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America's Next Top Model Is All Wet

A dull commercial shoot and arbitrary judges' panel sink Cycle 23's penultimate episode.

Panel Postmortem

We begin with Tatiana, fresh from her first visit to the bottom two, essentially making the case for her own limitations as a model: "A model should be able to put whatever on, but that's not me. That's not how my skin works, that's not how my face works." On one level, I do sympathize with Tatiana. Despite Top Model's diverse talent pool, women of color are still seen as more niche in the modeling industry as a whole (and India's subsequent tone-deaf comment about the versatility of her own skin tone helps to highlight that). But I'm still consistently bored by Tatiana as a model and personality. She has as good a shot at winning as any of the other three, but her coronation would be the definition of unremarkable.

The other storyline coming out of last week's panel is the sorta-revelation about Coryanne's relationship with her supermodel mother, who, like many others, "did not make it out of the '90s super-healthy." Their subsequent phone chat does little to fill in the legally-mandated blanks, but it's still a sweet moment between the mother and daughter. And, not for nothing, it doesn't hurt Coryanne's chances of winning that she's now The Girl With The Clandestinely Troubled Mom instead of The Girl Who Likes Shoes.

Once the narrative housekeeping is settled, this week's RitAlert instructs the models to head upstairs to the Rimmel London Guest Bedroom and study some marketing materials for the next day's challenge. In other words, it is now time for the spokesmodel portion of our competition, and my annual excuse to link to Jade's iconic Covergirl commercial shoot. "Wonderful and fabulous!"

Make It Up As You Go Along

Part one of this week's challenge is deceptively simple and entertaining: The models must act as "brand ambassadors," applying signature makeup styles to each other's faces while discussing the products. As expected, and much to my delight, no one's great at walking and chewing gum at the same time.

India is by far the shakiest, and also the one who comments on her own shakiness the most. To be fair, she suffers by going first and making the mistake of waiting to work on Coryanne's face until after she's finished with her spiel. This leads to a pretty awkward silence, and it falls upon Rita to liven things up with follow-up questions that India also struggles with.

Courtney and Tatiana are more assured in their delivery, but since both forget to flip on their charm switches, their stumbles stand out more than they otherwise would. (I'm not entirely sure why, but Courtney's comment about drinking through a straw after applying nude lipstick earns her a particularly judgy eyebrow raise from Rita and a snare sound-effect.)

In the end, Coryanne pulls off the win, with her Zooey Deschanel adorkable-ness contrasting favorably against India's Emily Deschanel Asperger's.

Come Through, Mother

As part of her reward, Coryanne (and her chosen friend, India) get a surprise visit…from their moms! Not to rain on Coryanne's parade, but now there's definitely an asterisk on her challenge win. There's no way producers were going to settle for mothers who aren't Stephanie Roberts (who is GORGEOUS by the way), and it's perfectly plausible they gave Coryanne's performance a favorable edit to make that happen.

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Alas, Coryanne and Stephanie fail to have the big Come To Mama moment producers were hoping for. It's pleasant but ultimately skippable.

London Slog

The Rimmel commercial shoot requires significantly less mental bandwidth than the mini-challenge, meaning it's not nearly as fun to watch. Besides the final moment when they must to do their sexiest version of the Dramatic Hamster and say the Rimmel tagline ("Get the London look"), the models aren't required to speak. Instead, they run into the classic red phone booth, apply waterproof mascara, and dance around while drenched in sprinkler water (which Drew refers to as "actual rain"). It's everything you expect from a Top Model commercial these days and absolutely nothing more.

Based on the editing, there's no doubt the bottom two is Courtney and Coryanne. Courtney, personification of a scoliosis brace that she is, obviously has trouble smiling. It should go without saying that Drew's insistence she look less angry is immediately followed by her nth Resting Bitch Face explainer. We get it already, Courtney: you're unpleasant.

It's less obvious why Coryanne flounders, but her soggy perm certainly doesn't help matters. To paraphrase Carol Kane in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, her wet spaghetti hair is less than approachable.

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Making Up Is Hard To Watch

Back at the house, Courtney and Tatiana have a quick heart-to-heart about Courtney's insecurities. Tatiana assures Courtney that she's never hated her, though her line about learning to tolerate others' "quirks" certainly isn't directed at India or Coryanne. So, either Courtney's being gifted a generous cap to her Top Model journey or we're being majorly misdirected.

Panel

Without the judges' commentary, it'd be impossible to predict who's about to get the boot. The four ads are nearly identical. Because of this, the judges spend as much time discussing the models' season-long performances as they do the minor differences in their commercials. Basically, they could send home whomever they felt like and retroactively edit to reflect their decision. This isn't uncommon in Top Model's 23-cycle history, but it's especially disappointing given some of the other positive changes the show's made in the move to VH1. With eliminations so arbitrary, the audience has no real reason to engage with the competition.

The judging more or less lines up with the cues we're given during the challenge. India is deemed the fun and flirty winner, and Tatiana, despite Law's recent doubts about the marketability of her face, gets enough praise to earn herself a spot in the final three.

Coryanne's reviews are mixed. While Law and Rita think she failed to sell the tagline, Ashley rallies to her defense, and no one feel strongly enough to contradict her. Similarly, Ashley takes issue with Rita and Law calling Courtney's performance flat, weirdly declaring that "flat is fashion." Never one to be out-dumbed, Rita then declares that "motion movements" are not Courtney's thing. Gay Jesus, protect these mooks.

In the end, Courtney and her blessed bush brows fail to survive a fourth trip to the bottom two, and rightfully so.

Verdict

"Brand Like a Boss" starts off promisingly, but gets lost in the "actual rain" without a clear narrative light to guide it home.

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