Progress thus far. (Not pictured: Erin). Photo courtesy of VH1.

I fell behind. I’m human. Forgive me.

Off the bat, the girls hop on Christina after her surprise save from elimination, eliminating fan favorite Coura from the competition. Shanice and Brendi K chastise her for disrespecting the judges at panel, constantly making excuses for her lack of shine in certain photoshoots. Christina, like always, fought back with the girls, insisting she was right again and that they should just leave her alone and stop bullying her. For a girl with such an ego, Christina does like to play the victim a lot.

The next day, Tyra Mail comes through and tells the girls that its Pride Month, and that their challenges this week will revolve around LGBTQ+ issues. Liberty, a staunch Republican, doesn’t necessarily take offense to this, but rather displays some textbook ignorance, in the fact that she simply doesn’t know how to approach it. Still, unlike a lot of right-wing voters, she does, albeit a bit reluctantly, embrace the idea of learning more about a community she doesn’t know about. Meanwhile, Brendi K recounts her experience of being bisexual living in Tennessee. While Shanice wants to win these challenges for her lesbian sister, who faces opposition from her mother, if only to signify to her sister her solidarity with her.

In their first mini-challenge, the girls head to Micky’s WeHo, the world’s premier LGBTQ+ bar, and perhaps the most widely known across the world. The girls are tasked with certain pride elements in their wardrobes and will be walking in a pride themed runway walk, where they’re given the freedom to strut their stuff and show off the flair that is exhibited so wonderfully in many aspects by every corner of the LGBTQ+ community. Kyla, channeling pride for her transgender brothers/sisters/siblings, dons a Caitlyn Jenner jacket to show her pride, which in some ways kind of signifies a lack of knowledge about Jenner’s reluctance to represent the LGBTQ+ community, but her walk is also boring on top of it, so it doesn’t really matter. Liberty displays a lot of discomfort on the runway, not letting her personality shine through. Brendi, placing a lot of her feelings into the runway, doesn’t do too much with it. Not good, not bad, just…there. Khrystyana, on the other hand, and rather unsurprisingly, kills it in this challenge. Erin and Shanice have ten tons of fun with the rowdy audience. And the rest just…walk I guess. Of course, Khrystyana is the winner of this week’s mini-challenge, leaving Brendi and Shanice a little distraught.

Back at home, Kyla and Liberty find themselves in a political debate over feminism, with Liberty stating that there are discernible differences between men and women, leading to the idea that being true equals isn’t a reality. Liberty seems to be more bandwagon than the other girls, not really knowing what she’s talking about. This makes her seem a little less strong-willed than the other girls.

Christina, trying to connect with the girls more, comes out to the hot tub with Brendi, Rio and Jeana. Off the bat, Christina fails to connect with the girls by taking the “I’m sorry if you thought I was being rude” approach, rather than showing any true remorse for her behavior. Brendi sees right through this and calls her out for making excuses, rather than trying to be better. Brendi, for all her quirks, sees people for what they are, and I respect the hell out of that.

At the photoshoot, my work as a reviewer comes to a head with the two shows I write about, “America’s Next Top Model” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race” coming to a head, with the girls posing in Queen/Princess shots with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” alum Katya, Valentina and Manila Luzon. The girls are paired off with respective queens and vie for the camera’s attention of the Mother/Daughter shoots, portraying a princess wanting to take over the crown. Khrystyana, Shanice and Jeana utilize their narratives really well, playing up their stories and being completely fierce for the camera. Christina, Erin, Sandra and Rio also take good photos, but fall more towards the center of the pack. Unfortunately, despite her want for it, Brendi fails to bring any sort of fire to the photoshoot, second-guessing herself heavily and really disappointing herself. Kyla lacked any sort of life, and despite Drew’s incessant prodding, never could get anything out of her. While Liberty’s lack of comfort shone through and kept her back from doing anything worthwhile.

At judging, the judges echoed the same critiques, and when it came down to it, Khrystyana took home this week’s top photo, as her pairing with Katya blew every single other photo out of the water, with no competition to be found. Khrystyana really is putting herself out there as the only real frontrunner in the competition. Sure, Rio and Jeana are also big competitors, but they’re going to have to double down to come even close to Khrystyana in the future. Shanice took second best of the week and broke down in support of her sister. One by one, the girls are whittled down to three, with Brendi, Kyla and Liberty left standing. Despite her poor performance, Tyra gives Brendi a second chance to show her stuff on behalf of her community. Meanwhile, down to Liberty and Kyla, and Tyra puts forth that Liberty started strong, but has now plateaued, and that her look is pretty, but not high fashion. While Kyla, having the model look, isn’t utilizing it as well as she can. In the end, Kyla is spared, sending Liberty back to Idaho.

This episode was a wonderful episode, and further examines the solidarity that “America’s Next Top Model” and Tyra have had with the LGBTQ+ community from the start. Having a whole episode based on the element of pride and every aspect of the community was wonderful and a beautiful thing to watch. And connecting it with “RuPaul’s Drag Race” is an obvious plus, too.

“Beauty is Pride”: 4.5/5

From left to right: Law Roach, Tyra Banks, Ashley Graham, Drew Elliott. Photo courtesy of VH1.

Next, Brendi finds herself in a bit of an existential crisis. After the judges’ harsh critiques the week before, she finds herself wondering if she’s even still worthy to compete in the competition. Christina makes a rare good point in that Brendi needs to get it together, as she is far from the only girl getting negative critiques, and that she needs to accept them in a competition setting. Then, she criticized Brendi for being poor, and brings herself back down to her unlikable self again.

