America's Next Top Model recap: The Girls Who Played With Fire

Things heat up as the models are literally set on fire for their runway challenge
Ep. 04 | Aired Mar 16, 2011

BABY GOT BACKDRAFT: Monique does her best impression of Lucifer as she walks down the pyrotechnically enhanced runway

Jaimie Trueblood/The CW

Why must one suffer for fashion? Is it because of those shoes that bind your feet like a well-born 16th-century Chinese woman? The insubstantial dinners of garlic powder and water vapor? Having to brace for the flailing, soft-handed slaps of angry designers? Perhaps. But if Top Model is to be believed, being a fashion model is one of the most dangerous occupations on earth, right after “bear taunter” and “personal assistant to Russell Crowe.” According to the show, once you join the industry, you will be continuously and arbitrarily swarmed by bees, submerged in ice-cold water, draped with serpents, punched by boxers, besieged by rabid toddlers, tied down to flying airplane wings, tossed into Sarlacc pits, and locked in phone booths slowly filling with irate hermit crabs.

Obviously Tyra wouldn’t put her modeltestants through these trials and tribulations merely for her own petty amusement. That would be cruel, in addition to extremely unusual. No, clearly she does it because she knows that if you show up at Fashion Week without at least a few bee swarms and crab booths under your belt, you’ll be a laughingstock. Tyra's just trying to help these girls out when she subjects them, week in and week out, to humiliation and potential physical harm. I mean, how else do you help someone develop grace under fire, unless you literally set their body on fire?

Which is, of course, what Top Model's trendy Torquemadas did in this week's episode. But before that, they had to get some house drama out of the way. Having established herself as the resident inhuman dream-murderer, Alexandria reflected on the fact that the judges didn’t like her attitude the previous week. The other girls in the house also reflected on this, although only in terrified whispers, because they knew that if Alexandria ever heard them she would snap her fingers and turn them into gruesome jack-in-the-boxes.

Sara further distinguished herself as my favorite contestant by exhibiting human qualities like doubt, empathy, self-awareness, and personality. She feared, quite rightly, she would be sent home for those very qualities, should the malfunctioning Tyrabot and her other automatons ever find out that she was only pretending to be a lifeless android. Add to that the fact that she made a literary reference last week by calling herself “Smeagol,” and it’s clear that the poor girl never really had a chance.

Perhaps sensing this, Sara pondered the possibility of college and how she would continue to live “when our looks run out,” to which Alexandria scoffed her scoffiest scoff. School is for chumps, said she, explaining that she would make it to New York, the Windy City, whether it took her 10 years or even a whole decade. (Hey, just because she shares her name with a famous library doesn’t mean she has to know how to read.) And so began this episode’s central thematic conflict between Smeagol and Sauron.

Downstairs on the monitor—or, as Alexandria the Unedumacated calls it, “the magic rectangle”—Tyra warned the models, “If you don’t watch your step, your career will go up in flames,” telegraphing the theme of the upcoming challenge quicker than Samuel Morse on speed. Cut to Miss J in a warehouse that looked suspiciously like the emptied set of Hell’s Kitchen as he explained that they would be walking down a runway surrounded by shooting flames while modeling clothes by Geoffrey Mac, who designs outfits for Lady Gaga. Unfortunately, none of them got to don Gaga’s infamous meat dress, which would have been grilled a perfect medium-rare on that catwalk.

NEXT: I'm burnin', I'm burnin', I'm burnin' for you

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