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America’s Next Top Model’s twentieth season is the first to include both female and male contestants, and in the episodes aired so far this decision has exploded the show’s uneasy truce with the male gaze, which has always sat awkwardly with the show’s purported commitment to Spice Girls-ian empowerment. Not only has gender-related subtext become an open discussion, but also a ton of beautiful half-clothed men have hurt each other’s feelings. It’s deeply entertaining and oddly cleansing to see the men fall into the same traps that have always been set for female contestants to manufacture drama on the show. The traps themselves become much more apparent when they are removed from the context of the expectations for women we are accustomed to, and the men fall into them far more dramatically when they trip on their own arrogance and privilege.

The reign of America’s Next Top Model has been long and mighty, but there were signs of flagging before this current, rejuvenating season. ANTM premiered on UPN in 2003 and then joined the new CW network formed when the WB and UPN merged, where it remains to this day. In the decade it has been on the air, there have been twenty seasons (“cycles” in the show’s parlance), which suddenly seems like a striking image of eternity if you used to do math homework while watching this program. Even as the viewer grows gnarled and more careful about applying sunscreen, there will always be another perfectly formed 18-year-old (who is not there to make friends) for Tyra to intently advise, “It’s not this. It’s THIS,” while making two indistinguishable facial expressions.

The format never changed much. A dozen or so pretty girls with compelling backstories live in a house together. In each episode, there’s a challenge involving some kind of modeling skill that grants the winner immunity, and then a themed photo shoot. At panel, each model is critiqued for her performance in the challenge and what they have selected as the best picture from the photo shoot. Someone wins, and someone gets sent home. In the first few episodes of each season the models always get makeovers, and the last few episodes always take place in a different country for some fun photo shoots and awkward cultural appropriation. The prize is always some kind of modeling contract, a magazine cover, and a cosmetics deal. Sometimes there’s a theme, like the cycle that cast girls 5’7’’ and under, or the “College Edition,” or the cycle in which half the contestants were British and half were American and there were a lot of unnecessary Union Jacks. The constant, however, is Tyra, her image plastered everywhere in the models’ house like carvings of a pharaoh so she remains present even when she isn’t onscreen.

On one hand, Tyra is the head of a business empire, on a Time list of “100 People Who Shape Our World,” and the first African-American model on the covers of GQ, Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue, and the Victoria’s Secret catalogue. The Tyra Banks Company has run a program called TZONE since 1999, which aims to raise girls’ self-esteem and improve their futures, and is beginning a program available year-round in New York this year. The company is also starting a capital investment and development firm that invests in female-focused start-ups.

On the other hand, she once dressed up as a kangaroo to tell the models they were going to Australia and wrote a YA novel featuring a protagonist named Tookie De La Creme. She is also the creator of this Vine.

She is impossibly beautiful, yet the goofiness of her self-regard is perhaps her most endearing aspect. She makes up nonsense words that she makes everyone on the show use seriously until they forget they aren’t real, like a kid’s misunderstanding that becomes a family joke which then morphs into a household shorthand whose origins go unremembered. Models will fret about having enough “tooch” or “smize” in a photograph, like those are real things. There was a series of music videos one season that included the phrase “Pot Ledom” in all of the lyrics, which Tyra explained was “Top Model backwards.” Why? Well, you see, it’s Top Model backwards, of course. Tyra is Lewis Carroll, engineering a topsy-turvy Wonderland for a brace of flawless Alices through what might as well be an opium haze.

However, one of the particular joys of this season has been the return of balance between kookiness and business to Tyra’s persona. In the last few seasons, the silliness of the wacky skits, inside jokes, made-up words, and gimmicks sometimes threatened to overwhelm the sense that there were any stakes at all. Tyra’s madness began to overwhelm the sense of her authority. With twenty seasons under its belt, it began to seem like ANTM’s producers were running out of ideas for challenges and photo shoots, so the situations engineered to initiate drama started to look more like pointed humiliation, often with male photographers. Cycle 18 featured a photo shoot where the girls were bedecked with maple leaves and drizzled with syrup. The All-Star Cycle included girls posing among enormous chunks of feta cheese in a giant bowl of Greek salad (because, you see, they are in Greece). Girls were getting yelled at for posing with hot dogs either too lasciviously or not lasciviously enough. A lot of food-related things. Things got racist when girls posed in Hello Kitty gear with stereotypical “Asian accessories,” or as “biracial beauties,” about which the less said, the better.

