You guys. This is the last time we’re ever going to be on top.
After 22 seasons cycles, many Tyra-infused music videos, and too many booty tooches to count, it’s all over. Like most good things in life, America’s Next Top Model came to an abrupt end, reminding us to reflect on all of the moments, absurd and endearing, that helped us fall in love with the show. Remember when Caridee and Melrose ran through that Barcelona runway as zombie brides? And when the judges thought that Allison Harvard’s obsession with nose bleeds was unique? And when Shandi cheated on her boyfriend in the… no. We won’t do this.
It’s not what Tyra would want. She would want us living, H2T, in the now. She would want us focusing on how Mamé kind of cheated on her cycle boyfriend Justin and how Nyle can’t be all of our husbands at the same time. Most of all, Ty Ty would want us to remember where we left off, with four models entering the cycle 22 finale with a Zappos photo shoot and business presentation in tow. (So fair warning: spoilers of the season 22 finale below.)
After a stringent evaluation, only two would go on to stomp it out in the final runway. In reality, pretty much all of the contestants were permitted to walk in the final runway, but only two would be considered for the crown. If you can depend on ANTM for one thing, it’s that more times than not, the model who works the hardest will be the one rewarded. Lacey consistently was one of the most promising models this season, but it was Mamé who rose to the occasion, overcoming her pageantry past. And with Nyle and Mikey, it was hardly ever a contest. If there were ever a contestant who you wanted to root for in a finale, it’s Nyle.
The contestants were asked to prepare a presentation as well, explaining why they should be ANTM. It is handily the best idea that Tyra has come up with since the inception of the show. Let’s go over the best and worst feature of each contestant’s presentation:
Best: Good flow
Worst: Fixation on how she lost weight
Best: Focuses on being a business mogul, spells mogul correctly
Worst: Inclusion of selfies
Best: Effective use of listing
Worst: COMIC SANS, rendering all of the words in the presentation null and void
Best: He cried.
Worst: He cried.
But it doesn’t matter how much Comic Sans you use or how much weight you lose because the story has practically already written itself: Nyle and Mamé, deservedly, move on to the final runway. Mikey’s mom cries and asks if she did anything wrong. Though I would argue that when photographed she struggled finding the light without losing her neck, Mikey assures her that she didn’t.
Miss J opens up the final runway, as the model gods intended. As she makes her pass, you have to wonder how ANTM survived without Nigel Barker or Miss J for two whole cycles. At times in the finale, it’s painfully evident that this wasn’t consciously planned as the final season. ANTM is capable of so much bigger and better (remember when Chantal demolished that stilt walker in China? Way harsh). On the other hand, the clothing, per the ANTM usual, is absolutely absurd. Just a lot of chunky haute couture ensembles with an urban chic vibe that you would never be permitted to wear to a Target, unless you’re Whitney from Cycle 10 who was so commercial it’s painful.
Nyle’s at an immediate disadvantage, unable to feel the beat of the music and pace his walk accordingly. Conversely, Mamé slays the runway and everything in its wake. Both finalists seem to really nail their walks on their second runs, with Nyle finding his footing and Mamé honing her craft even further. Everyone wins in Tyra’s world though and all the contestants celebrate backstage.
One of the best parts of ANTM has always been the obscure mini-prizes and challenges the finalists endure, and this season is no exception. Nyle and Mamé are given the opportunity to be brand ambassadors for Oppo in Southeast Asia. No specific country… just ambiguous Southeast Asia. Before the final panel, we get moments with Nyle and Mamé on their own, and it’s a reminder of just how far ANTM has come. Once upon a time, the finale took place in a small room in Paris with a couple of plants and a sheet covering the image of the winner’s face. Now they’re in a beautiful mansion with a runway built in. ANTM has truly grown up.
J. Alexander, Yu Tsai, and Kelly Cutrone join Tyra for the judging to decide who will be the series’ final winner. Nyle was praised for his strong walk, but also knocked for his “sexified” demeanor. Tyra praises Mamé for her walk and even likens the finalist to herself, specifically 2003 Tyra at the Victoria Secret Fashion Show, because unlike us peasants, Tyra remembers every step of every show.
The judges review both models’ bodies of work. The photos jump back and forth between Nyle’s hunkiness and Mamé’s undeniably modelesque features. It’s hard to imagine that the final season wouldn’t go to a woman. Not to say that Mamé isn’t the stronger model, because on a very technical level, she is. But even more so than that, the show was founded upon this notion that if a young woman works hard and eats and breathes fashion, she can rise up from the ranks and become a real life model.
But that’s what we get for assuming, because it’s Nyle who takes the prize. In the case of a Nyle victory, which seemed too predictable to actually happen, I anticipated that Tyra would have spent the entire season practicing for how to announce his win in American Sign Language, but instead, she simply signs “congratulations.” And though it wasn’t an Adrienne Curry or a beloved Danielle Evans who finished on top, it was a new version of the ANTM fairy tale — a deaf model with a six pack and icy blue eyes, impossible to root against.
And with that, Tyra bids us farewell by telling us that we’re still in the running to become the most flawsome version of ourselves. She bids us fierce and love, and like a candle in the wind, poses off into that good night. This is a quintessential Top Model moment because at its core, ANTM has always been a show about Tyra Banks. At the end of every opening sequence, it’s Tyra who is left standing, presiding over her contestants and ruling the roost. We may have watched for our favorites, but we always came back for Tyra.
It’s a lot to handle, but it’s not goodbye. There is no final photo in our hands… it’s just see you later. Because you can’t truly say goodbye to something that has changed you so profoundly. For over a decade, we thought we were watching a reality show, when in reality, Tyra was watching, nay, rooting for us. They were all rooting for us. So in the wake of this final episode, don’t cry because it’s over, smize because it happened.