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''America's Next Top Model'': The last runway

When the season finale of ”America’s Next Top Model” comes down to a runway showdown between Nik and Nicole, Tyra chooses vanilla over caramel

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America's Next Top Model

America's Next Top Model

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”America’s Next Top Model”: The last runway

Well, I’ll say this much for America’s Next Top Model: At least the show is consistent. In a season punctuated by arbitrary decisions from the judges’ panel (not to mention arbitrary comments from Miss J.), the choice of Nicole over Nik as cycle 5 champ caps off a maddeningly unsatisfying pattern.

Now don’t get me wrong. Nicole’s an attractive girl. I’ll be the first to admit she outperformed Nik (just barely, though) during tonight’s final challenge — working the runway at a Gharani Strok fashion show. Still, at the end of the day, seeing as ANTM‘s contenders are rated week in and week out on the ability to deliver an unforgettable photograph, you’d think the last woman standing would’ve met that standard at least once.

In other words: Nicole? Seriously? Nicole?

Sorry, had to get that outta my system. Back to my larger point, though: Try closing your eyes and thinking about Nik’s portfolio. The fiercely feline Bollywood shoot. The come-hither phone-booth photo. The red haute, high-fashion snapshot down on the farm. Sure, Nik’s drama-free vibe ensured she wasn’t the season’s most exciting contestant, but I always thought the goal was to crown America’s next top(-ish) model, not America’s next VH1 celebreality embarrassment.

And of course, we haven’t even mentioned Nik’s legendary ”Vitruvian Man” shoot. You know, the one where she mimicked Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketch, her limbs outstretched at magnificent angles, her face set straight ahead in a gaze that made you forget the source material. Come to think of it, it was also the one that Tyra conveniently left out while reviewing the finalists’ bodies of work right before the judges convened for their final deliberations. Talk about stomping out any last shred of suspense about the outcome! Not that the outcome was really in doubt after Tyra’s hooting and hollering for Nicole’s runway efforts, and Nigel’s remarks about Nik’s ”jiggly walk.” (Pssst, Nigel, those are called breasts.)

On the other hand, Nicole took some pretty pictures, but always with the same bloodless facial expression. This is going to probably sound more cruel than I’m intending, but if the eyes are the window to the soul, Nicole’s photographs gave us a view into an empty room, one with the lights and the heat switched off. Nowhere was that more evident than during the filming of her Cover Girl TV spot, when the prospect of memorizing a few simple lines left her flummoxed and near tears.

Unfortunately for Nik, though, she wasn’t competing only against Nicole but also against a far more daunting opponent, the Ghost of Cycle 4. Don’t tell me that you didn’t catch the specter rattling her chains and mumbling depressingly through all those ”My Life as a Cover Girl” ads this season. Or that, in some ways, you didn’t see the similarities between Nik and Naima — both pleasant young women who avoided inter-model confrontation in the house, always did the job that was required of them, and never uttered a funny, controversial, or eyebrow-raising comment.

Could ANTM, and more specifically Cover Girl, afford to risk crowning a second consecutive winner whose personality might fail to translate beyond a still photo — or, to put it bluntly, a second total dud?

Then again, though she livened things up slightly by jumping up and down on a bed and donning a fake glasses-mustache combo, did Nicole ever say anything particularly insightful or amusing, either? Maybe not, but better her to get the victory than the endlessly quotable Bre, whose status as the resident go-to girl for saucy bon mots was negated by her status as the resident self-righteous harpy. When Bre said she needed to think of something funny to make her smile during the cover shoot, all I could think was that she’d probably have more luck if she imagined something evil, like baby penguins getting kicked.

That’s not entirely fair, though. Bre showed a lot more class after her elimination than Jayla did last week (not that that’s saying much). The only thing I’m wondering about is if it was a symbolic act when Bre removed her high heels once her quest to join the ranks of elite mannequins came to a close. It’s that brand of weirdness, manifesting itself in random acts of…I’m not sure what — footwear discarding? Red Bull spilling? — that makes Bre so memorable, if not endearing. Too bad we didn’t get to catch one last rendition of her Tennessee Walking Horse runway gait.

Not that it would have made a difference, mind you. When it was all said and done, cycle 5 of ANTM came down to, as Tyra put it, a choice of chocolate, vanilla, or caramel. And while the strangely coiffed reality-show host was referring to Bre, Nicole, and Nik’s skin tones, she might as well have been referring to their personalities. Too bad then, that the aptly pegged vanilla won out.

What did you think of Nicole’s win? Did you find the season finale predictable or suspenseful? Did you catch Bre rolling her eyes during the Cover Girl ad? And do you think Nicole can outshine Tyra when they appear on the cover of ElleGirl magazine shot by renowned photographer Gilles Bensimon?