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There was a final show where models had to slither down a runway on their stomachs covered in oil. What happened to the heady days when a model could just lie in a field in an evening gown making friends with a cool sheep?

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Still, the bright-eyed girls kept telling the camera how happy they were to be there, how much it meant to them, how much their families had sacrificed. They apologized to Tyra for letting her down when they were eliminated. They crumpled under the judges’ sassy remarks. It was starting to look like the show was making girls with low self-esteem feel worse. It seemed like bullying, and for the show to work, Tyra couldn’t look like a bully because she’s really about a sort of goofy empowerment.

However, this season, the male contestants provide a resistance to Tyra that manufactures drama in a much more satisfying way. They’re sure of themselves, and they believe that they will win and they will deserve it. This way, Tyra’s put in the position to take arrogance down a peg instead of kicking someone who’s already down.

A perfect example of this is in the casting episode, in which Ronald, a semifinalist, walks into the room full of bluster:

RONALD: Me seeing my competition, it’s me and one other African-American guy out there and I’m like, where’s my competition?
TYRA: Your competition is not just the black guys. So don’t just look at – if I only looked at black girls for competition, child, I’d be like this, chillin’ – I had to look at everything and say “How do I get to the top,” not how to be top black girl.
RONALD: Look, I got this, I was trained to do high fashion and runway.

In response to this reflexive bit of mansplaining, Tyra meets the eyes of a fellow female judge Kelly Cutrone, and deploys the kryptonite of dudes who think they know better – she laughs at him. Ronald, realizing the hole he’s dug for himself, tries to talk his way out of it, but the judges firmly invite him to leave.

Now, this is the fun Tyra. This is Tyra in iconic “BE QUIET, TIFFANY!” mode, because she has an opponent who thinks he knows better than she does. It’s much more satisfying watching her hack away at somebody’s hubris than to have her chide someone for not believing in themselves enough. With the addition of men this season, Tyra can have a lot more fun fighting unearned arrogance because, unlike many of the female contestants, the men have been taught that pride is a virtue.

So when Tyra stands in front of the bottom two contestants and we see a black woman standing in front of two trembling white men, gently telling them “two beauties stand before me, but I only have one photo in my hands,” and you realize that to Tyra they are not even “men” but “beauties,” there’s a delicious sense that the tables have turned.

This sense of turnabout as fair play and comedy mined from male arrogance is most clearly drawn in the journey of a hapless, egotistical contestant named Marvin. This slight, pillowy-lipped gent has the uncomprehending emotion of a spoiled child. It comes paired with an attitude towards women that can only be found in a man who has spent years cultivating a poisonous sense of entitlement. His insecurity is underlined from the first time we meet him in the casting episode, when his voice wobbles as he tells Tyra how he’s ashamed of the fact that his father is a janitor. Tyra points out that his father presumably worked this job to support him in the first place, so perhaps he should focus on the freedom he has thanks to his father’s years of labor. Marvin, in tears, has the kind of insta-epiphany only reality television can provide – at Tyra’s prompting, he throws his arms wide in acceptance and shouts to the heavens “MY DAD’S A JANITOR!”

From then on, his raison d’etre is chasing female contestants. When told that the first challenge will be to walk down a runway with a girl and kiss her at the end, he exclaims to the camera, “Thank god it’s mandatory, like, you have to kiss me.” His excitement at the prospect of avoiding the matter of consent is shiver-inducing, but he delivers the statement like he believes this is a cute and flirty thing to say.

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However, the women in the house mock him for his wannabe player moves, nicknaming him “Starvin’ Marvin.” Marvin retreats into his male-model-clique and takes a no-girls-allowed stance, bragging that the men are going to beat the women in the competition. At one point, he confesses to a magical-thinking type of belief that when he decides he likes a woman, she’ll be sent home, because he believes that the world revolves around him.

