-image police? Either way, she’s gone, and the season’s potential villain has yet to show. And hold on to your weaves friends -- next week is makeover week!

Best quotes from this episode:

“I’m into hobos …he has to be a warlock and know how to make sushi.” --Ann on her romantic type

“Her body is very, very gauche.” --Andre Leon Talley

 “Your eyes bounce right out of the picture.” --Nigel Barker

 “I don’t think this photo is dreckitude, but it’s like, dr-, dr- …almost there.” --Tyra

Quick thought: Does anyone else notice that Tyra has a special voice she uses for announcing the winners and losers? It suddenly gets very chiding and soft, like a mother in a soap commercial.

-- Margaret Eby

twitter.com/margareteby

Photo: Diane von Furstenberg joins Nigel Barker, Andre Leon Talley and Tyra Banks at the judges' table.

Credit: Mathieu Young / The CW

 
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