All has been surprisingly quiet at the Top Model house this season. Indeed, for a cycle that packed the bedazzled Tyra mansion with characters ranging from feral drama queens to borderline sociopaths in glitzy sweatpants, it’s positively shocking that it took until tonight for the first real blow-up to happen among the contestants, Bianca’s huffing and puffing aside. But, thankfully for those who consider Top Model to be an unrecognized child of Telemundo, the cracks in the peaceful veneer began to show: Bianca, quibbling with Shannon’s phone minute divvying system (in what I thought was an edgy but not hostile way) provoked Shannon to freak out, leading to Bianca dubbing her the “crying Christian.” Lisa, who never met a squabble she couldn’t love, jumped into the fray for no discernable reason, making barely coherent threats: “She’s afraid of water, and I’m the deep end!” (It is my greatest hope that post-Top Model Lisa becomes a professional wrestler. She already has the American flag pants and the nonsensical trash talk.) No weaves were pulled, and no Tyra lectures were provoked, but I have a feeling that this Bianca-Lisa rift will haunt the house for a long time to go.
According to my highly scientific scale of a few weeks prior, this had the potential to be a really satisfying episode. Not only was there the bizarre nervous breakdown over the telephone, but there was a challenge that had more in common with absurdist theater than actual fashion. The ladies had to sport the Kardashian Klothing line on a runway on Santa Monica Piers. The trick was that part of the runway was on a speedily operating carousel. (Just like Marc Jacobs, right?) Plus, Miss Jay showed up, bedecked at first in fisherman chic and then in a black robe thing with a large human hair tassel apparently woven to his head.
Part of the entertainment of these gauntlet/obstacle course challenges is pure Schadenfreude—you want, in your heart of hearts, to watch someone completely eat it. Alas, despite the high, high heels and the unceasing spin of the carousel, there was no major disaster: Allison stumbled a bit, and Dominique barely tripped, though Angelea’s teetery walk was enough to have Miss Jay compare her to “somebody’s alcoholic aunt.” The Kardashians, whose collective aesthetic screamed “Coney Island brothel circa 1913, plus leopard print,” crowned Bre and Lisa the winners, for adorable twirling and circus-level antic, respectively.
The Kardashians didn’t quite meet the requirements for bizarre guest stars: They’re much more along the lines of the reality television figures with some connection to fashion we’ve seen the past couple episodes. But what to my wondering eyes should appear but Miss La Toya Jackson, she of the pixie voice and holographic jacket. This week’s photo shoot was to pay homage to the King of Pop, complete with MJ’s actual former stylist, Rushka. My favorite photo shoots are the ones where the contestants have to embody characters instead of abstract ideas or branding concepts—the amazing celebrity couples shoot in cycle seven comes to mind—and this one was both visually interesting and aptly showed some of the models’ photographic weaknesses. Lisa, for example, doesn’t quite know how to work with a non-zany pose, which failed pretty miserably on camera. Bre’s Jackson was pretty spot-on, though it did seem more like an impersonator than a model channeling Jackson. The elephant in the shoot, I think, was the sort-of-but-not-quite-blackface they used on some of the models. The judges flipped out over Allison’s be-froed, wide-eyed tribute to 1960s Jackson, but it seemed sort of nightmarish to me.
The thing that prevented this episode from attaining Top Model heights, alas, was the panel. The judges loved Laura’s drunk-dancing Jackson picture, which didn’t seem to me as strong as some of the others. Bianca’s crisis of confidence during the carousel shoot—a result of telephonegate—got dredged up and tut-tutted by Tyra, which surely points to trouble in her future. Lisa, wearing a weirdo Lucille Ball at home outfit, ended up in the bottom—Nigel declared her outfit “wretched, but God, do I love it”—along with the lackluster Angelea. And just as the axe was about to fall (I was hoping on Angelea) La Toya piped up. Apparently the bountiful mercy of Michael Jackson spoke to Tyra, and no one was eliminated. The contestants breathed a sigh of relief, Angelea compared MJ to Jesus, Tyra smiled benevolently, and the rest of us felt a little bit cheated.