However, it soon becomes clear that the pressure is getting to him: when a doltish prank that the guys play on the girls, involving putting a creepy clown doll in the girls’ room, ends up giving one of the girls with a clown phobia a panic attack that results in her elimination (Ed. noteWHAT), Marvin weeps with the realization that sometimes actions have consequences. “I’m sorry about the clowns,” he snuffles in the ear of the departing girl, mystified by his own capacity for regret.
When Marvin’s friend Mike The Sexy Ice Cream Man is eliminated for having stupid facial expressions, Marvin spirals further. “I’m worried now there’s no one to talk to, or play with me,” he wails. Play with me. And now it becomes clear that this attractive man who believes that he is a “player” and considers himself entitled to women is also incredibly emotionally stunted, and the correlation couldn’t be stronger. It becomes clear when Marvin gets called out at panel for making the same face in every photo, we’re really looking at a “darkest timeline” version of Derek Zoolander here. It’s to the show’s credit that when it comes to women, there’s no attempt to frame Marvin as cool, and that sends a clear message about the folly in the way he speaks.

Anyone who has watched reality TV since the dawn of The Real World is familiar with the trope of female contestants being labeled early on as “naive”/ “sexy” and given an edit to support that label. So when ANTM takes two conventionally attractive straight, white, male, cis contestants, and introduces them to us as “Jeremy, The Virgin” and “Mike, The Sexy Ice Cream Man,” the reversal of that trope highlights the silliness of the trope itself.

When we meet Mike, we learn that Tyra discovered him like an old-time movie producer, a humble working-class boy who she thought was enough of a looker for show business. The show is Mike’s introduction to the modeling world, and he is completely baffled that there is any kind of technique involved whatsoever. It also quickly becomes awkward that his defining character traits are being sexy, which all of the contestants are supposed to be anyway, and an ice cream man, which is unhelpful in an environment singularly inhospitable to ice cream (It’s also an unimpressive rags-to-riches story compared to the two contestants who used to be actually homeless). Though Mike doesn’t last long in the competition, this clueless young beauty trying to make it in show business is yet another archetype turned on its head by this strange season of television.

Also in over his head is Jeremy, a very young man with a boyish face and weight-lifter’s body, who is waiting for marriage to have sex and has never before lived away from his mother. If Tyra were a corset-clad Tim Curry, Jeremy would be her eager-to-please Rocky.

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When a challenge requires the models to follow directions from guest star Perez Hilton through a headset while interviewing passerby, Jeremy wins the challenge by obediently stripping to his underwear in public when instructed.

The fact that this pliability is rewarded prompts a desire to perhaps instruct the young fellow on stranger (or skeezy internet personality) danger. The high degree to which Jeremy’s objectified seems excessive and creepy, except that truly he is only being subjected to the same gaze as the women on the show. When has a naive 18-year-old girl in a bikini in public been anything but praised on this show before?

However, Jeremy’s male-Lolita persona is not without a dark side. Accustomed to being rewarded for his good looks and sweetness, he bristles when a female contestant, Jourdan, rejects his advances due to a recent divorce and a desire to focus on the competition. He responds passive-aggressively, hovering around her constantly, picking fights and trying to distract her from the competition. At one point, when Jourdan and Chris are having a nasty argument, Jeremy jumps into their conversation and says that as someone who’s been divorced, Jourdan could never understand love.

Screen Shot 2013-12-11 at 11.25.33 AMChris, meanwhile, exhibits a similar preoccupation with childhood, but masks it in the language of masculine aggression. Chris‘ backstory is truly sad, but we see that there’s something else at play as soon as he moves into the model’s house. The first thing he does is put on boxing gloves and start punching random male models in the balls.

When he’s called out on this unorthodox greeting, he becomes defensive, and claims that he has trouble relating to people because of his abandonment by his verbally abusive mom. However, this excuse quickly wears thin with use, because he says that he has no sense of respectful boundaries, but whenever he’s addressed with any kind of “disrespect” himself he bursts into anger. For example, when he’s annoyed that some of the girls in the house have left dishes out, he leaves them insulting notes full of expletives (one, specifically addressed to a black girl named Renee, employs the racially charged term “ratchet”), sparking an argument that quickly snowballs out of control.

As Chris’ excuses get thinner with each passing episode and he becomes more bitter and self-pitying, the show portrays him with less and less sympathy. Once he turns against Nina after her consistent defense of and concern for him, the other models seem to consider it a line he has crossed. Though his story is darker and his anger more intense, he ultimately has the same problem as Marvin – he’s obsessed with the idea of manhood but he’s also preoccupied with childlike needs.

In delightful contrast to this cavalcade of clueless straight dudes is Cory, the only openly gay contestant, and perhaps more importantly, the only functional adult on the show. The casting of Cory brings a new complexity and class to the show’s historically iffy portrayal of gay men. ANTM never really had a problem with portraying sexual orientation per se, as the show made a point of including openly lesbian and bi contestants in the past, as well as gay men among the rotating cast of coaches, judges, photo shoot directors, and photographers.

