Screens: Spike; Oxygen

Battle Of The Tattoo Shows, Round II

Is Best Ink the best? Is Ink Master the master? Is there any actual difference between them?

Truly, we live in a golden age for tattoo-based competitive reality shows. Spike TV has Ink Master and Oxygen has Best Ink, thus covering both men and women who want to watch tattoo artists yelling at each other en route to winning a prize and immediately vanishing off the pop-culture radar forever. But let's say you have room for only one tattoo show in your life. I don't know, maybe you have something better to do with your evenings? It doesn't sound all that plausible to me, but I'm sure you have your reasons.

Which One Aired First?

Ink Master debuted on January 17, 2012, and is starting its fourth season. Best Ink debuted on March 27, 2012, and is about to finish its third season.

WINNER: Ink Master

Which One Has Better Judges?

Best Ink has Joe Capobianco, Sabina Kelley, and Hannah Aitchison. We're told that they're all tattoo legends, which is entirely possible. The only tattoo legend I could name is Sailor Jerry, and I'm not 100% sure he's not actually a rum legend. Or he might be a sailor legend. My point is that people who are famous in the tattoo world are not necessarily famous in mine, no matter how many guest judges the contestants are allegedly excited to see. The impression one gets is that Capobianco is the main judge, and he gets pretty loud when the other judges disagree with him. Their guest judges have included Jermaine Jackson, Margaret Cho, and Glenn Hetrick (from my beloved Face Off).

Meanwhile, Ink Master has Dave Navarro, Chris Nuñez, and Oliver Peck. Navarro doesn't have the authority that comes from being a legendary tattoo artist, but he does have a lot of tattoos. And he's a rock star, which means...I don't know what it means. Nuñez was on Miami Ink, and I don't know if that makes you a legend. It might! And Oliver Peck is Kat Von D's ex-husband, but I like him anyway. He seems like a regular dude. And check this out from his bio page: "In 2008, Peck inked his way into the Guinness Book of World Records when he completed 415 tattoos of the number 13 in a consecutive 24-hour period." So that's something, right? Anyway, most of guest judges on Ink Master have been tattoo legends, which means I didn't recognize them. There was also Joe Rogan.

So you have a choice between people with a strong tattoo pedigree and people with a strong reality-show pedigree. I'm going to say that the guest judges on Best Ink have been slightly better, because I like Glenn Hetrick more than Joe Rogan.

WINNER: Best Ink

Which One Has More Innovation?

Neither one has even a speck of innovation. Every episode of both shows starts with a short "Flash Challenge" and then has a longer "Elimination Challenge." They could at least come up with different names for the challenges! And somebody gets eliminated in every episode and usually gets yelled at by the judges, who are very disappointed in them. Then everybody else yells at each other about how they feel disrespected and so forth. Ink Master is slightly more straightforward with its eliminations, following the classical Project Runway model of the judges calling back the top two and bottom two for specific critiques. Best Ink, on the other hand, goes for a more complicated deal somewhat reminiscent of Hell's Kitchen, where the top few artists get to choose the pool of artists who are up for elimination.


Which One Has Better Tattoos?

Oh, I don't know. They're all better than I could do, you know? Except for the hilariously bad ones, most of the tattoos on both shows would be perfectly acceptable body art.


Which One Has Better Prizes?

The prize for Best Ink is $100,000 and a cover story in Tattoo Magazine. The prize for Ink Master is $100,000 and a cover story in Inked Magazine. So they're exactly the same. I guess if you have a strong opinion about which magazine is more prestigious, you could differentiate between the two. I don't want to get involved in a tattoo rumble, so I'm staying out of that fight.


Which One Has A Better Inexplicable Rock Star?

Pete Wentz is from Fall Out Boy. Dave Navarro is from Jane's Addiction, the Red Hot Chili Peppers (briefly), and the band from Rock Star: Supernova (which didn't really exist). I'm giving it to Navarro, because I really liked Jane's Addiction. I understand if people who aren't my exact age and demographic background disagree, though.

WINNER: Ink Master

Which One Has Better Lingo?

On Ink Master, someone getting tattooed is called a "human canvas." On Best Ink, that person is a "skin." I think they're both pretty creepy, but I guess I'd prefer to be called a skin.

WINNER: Best Ink

Which Is On The Better Network?

It all depends on what variety of terrible programming you'd like to watch commercials for. Spike started out by calling itself "the first network for men," which ignores the existence of nearly every other network out there. It's dropped the slogan, but it still has a bunch of pro wrestling, reality shows about people who go to auctions, and Cops. Did you know that Cops was still around and still making new episodes? It is! Meanwhile, Oxygen claims to concentrate on programming for women, but they appear to be thinking of women that like shows that recreate murders. And whatever Bad Girls Club is about. And a surprising number of tattoo shows. Spike has more light beer ads, but Oxygen has more ads for facial scrubs. Both networks are kind of heavy on terrible programming. Why can't there be a tattoo-based competitive reality show on a network that's classy? Don't answer that.


The Victor

I'm not going to lie to you. These are basically the same show. …These are exactly the same show. I have a vague feeling that Ink Master has more scenes of people complaining about how no one respects them, but I could be making that up. If you're sad that this season of Best Ink is ending soon, there's a perfectly cromulent replacement available.