By Brianne Johnson, Daily Arts Writer
Published March 20, 2012
“Wait, these girls are from the U.K.? They’re not American. Is this a joke right now?” wonders Texan contestant Kyle Gober. As viewers tune in to another manicured cycle of “America’s Next Top Model” (cycle 18, to be begrudgingly exact), they may be in for a culture shock. Deeming it a “British Invasion,” host and producer Tyra Banks incites a gratingly patriotic competition of countries as she introduces seven ironically un-American models from across the pond.
America's Next Top Model
Season 18 premiere
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Announcing, “May the best Brit or the best Yank win!” Banks then reveals a twist: Seven of the fourteen contestants previously contended for “Britain’s Next Top Model.” At this point, you may be reaching for the stray American flag proudly hanging from your pocket, wiping the wax (and treachery!) from your ears like the Q-tip of freedom.
Aside from its fresh delivery of posh charm, “Top Model” remains tediously formulaic, trudging through an hour of inane challenges and stone-faced judges’ deliberations in its six-inch Jimmy Choos. Its structure is as predictable as the melodramatic models’ behavior. Mascara-soaked tears stream down their cheeks amid a lackluster photoshoot, reappearing without pause post-makeover. When famous Kardashian mom Kris Jenner waltzes into the second episode, viewers shed a few tears of their own.
However, when introduced to the culture clash intended to enliven a stalled “Top Model” franchise, viewers may plead for a return to “normal” — hey, at least the judges’ weekly critiques offer the same voyeuristic thrill of scrolling through an ex-boyfriend’s or ex-girlfriend’s Facebook photos. There’s comfort there, right? Right?
As the competition unfolds, the models march on, draped in their homeland’s banners — right down to their flag-inspired T-shirts, flag-inspired hair streaks and flag-inspired frosted lips. No longer a modeling competition, the show parades as an American/British rivalry; literally parades, as the contestants thrust their fists into the air, chanting “USA!” atop a string of floats.
“Top Model” puts the American stereotype on display, juxtaposing the starred-and-striped models’ garishness and vulgarity (one contestant refers to her British opponent as a “trick” — a prostitute — in front of a runway audience) with their modest and reserved adversaries. “Those Brits better watch their damn backs because we’re gonna come for them,” threatens American Laura LaFrate. God bless Amurrica.
The British contestants are exponentially more likeable as the obnoxious battle rages on, presenting a quiet confidence that the American models lack. Humbled by her opponents’ home advantage, Brit Sophie Sumner gazes over the railing of the U.K.’s parade float, meekly (and humorously) calling, “Tea and scones!” Maybe she’d have a bit more success chanting a phrase warmly embraced by American culture — “Expecto Patronum,” perhaps?