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America's Next Top Model Crowns The First Winner Of The New Era

Cycle 23's finale becomes a proxy battle between Kylie and Kendall Jenner. And there's a third model there, too.

Photo Shoot

Since it's the finale, we jump straight to the final-three Paper photospread shoot. (Quick, very spoiler-y note: the fact that I can instantly recall India and Tatiana's Paper covers from a few weeks ago and not Coryanne's is...telling.) The shoot itself is pretty by-the-numbers, but because it's three set-ups for each model and the whole scene takes barely more than five minutes, it flows nicely. Photographer Charlotte Rutherford is a Scandinavian delight, and Drew, beside his Paper cohort Mickey Boardman, makes a strong final case for his continued role as Mr. Jay's true successor, and for the magazine's partnership with the show.

Interestingly enough, the only photos we later see during panel are the ones with the rotary phone prop, which makes sense considering how fun those coiled cords are to play with. The other props include a bed (on which the models sport nighties from a local designer, a fact I only note because Drew gaily sing-songs the word "designer" in a manner that should earn him a GLAAD Award), and one of those Easter egg-colored 1998 iMacs. Not to be a total Buzzfeed listicle, but the inclusion of the iMac alongside the rotary phone feels like a specific attack on my '90s child sensibilities. I get it, Top Model: I'm old now.

As with every shoot, I have no idea who actually performs better, and the editing is no help this time. Everyone earns at least one virtual "YASS KWEEN" from Drew, and everyone appears to flounder in one segment. The most notable flop belongs to Tatiana, who goes straight to jokey robot arms when Drew tells her to act like the iMac's human slave. Also, this timeless image:

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Back At The House...

...the models eat possibly expired ice cream, and are RitAlerted to the next day's final runway show. In a scene that unfortunately spotlights the final three's lack of...let's say joie de vivre, everyone takes a turn holding up a fake microphone and playing interview subject as the hypothetical Top Model winner.

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I don't mean to make this post an exercise in Tatiana-bashing, but girl needs to work on her space work.

Runway

The finale runway show is for The Blonds, a pair (couple?) of designers who've dressed every celebrity under the sun from Beyoncé to Gaga to "Rita herself" in their hyper-glam metallic fantasies. They're also the kind of designers who think an afro looks good with every look, meaning they're my kind of designers. Joining the top three are the eleven eliminated models, meaning we get a taste of the more interesting Marissas, Paiges, and Bintas that could (should?) have made it farther. Also joining them is Tinashe, a singer with at least one guest spot on a Billboard Top 100 single. Based on her reaction, it's possible eighteen-year-old Justine does know what a Tinashe is, but everyone else has a hard time getting it up for the musician when she walks in.

Far more importantly, Stacey MacKenzie is on hand for a final prep session with the top three. (Not that Rita hasn't done a serviceable job this season, but producers would be smart to swap in Stacey next year. Girl's got charisma.) Stacey's presence is as welcome as ever, though they couldn't find a spot backstage for her training session that was not strewn with freshly shaved pubes?

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Stacey is hardest on Tatiana, not because she's a particularly bad walker, but because this episode needs some misdirection before we whittle the top three down to a top two.

Speaking of misdirection, there's a weird, entirely manufactured beat of India "freaking out" backstage before the show that caused me to roll my eyes so violently I almost permanently lost my pupils to the back of my skull. Could this episode have benefitted from a dose of drama? Sure. But 99% of Top Model's audience has been watching reality TV for two decades now, and we know a sloppy edit job when we see one. India's walk is by far the best of the top three, and the attempt to distract from that is frankly insulting. (I wonder if you can guess who my pick to win is.)

The other models acquit themselves fine -- it is just walking in a straight line, after all -- though I heard Miss J screaming "DEAD ARM!" at Coryanne from 3,000 miles away. The only truly unfortunate moment is Tinashe's performance. The tepid shimmying of the fourteen Top Model contenders around her is a sad sight I will not soon forget.

Panel

There's little time to waste, so we move straight from the runway show to panel. The Paper shoot is the sole basis of the finale's first elimination. Tatiana receives the best reviews, and Law declares his skepticism about her face being able to "carry makeup" appeased. India's comments are more mixed, though most of the criticism stems not from the photo, but from her failure, relative to Tatiana, to embody the three B's: business, boss, and brand.

Still, we all knew Coryanne was the obvious also-ran of this trio. Her photo is adequate, but not nearly adequate enough. Rita quickly dispenses with her elimination, and moves on to the inevitable final two.

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Oddly, India receives both the best and worst comments about her runway performance. Rita notes that the audience, uncharacteristically, applauded one of her walks, though Law takes issue with her crossing her legs at the end of the runway: "Had that been a traditional runway, you would not have been booked again." Huh. I will keep that in mind if I ever book a charity fashion show for short male bloggers.

Tatiana gets a solid B+ from the judges, but more emphasis is placed on her personality, which the judges...like? I'm not saying India is a beacon of charm, but next to her Tatiana is a broken flashlight. I'm sure she's a clear, confident speaker, but I'll never know for sure because every time she's spoken more than two sentences in a row, I've collapsed from boredom. The "Tatiana as a brand" narrative is seriously flawed in a way the producers have never realized.

After sending the final two backstage, the judges debate which of the finalists has the best chance of one day achieving legendary Tyra status. Being the thirsty phantom that she is, it takes three utterances of her name for Tyra herself to appear in the room. I still think Top Model is better off without her at the helm, but I did get a warm pang of nostalgia when she took her spot amidst the judges. (I also cackled with glee when she responded to Ashley's question, "Are we making a spot for you at the table?" with "Ummm, I think we are making a spot for me at the table." Never change, you tangled web of weave and ego.)

Tyra compares the respective strengths of India and Tatiana to those of Kendall and Kylie. She argues that while India and Kendall may have the stronger looks, Tatiana and Kylie have stronger social media presences and know how to market themselves better. Again, I just don't see Tatiana as the star this show wants me to, and all this talk of her and the three B's is beginning to make me nervous for India's chances. Thankfully, when Tyra takes her leave, Drew finally punctures the façade of Tatiana as a business and brand. "So far what we've heard from Tatiana is that she wants to sell lotion," Drew declares. He also points out that India's received top photo five times, while Tatiana has only once.

That's a hard record to argue with, and in the end, it's a record that proves insurmountable. Though Rita declares that the judges "literally could not make a decision" (???), she does proclaim India the winner.

Verdict

It's a finale bereft of surprises, and occasionally frustrating with its editing, but it's still a solid, glamour-filled, satisfying conclusion.

Season Verdict

I may have recommended you skip more episodes than watch in the back half of the season (sorry -- cycle), but I still consider Top Model's don't-call-it-a-reboot a resounding success. With the bigger budget, refreshing panel, strong contestant pool, and back-to-basics approach to the competition, Cycle 23 makes a strong case for the show's continued existence.

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