Last week marked the end of an era as “America’s Next Top Model.” Arguably one of the best reality shows ever finally ended after 22 cycles.
The show had it all: contestants who just “weren’t there to make friends,” certifiably insane challenges and photoshoots, and of course, Tyra Banks herself.
Ah, Tyra: never has a reality show host made the show so clearly about her. Tyra seemed to get crazier each season (I’m sorry, cycle) going more over the top each time with her entrances and doubling down on her catchphrases from “smize” to “Tyra Mail!” It soon became clear that Tyra thought of herself as an Oprah-lite, dispensing “love yourself” platitudes like a cheap motivational calendar and insisting the show was actually about discovering inner beauty, despite the fact that girls were kicked off regularly each week, sobbing the whole way home, for essentially not looking pretty enough in a photo.
A self-esteem booster the show was, indeed.
But it was not all about Tyra. No,the show produced plenty of memorable contestants, all distinct in their own way. There was season 1, with its battle of the heathens versus the Bible-thumping Christians as atheist Elyse mocked the ultra religious Robyn, who refused to pose nude for a photoshoot as it would go “against her faith.” Few reality TV video confessionals have been as genuine and rage-filled as Elyse’s that season.
There was awkward, shy Shandi, who started off as a dorky Walgreens clerk and ending up cheating on her boyfriend with a male model in a Milan hot tub. (Proof that the show truly enabled transformations!)
There was Eva, whose elegant photo with a tarantula briefly made me reconsider my stance on spiders. Lisa, who peed in a diaper in front of the Jackass guys. Bre, who wouldn’t shut up about her stolen granola bars. Whitney, the first plus-size winner. CariDee, easily the most likable winner ever. Natasha, the Russian mail-order bride who nonchalantly engaged in phone sex in front of the other girls. Analeigh, who would go on bigger and better things by playing a teenage girl who attempted to send nudes to Steve Carrell in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”
Allison, so adorable with her big doll eyes and her, uh, obsession with blood. Jade, one of the biggest bitches in the show’s history yet with easily the funniest CoverGirl comercial ever. (“Oh my gosh! A party! Fabulous!” she declared, off script, as she flounced around the set like a soap opera diva caricature.) And these are just contestants featured before cycle 13.
And while I’m no modeling expert, I doubt most models ever experience anything like the challenges thrown at the contestants. Remember when they had to pose while dangling in a harness over a gaping hole, proving they could be fierce even while close to plummeting to their deaths?! When they had to dress up as men, or as different ethnicities, or as celebrity couples. When they “krumped” for a Payless ad. When they had to model the latest in fashion: meat bikinis or human hair. When they had to photograph in an ice bath, or walk around in ten-inch heels, or pose with actual bees buzzing around them, all done breathlessly to prove their worth and devotion to Tyra, who, need I remind you, is a Barbie doll brought to life by Lindsay Lohan’s wish.
America’s Next Top Model, like any aging model, tried to fight off the ravages of time through endless makeovers and surgeries, whether it be through removals such as amputating judges like Twiggy and Janice Dickinson and adding in , or throwing in, twists like removing the height rule or allowing male contestants. Unfortunately, these changes were not enough to hide the show’s age, and with its heyday in its past, its death was inevitable.
Memento mori: death comes for us all.
But let us remember “America’s Next Top Model” fondly with its strongest moments: as a show that let Tyra crown herself homecoming queen instead of any of the contestants she was there to mentor, as a show where the girls were forced to take sexy photos in a bowl of salad, as a show where girls were sent home for understandably being wary of shaving their heads just because some former model told them to on a whim. Let us remember it as the show that gave us the best possible moment in reality television: Tyra’s flip out on Tiffany.
God bless you, “America’s Next Top Model.” We were all rooting for you.