Thursday, February 24, 2011

'America's Next Top Model' Finds Brand-New Ways to Torture Its Contestants

"America's Next Top Model" premiered its 16th cycle last night (yes, its 16th! Tyra Banks's baby is old enough to drive!). And though it can be hard for a reality show to surprise audiences after so many go-rounds, this season premiere was actually kind of shocking!

First: Banks decided to dispense with the usual, straightforward casting process that winnows the 20-ish contestants down to 14. Rather than just flat-out inform the models who made the cut and who didn't, this time she pulled a page from Ashton Kutcher's book and faked out the girls who made it through. (Good move with the "Punk'd" routine: Since the show hasn't been on since 2007, the contestants will DEFINITELY not be expecting any reference or homage to it!)

As you'll see here, though Banks explains to the camera that the reason for this charade is to get the contestants accustomed to rejection, it seems more like it's to goad them into doing what "Top Model" really wants to showcase: getting girls to cry for Banks's cameras.

Then, as though the pretend-destruction of 14 young women's dreams was not mean enough, there was the challenge. In the past, "Top Model" has done its best to handicap its contestant by putting them in drag, dressing them as sideshow freaks, getting them to walk in fetish high heels, and shooting them in an indoor skydiving rig (among MANY others), the premiere's runway challenge is probably the most inventively cruel one yet. The contestants have to walk a 12-inch-wide runway while inside enormous plastic hamster balls. Talk about throwing a bunch of rookies in the deep end of the pool! Oh, right: The runway is also set up in a pool. And a couple of contestants fall off into the water. And it is seriously tragic.

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