However, the show always had a problem with its expectations of how gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation should be performed, and some of the notes Cory gets reflect the show’s struggle with that distinction. The gay men in the supporting cast of the show generally hewed to a campy, flamboyant archetype, consigned to the role of court jesters in Tyra’s fabulous kingdom. The most egregious example of this was runway coach and judge Miss J Alexander, whose constant puns and gimmicks (remember the afro wig that “grew” every time a contestant was eliminated?) turned increasingly clownish and nonsensical as the seasons went on.

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He started to feel like the object of the joke rather than the one making it, and it quickly became uncomfortable. Jay Manuel, the artistic director of the photo shoots for the first 18 cycles, was taken more seriously as a player in the world of the show, and he did give models direction. Though the models seemed to mostly heed Manuel’s comments, Tyra did not seem particularly attentive to his tentatively expressed opinions, and it’s clear that her attention is the key to power in the ANTM world. In season 19, Johnny Wujek took over the position from Manuel. Partial to message-bedecked trucker hats that are clearly derivative of 30 Rock’s Frank Rossitano, he hews to a more traditionally masculine style, and seems more comfortable asserting himself. In fact, until he makes a comment to a model who flirts with him that he has a boyfriend, his orientation isn’t clear.

Somehow, Cory ends up being the only out gay man on the show, a fish-out-of- water in an industry usually considered to be as watery as they come. He’s taken aback to find himself in a group of men who all describe themselves the way Jeremy does: “I’m someone who watches football, who lifts weights, has muscles, so I think that makes me different.” Though he seems bemused that the demographics ended up that way, Cory decides that he isn’t going to try to blend in: In the first runway challenge, when called upon to choose a girl to accompany him down the runway for a kiss at the end, he turns around and chooses a boy to kiss instead. This challenge is the first of many this cycle that tries to manufacture chemistry between male and female contestants, and Cory draws a line in the sand from the beginning. He’ll perform, and he’ll play the game, and he’ll provide the chemistry that he’s asked for, but he won’t pretend to be straight.

Things start out lightheartedly in the first casting episode, when Cory tells Tyra how much it means to him to be on the show, because the bullies who targeted him for being gay in school would call him “Tyra.” Tyra jumps up and starts posing with him, saying that now they’re two Tyras together, and it’s undeniably sweet. She seems truly supportive of Cory, which is an encouraging pattern when viewed in context of the fact that she cast gay and bi female contestants consistently from the first season, as well as a trans woman, Isis, who went quite far in the competition in Cycle 11. At the beginning of this cycle, Tyra also reacts well when Virgg, who was cast during her transition, decides to leave the competition early on due to health issues from her hormone treatments. The way that she wishes her well and makes her promise that they’ll work together again suggests a real respect. Also, the story that Virgg shares during casting, that watching Isis on ANTM made her realize that she was trans and inspired her to begin the process of transitioning, implies that the casting of the show has a real impact on viewers, which is both heartening and a responsibility that Tyra and the show should continue to take seriously.

However, although Tyra and the other judges don’t seem to have a problem with the fact that Cory is gay, some tension arises when they begin to describe the way they think masculinity should be performed, as “looking straight” or “being a man,” in contrast to Cory’s chosen presentation. Initially the judges give him some critique with an ugly edge, calling him out for looking “too feminine” and “androgynous” in photos. Showing sharp awareness of the performative nature of gender, especially in the fashion industry, Cory resolves that to get the judges off his back he’ll try to model according to more masculine archetypes in his next photo shoot, without actually changing who he is – if in every photo shoot he has to play a character like a bondage enthusiast or an orangutan, why not treat this idea of the “manly man” as a role too?

However, at the trailer park photo shoot, everyone but Cory seems to have no concept of a divide between gender and orientation. Cory comes out of wardrobe in his track jacket, jokingly rapping in a burlesque of a bro. But then Jeremy jokingly tosses off a loaded comment: “He looks like a man when he does that!” Renee, sensing tension, replies, “He is a man.”