Later that night, Jeana, Rio and Erin all sit around the pool and open up with each other about their struggles. Jeana tells Erin that Erin’s life experience, especially in that of being a mom, will help her own mother accept the life that Jeana can have as a model. Erin then opens up to the girls about her struggle with forgiving herself after leaving her son’s father while he was dying of cancer, and not being able to speak to him before he died. This is a beautiful moment of clarity for Erin that really brings her forward as one of the more likable, human girls in the competition. It’s an emotionally wrenching moment that will leave anyone with a lump in their throat.

The next day, Tyra shows up to the house with manicurists for some TLC, and begins to pry the girls to open up with each other more. Christina, in a rare moment of emotion, opens up about her struggles with her father’s near death experience and having to come to terms with the concept of death and how to handle it. This opens up a lot of the girls to how Christina probably is using her pain to cover up her actual personality. At the end of last week’s judging, the girls were told they were going “raw” for this week’s photoshoot, scaring Sandra and Erin into thinking it was a nude photoshoot. Sandra, a practicing Muslim, doesn’t want to be immodest when it comes to her modeling, and Erin, a mother, doesn’t want to set an example like that for her children. Clarifying at the house, Tyra assures the girls that they will not be posing nude, but free of makeup, with the healing hands of the other girls assuring them of their beauty. And to top it off, Tyra will be shooting their photos this week.

Tyra then reveals that they will be doing their photoshoot first this week, and takes the girls to the pool to find their bed set having been set up already. The girls jump into the photoshoot one by one, and it appears that not a single girl really struggled this week, aside from a few directions Tyra had to give. It’s a beautiful moment of connection for the girls to be raw and open with each other about beauty and the way that it has affected all of them. In the end, the girls take a group shot with Tyra, and hammer in the idea that raw, god-given beauty, the kind that emanates from the inside out, is all we have.

Khyrstyana finds herself bringing forth repressed memories of being sexually molested at the age of 11 in Russia, and channels it into her photoshoot, but keeps her emotions hidden from the girls still.

Following up their photoshoot with their mini-challenge, the girls are paired into groups of three to film anti-bullying PSA’s for the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC). Brendi immediately goes to Christina for her group, looking to make amends for their past conflicts, with Shanice joining their group too. When Stacey McKenzie comes backstage and asks the girls if they’ve ever experienced bullying before, leading Christina into talking about the bullying she’s faced in the house. Shanice and Brendi take a complete 180 to the feelings they had on Christina, back to her fake behavior of playing victim, even after they found a connection with her through pain.

During the shoot, the girls let forth their sadness and rage, pulling together three beautiful PSA’s about bullying, Khrystyana, Kyla and Sandra’s shoot emphasized their identities and struggles with body image in their PSA’s. Jeana, Rio and Erin’s photoshoot was commended, but slightly critiqued for lacking any true identity in their shoot. Christina, Brendi and Shanice’s shoot again was commended, but was also critiqued for a lack of identity and a poorly worded script that came across strange. In the end, Khrystyana, Kyla and Sandra won the mini-challenge.

In judging, it became insanely hard to pick out who was going to be best photo this week, as nearly everyone received perfect critiques for their raw photos. The only ones who didn’t were Erin, due to her hair distracting away from her image in the photo, as well as Christina, who lacked any emotion in her photo. Christina, once again, fought back at the judges critiques, letting them know that their critiques of her aren’t well-founded, which led Tyra to finally putting her in her place. During judging is also the moment when Khrystyana comes clean to the girls about her history of sexual abuse and how it affected her in the shoot. It gave the girls a moment of emotional vulnerability and affected everyone, including the judges and Tyra, to the brink of tears. It was a beautiful and heartwrenching moment.

When the girls are called back, Brendi is called first for best photo, but is oddly told to stay put in front of Tyra, soon after, Jeana, Khrystyana, Kyla, Rio, Sandra and Shanice are all called next. Tyra soon informs them that for the first time in “America’s Next Top Model” history, all seven of them have tied for best photo. Again, it’s another beautiful moment of clarity and emotion for the girls we just don’t get on this show, or at least haven’t gotten since its earlier seasons on UPN.

With this judgment, this leaves only Christina and Erin left. Erin is critiqued for getting in her head too easily and preventing herself from truly shining. Christina is critiqued that, despite some strong photos, gets in her way about being too cocky about her abilities, and how that just doesn’t work in a competition setting. Tyra reiterates how weak Erin’s photo is, but despite this, is saved from elimination, as she listens to critique and is “moldable.” Tyra explains to Christina that even though her photo was not the weakest, her self-concept prevents her from being an asset in the competition, freeing her to be taken away from somewhere where she isn’t subjected to judges’ critiques. Tyra explains that she’s a good model, and she knows it, which Christina, for one last hurrah, fights, to which Tyra lets her leave on her own volition.

This, to be frank, might’ve been one of the best episodes of “America’s Next Top Model” in all 24 seasons. It was beautiful, emotional, and it had a wonderful degree of feminism and building women up, rather than taking them down. And we got to eliminate the one girl in the competition who A. disrespected the judges and B. brought the other girls down to build herself up? How can you really get better than that?

“Beauty is Raw”: 5/5

As it stands, here are my standings after this episode:

8. Sandra
7, Kyla
6. Erin
5. Brendi
4. Shanice
3. Rio
2. Jeana
1. Khrystyana

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Hunter is the current editor-in-chief for The Niner Times. He is a senior Communications major who wishes he were a dog and wants to pet your dog if you have one. Hunter has been a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association (NCFCA) since August 2015. Hunter has been the editor-in-chief since May 2016. Please do not hesitate to shoot him an e-mail at editor@ninertimes.com for any questions or concerns and he'll be sure to get back to you ASAP.

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