D’Ya Wanna Be On Top?

In our search for appropriately mindless, entertaining post-work, post-getting kid in bed nighttime viewing, we’ve arrived at binging seasons of the dearly-departed America’s Next Top Model, and, man. Let me tell you.

How we ended up here was, admittedly, somewhat skewed. A couple of weeks ago, there was an article somewhere on the internet — I saw it excerpted at length on Twitter, and unfortunately can’t remember where it actually came from; Insider, maybe? — that purported to be an expose of just how shittily the show had been run, how poorly it treated everyone involved aside from the show’s host and creator Tyra Banks, and just generally the way in which ANTM was, in fact, the worst of reality television. Chloe and I saw that and thought, as you do, we should watch old seasons.

(I’d say, don’t judge, but it’s fine; you probably should.)

Here’s the thing: I remember, vaguely, watching some of the show when it was airing — I love reality TV, after all — but I was never really a fan, for whatever reason. It seemed over the top, but fine if you liked that kind of thing, if that doesn’t seem too dismissive. Dear reader, I was so, so wrong. America’s Next Top Model is a whole special level of trash television.

It’s not that it’s tacky, although it is, nor that it’s geared towards generating the most amount of interpersonal drama possible between its contestants, even though that’s also the case. (There’s definitely a line to be drawn between the editing manipulation here and the far more successful evolution of the same ideas on something like Below Deck.) It’s not even the shocking ego on display from Tyra Banks, and the way in which everyone else on the show seeks to stroke that ego, shamelessly, for attention and approval, even though, wooooooooooo, that is shocking and hilarious at the same time.

More than anything for me, it’s how cheap the show feels, on every level. Even in the latter seasons when it’s been a hit for more than a decade and produced international spin-offs, Top Model has the air of a show being produced on a shoestring by people promising that, as soon as the check clears, everyone will get paid, really. The tension between the self-declared glamor of the show and the clearly limited budget and effort spent on bringing said show to the screen is, repeatedly, breathtaking and hilarious. It’s impossible to look away from.

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