Cory says nothing, his face tight, but he proceeds to ace the photo shoot, where the fun with gender binaries continues. A photographer apparently named The Cobra Snake praises him by saying “Cory’s got the build, and even though he is feminine, it came across as strong and manly.” Well, since this guy’s name is The Cobra Snake, he’s clearly the authority on manhood in America. Then, at panel, the question becomes a discussion between the judges:

Rob: If I didn’t know any better, you pull off a dude to me, and good job, man, I’m proud of you.
Tyra: He is a dude, he pulls off straight!
Kelly: Yeah, he pulls off straight.
Rob: Yeah, you pulled the shot off, man. You look like…a man? What shall I say?
Tyra: NO! He IS a man! Okay, I think you look straight in this. You are a gorgeous man.

Cory stays silent during this troubling exchange. Tyra doesn’t seem to realize that while she corrects Rob when he implies that gayness and manhood are mutually exclusive, she implies the same thing herself when she praises him for “looking straight” when she means “resembling a traditional ideal of masculinity.” It’s a missed opportunity that nobody calls out the judges on this topic in the moment, but later on Twitter Tyra took responsibility for her misuse of terms:

Stupid me! I defended @CoryW4de but should have said MASCULINE,
not straight. Was fighting for you but missed the mark. So sorry.

Tyra Banks (@tyrabanks) September 1, 2013


Whether one chooses to take her statement as an attempt at damage control or an honest expression of good intentions, it’s another example of how the show has started a dialogue that proves productive and more thought-provoking than mere slogans of self-love.

Ultimately Cory prevails and finds his place in the competition – having proved himself by the skewed standards of the judges, he’s able to drop the role in future challenges, and continues through the competition being praised for his confident, “androgynous” photos. While the fact that he’s gotten so far in the competition is a huge step forward for ANTM, the unaddressed assumptions about Cory’s masculinity show how far the show has to go in having an educated stance about gender and sexuality.

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However, among the other models in the house, Cory’s role doesn’t have to do as much with the fact that he’s a gay man so much as that he’s a logical adult. Throughout the drama between the other contestants, he seems bemused by the catty straight men shouting about the respect they’re owed, and the women who, for some reason, care about them. “For me, I just try to stay out of it. I just sit back, clutch my pearls, and I just pop the popcorn. I love it.”

He remains professional throughout the challenges, never complaining about difficult wardrobe or makeup. When his worst nightmare comes true on makeover day, and they tell him that they’re shaving his head, he collects himself and tells Tyra that he’s going to work it anyway. As Marvin and Renee shout at each other on a photoshoot, he sighs “Guys, this is why we can’t go to nice places…you guys are on a set right now, maybe you should act a little more professional and stuff.” Finally he tells us at home, “I don’t know what I’m going to do with these children. I feel like a disappointed parent with them. I’m just going to let these two destroy themselves, I’m done.” Let us hope, when the rubble has cleared, that Cory will be the last man standing.

While ANTM continues to struggle with the concept of separating gender and sexuality from performance, it does shed a new light on how much goes into the performance for women when the men are there this season for comparison. Within the first few episodes of this cycle, the gap in degree of difficulty between the industry’s expectations for the female models and those for male models is discussed far more than it ever was on the show before.

While the women were always perfectly waxed and toned and spent hours on elaborate hair and makeup in uncomfortable clothes and shoes, their ability and willingness to put up with those things were always portrayed as a baseline expectation for work in the industry. With all of the above taken for granted, dramatic conflict came into play when contestants didn’t treat these things as normal, such as girls who have difficulty walking easily in sky-high heels or the girls who cry when they get a weave. After 19 cycles of this perspective, the viewer begins to accept this standard as typical, too. The interesting thing that happens when the men come in during this cycle is that suddenly there’s another standard available for comparison and a discussion begins.

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On one of the first challenges, the models have to runway walk in a harness down the side of a building during a dramatically convenient thunderstorm. One of the female contestants points out that because the women are in heels, they are unable to brace their entire foot on the side of the building the way the guys can in flat shoes, so it’s more difficult for them to get purchase on the slippery vertical runway. At this point, a question hangs in the air – is the socially agreed-upon aesthetic value of high heels so great that it would have been unacceptable to have the girls wear some kind of attractive flat shoes (which do exist!) to walk down the side of a building in a thunderstorm? Why is it such a big deal that the women must be in heels despite the fact that it’s painful to watch them screaming and dangling as they struggle down the side of the building?

