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'Face Off' exit Q&A: 'I never saw it coming'

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Face Off
Nicole Wilder/Syfy

“This is going to be a season of extremes,” announced host McKenzie Westmore on Face Off‘s premiere episode, where viewers got their first look at this season’s competitors. From Rashaad Santiago, a self-taught artist who currently supports his family by working at a fast food restaurant, to Tyler Green, who quit his job as a dental lab technician to compete, the season is chock full of contestants who are in it to win it.

After brief introductions, we watched the group get down to business for their first Foundation Challenge. The artists were instructed to create an extreme character that represented them. The only catch was that they had to incorporate one of the over-the-top wigs on display. The winner would receive immunity and be safe from the first week of elimination.

Academy Award winning make-up artist Tami Lane (Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) guest judged the challenge. “In order to create a cohesive character, you have to have good make-up as well as good hair. They both work together,” she advised. “You will destroy a character if the make-up is bad and the hair or great or vice versa.” No arguments there. Two hours later, she named Bethany Serpico and George Schminky her two favorites; though ultimately only Schminky was granted immunity for creating an unexpected prosthetic chest.

Next the group was whisked off to a castle where they were presented with a Beauty & the Beast inspired Spotlight Challenge. Teams of two were assigned by Westmore. Schminky, the odd man out, joined a duo of his choosing. Meanwhile, writer/producer/director Stephen Sommers (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, The Mummy franchise) joined as guest judge and advised the artists to create a beast that was both scary and sexy, “so that when Belle kisses him at the end, we can’t be repulsed.”

Things began smoothly, but on day two the contestants ran into various molding issues and minor tension filled the air. Rashad Santiago and Chloe Sens chipped slowly away at their stuck mold while Tess Laeh fought back tears after experiencing her own molding setback with partner Niko Gonzalez.

Elimination day eventually arrived. Everyone frantically put the finishing touches on their creations and then waited patiently for the judges’ feedback.

The verdict? Santiago and Sens’ creation was the judges’ top pick–with Sens singled out for her detailed sculpture, one of the most complex first week make-ups the judges said they’d ever seen.

Conversely, Bethany Serpico and Tyler Green landed in the bottom alongside Margaret Caragan and Matthew Silva. Though only one contestant would be sent home… Ultimately Caragan found herself on the chopping block for creating a make-up that–the judges said–wasn’t sexy or scary and lacked detail with a bland paint scheme. Caragan looked stoic, but faced the facts.

EW caught up with Caragan about what it was like being a part of the show, what she would have done differently in her challenge, and what she’s been working on since filming wrapped.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY What was the experience like being a part of Face Off?

Margaret Caragan: It was strangely very natural. You go in and you’re worried about how it’s going to be and what it’s going to turn out like, but it was a natural environment. I was excited. I love working under pressure, so being there wasn’t just a dream–it was where I felt like I belonged.

How did you prepare for the experience? Did you watch previous seasons?

I’d gotten a scholarship at this one school and I wasn’t going to use it, but then I found out I was going on, so I went to LA for a couple of months and took one of the programs… I started taking extra class in mold making because I’m fine with sculptures and creatures and I’ve been working on set for years… I wasn’t concerned about that, but [on the show] you have to be fast and work harder. I [needed] to build some muscle with mold making. It was important to me to eliminate any weaknesses.

What was it like working alongside Matthew Silva in the Spotlight Challenge?

It was fantastic. I had fun trying to come up with ideas and come up with a design and tell a story. I’ve been doing make-up long enough that I feel like I’m a filmmaker too. Trying to tell a story through make-up is important… [Working with Matt] was a dream. We were in sync from the beginning. We sat down and came up with a story… The first thing you wonder when you get a partner is, “What’s it going to be like to work with them? Is one of us going to drag the other down?” But we were on the same page, so it was like, “High five.”

So what happened? Were you disappointed to be eliminated so early on in the competition?

Oh, absolutely. I never saw it coming. I’m pretty confident in myself, so when it happened, my first thought was, “Okaaaaay.” There’s not a lot you can do about it… In my heart, I always felt I would never go home any sooner than the third challenge. Honestly, I only spent one hard hour processing it the next morning. After that, I [looked forward]. It didn’t hit me that hard.

I’m always puzzled when they eliminate one person following a partner challenge. How do they really know who did what work?

Everybody gets really close, really fast. It doesn’t matter how long you know some one. We experienced a lot in just a couple of days. You get close, you bond, you go into it together, and then there’s this moment right before they cut you where you’re like, “Oh no,” because it’s just the two of you on stage. It was important to me to be strong in that moment. I [told myself], I will not do any “throw under the business” stuff. I will not complain. I will not whine. You’re standing there ready to take the heat. You just accept it and move forward. For me, that’s what I did, but for Matt it was instant depression because it could have been him. In that moment, you’re not onto the second challenge yet. You don’t know what’s going to happen next. He was concerned if he would go home the next week.

Is there anything you’d do different if you had to do the challenge over?

Oh yeah! Definitely! Knowing what they’re going for now, Face Off is like a client. You definitely want to go bigger, number one. We actually had some things in our initial sketches that we found we weren’t able to do. I would not worry about quality so much as far as edges and gluing and blending and specific little paint details. I would throw that out the window and pull back… And would just do bigger. And worry about the little things when we get there, if we get there. [I would] scale my focus larger and go for the silhouette, shape, and color. When I’m working here in the Bay [area], [I’m focused on] refinement and making sure everything looks right on the monitor. [On the show,] it’s not about that. It’s about the ideas and the concepts and going big. I would definitely do it differently. It wasn’t until you asked that I thought about that. People ask, “Would you do the show again?” Yes, I would totally do it again. If I were to go back, I’d focus on that and would think about new creatures and new designs.

Who should we keep an eye on from the group? Are there any standout contestants?

One of the things that I told everyone when I left was I said, “Watch out. Take care of my man George because he’s amazing.”

Are you keeping in touch with people?

Me and George and a whole bunch of other artists that I work with, we’re all heading down to the make-up artist trade show this weekend. We’ll meet up with everybody at the Face Off panel. I’m meeting up with some friends too that a lot of the other Face Off people work with… The first thing that happens is that there’s a huge outpouring of support. I’m excited to keep going.

What did you learn from having Tami Lane and Stephen Sommers on-set?

I was shocked. I didn’t know we were going to get anybody that big that soon. I’ve always been a fan of The Mummy. It was a pleasure to do my alien creature. He said, “Beast, but sexy.” It’s not quite a contradiction. It was important to me that my character look attractive and strong and streamlined… And Tami Lane? I’m a huge, huge fan of The Hobbit… Meeting someone who is part of a huge make-up army? That was exactly the type of stuff that I was looking forward to.

What are you working on now that filming has wrapped?

As soon as I got home, I started working on a film called Sweet Kitty, which has a demon character… Me and George knocked that one out [together]. We worked on that for a month and a half. It’s such a big deal when you’re department heading because you’re doing the creatures and the design and you’re hooking up concept artists with people. You’re getting in touch with hair and make-up. You’re charge of everything–beauty, shipments, scheduling, making all the decisions. My ultimate goal? I have my company Pandora FX [with my business partner and co-cat member George] and we’re going to corner the market on all the make-up effects… We work on short films, music videos, photo shoots, and features, but I wanted to turn it into something official and something bigger, so we can establish ourselves. In the end, we want careers, cars, and homes and children. I want to turn it into something solid.

Face Off airs Tuesday’s at 9 PM ET on Syfy.