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America's Next Top Model recap: Great Fall of China

Ding-dong, the witch is dead — buh-bye, Bianca. Nicey-nice airhead Chantal lives on!

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Jim DeYonker

America's Next Top Model

TV Show
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Wow, a Top Model top three featuring Chantal? If you saw that coming, you’ve got a more accurate crystal ball than I. Of course, I’m the guy who back on September 20 — when cycle 9 was barely more than a glimmer in Tyra’s smiling-maniacal eye — predicted that Bianca, Victoria, Lisa, and Janet would be the last four women standing or, rather, sashaying in the competition. (Remind me again: Who is this Janet person?…crickets…I kid, I kid. You can’t blame me for trying to repress the memory of her pretending to give Tyra a bikini wax on board that cruise ship!)

But let’s get back to Chantal for a moment. How did the show’s producers, including the mighty Tyra, allow this innocuous yet utterly unexciting Barbie doll to survive another week in the competition? I don’t mean to be unnecessarily cruel (Chantal actually seems like a sweet kid), but one look at her portfolio (or one minute of listening to her expressionless speaking voice) and you realize there’s not a chance in Beijing she’s actually going to win this thing. And that means every minute Chantal is on screen next week will be utterly devoid of suspense. It’s got to come down to Saleisha vs. Jenah, because Chantal is never going to outpose, outstrut, or outlast her remaining two competitors.

Then again, maybe the judges are seeing something I don’t. In this week’s group photo, I thought Chantal displayed all the intensity of a woman taking a vision test at the optometrist’s office, but Nigel raved and drooled over her performance. And while Tyra was right that Chantal modeled all the way to her ”tippy tippy tippies” with her fierce body language at the Great Wall shoot, once again, her face landed at the intersection of blank and jank. I found it telling that the most effusive praise that Seventeeneditor Ann Shoket could lavish on Chantal after the runway challenge was ”you did a good job with the yellow shoes.”

Then again, if Chantal had gone home this week, the show’s producers would have found themselves painted into essentially the same corner, just with a bitchier brush. You see, up till around 8:05 p.m. Wednesday night, I could’ve still found a way to root for Bianca; yeah, I know her attitude all season has been as frightful as Mr. Jay’s hair has been overshellacked, but it’s such an obvious mask for her frightened-girl insecurities that I’ve been trying to find a way to forgive her for it. Especially because, at times, Bianca’s honesty can be amusing (as with her ”Is it over?” reaction to Twiggy and Miss J.’s robotic narration of that stage show about the four Chinese beauties).

I finally wrote off Bianca, however, the minute she blithely waved off Heather’s sincere farewell letter — in which the reigning Cover Girl of the Week (even post-elimination!) likened her competitors to a second family. (God, how I wish Heather and Lisa had outlasted Chantal and Bianca.) Minutes later, when Bianca deliberately sent Jenah on a fruitless search for accessories at the mall, it became pretty obvious that theTop Model editing team was not paving the way for a last-minute softening that would allow Bianca a chance at redemption with viewers, and at victory with the judges. And certainly, her stiff, awkward, expressionless photo did her no favors. (Who’d have guessed the gruffest, growliest gal in the competition would be done in by having to play a barbarian?)

Actually, though, I’m not sure Bianca is entirely to blame for her performance. Can we all agree that while Tyra has many skills — as a model, as an entrepreneur, as the crazy lady who haunts our Wednesday nights, and as a conceptual ”artist” who marries disparate images like a cartoon plane emblazoned withTop Model contestants and a portrait of Chairman Mao — there are certain photography assignments that may fall beyond her limited skill set? And that list might include tonight’s Great Wall shoot, which from here on out will be remembered as the one where all the girls except Saleisha were shot in blurry, emotion-free profile.

NEXT: Climbing the wall