The men, however, don’t seem to acknowledge that the women have a higher degree of difficulty at all. In another challenge, the models must walk a runway comprised of spinning platforms, because apparently aspiring supermodels must be highly capable of mastering golden-era Nickelodeon obstacle courses. Nina becomes upset, because she injured her ankle when she auditioned for the show and she’s quite reasonably afraid that trying to jump onto a spinning platform with a previously injury while wearing ultra-high heels she’ll break her ankle and be disqualified. When she expresses her fear, she’s grudgingly allowed to do the challenge with her ankle taped. Again, what value is there in the appearance of high heels that the way they make a model look is worth the risk of catastrophic injury?

In contrast to this, note Chris grumpily pulling at his (not particularly restraining) shirt during a photo shoot. “I hate when I get restrained,” he grumbles. Johnny can barely contain his frustration. “This is the job,” he says. But this is not even “the job,” this is the version of the job for men.

Tyra herself points out that the women spend hours longer in the makeup chair than the men do for every shoot. Much is made of Phil getting a weave, but female models have been getting weaves on the show for years despite the pain involved. When the guys yelp and squeeze each other’s hands as they’re waxed for the first time, Tyra and the girls laugh at them for being so taken aback by pain that they take for granted. Women who aren’t even models (who aren’t living up to an ideal for a living) have to contend with a standard of beauty that values hairlessness and many decide to spend time, expense, and pain on hair removal, so if you are going to compete to be a part of an industry that uses that standard as a tool it’s assumed that you’re willing to have the hair ripped out of your calves. Why are the men being dramatic? They aren’t used to being held to that standard. They aren’t used to having the natural hair they’ve always had on their legs suddenly being unacceptable. Women are used to being told they have to change.

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It’s also fun to see the men run into some of the critical male gaze that the women have always been subject to on the show. When a photographer yells “You can’t just lay there, you gotta give something to the camera. You look dead” at Phil, we see a man expected to “fake it” in a way that is usually only expected of women, and the player becomes a plaything. In one particularly amusing episode, the models do a photo shoot featuring long fake nails with intricate nail art. The men (except Cory) seem completely befuddled by their new appendages, glumly beseeching the camera for help like a pack of sexually confused Edward Scissorhands.

Not only are they hampered by their lilac claws, but they suddenly find themselves being ordered around by a photographer who seems frustrated by their insufficient smolder but gives totally incoherent, vaguely insulting direction, like “You are the angel of your own monster.” In short, the men have a rude run-in with the male gaze. The results are priceless.

Seeing this photographer’s antics, it comes to mind that this photo shoot isn’t that much like the others this season – there have been far more female photographers than in other seasons, and the men seem to get far more notes than the women about their bodies, usually on the theme of “bulking up” and “looking like a man.” A few episodes later, the challenge is a surreal parody of self-important ad shoots, a prank where the models are told that they are auditioning for a bottled-water commercial, to see if they will take silly directions seriously, which is pretty redundant at this point. The fake commercial is directed by acclaimed alt-comedian Reggie Watts, in character as “Vincent St. George,” a demanding Frenchman who forces the models to frolic with a camel that turns into a unicorn, a miracle only slightly more baffling than the fact that ANTM somehow booked Watts for this.

It was far more fun and weird than it was humiliating for the contestants, silly but a bit pointed in poking fun at the industry and its demanding gatekeepers. Could it be that ANTM is becoming…self-aware?

There are still problems. The only explanation for the terribleness of the cross-dressing challenge is that Tyra intentionally choked to avoid war with RuPaul. There’s a photo shoot in a trailer park featuring a Honey Boo Boo impersonator. But even at its most insensitive and gimmicky, this season of ANTM is an improvement over the previous few, because the presence of the male models sparks a conflict that can lead to a conversation, instead of simply reiterating the expectations of gender performance that rule the fashion industry. It works as entertainment because it follows a key rule of comedy: It’s always funnier when the target is a person in power.

When an insecure girl is being drizzled with maple syrup because she doesn’t think she deserves better, thatt’s one thing. When an Adonis ends up grumpily riding an elephant alone as a comeuppance for bellowing about the respect and affection he’s owed, it’s another, much funnier thing. But when a photographer shouts at a snorkeling male model to be “a merman,” for a shining, golden moment, ANTM actually achieves singularity with Zoolander, and that’s something indescribable.

Kathryn Funkhouser's work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Nation, and the Hairpin. She lives in Brooklyn, where she writes for theater as well as a new series for the web, Wonder.

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