America's Next Top Model
Credit: Nigel Barker/The CW

It’s the dawn of a new era, Model fans, not just an era of petite-ness, though for the record, previous winner Eva is only 5’6 and change, but an era of — dare I write it? — lucidity, credibility or seeming relevance? It was Bloody Eyeball versus the Bull Castrator, and to the episode’s credit, it had me believing there was almost a credible contest. But we all knew what would happen tonight, and the best part was that it actually did.

Most of the time, the finale of ANTM has three women pitted against one another, and surely that makes for better television — more drama, more confessionals, just more of everything. But if we’re going twosies, Nicole and Laura did at least present us with opposing options: The really good model and the other girl. Er, I mean Lady Awkwardness of Snobsville and SheBeast of Ye Olde Farm.

The episode’s opening segments tried to claim that Nicole doesn’t have a personality, which is false: She definitely, unequivocally does. She just happens to have a low-energy, slow-talking, what’s-the-opposite-of-bubbly one. Laura’s personality is certainly broader, bigger, even more likable, but Nicole is distinctly herself, even if that selfhood is relatively quiet.

Hey, it’s Teyona from last season! She’s here to hype up nuclear eyelash bomb mascara from Major Cosmetic Company! Nicole and Laura had to do both a commercial and a photoshoot to prove their worth as said cosmetic company’s lowest-ranking spokeslady. But it wasn’t easy: they had to memorize lines! And also smile! But what about Laura’s dyslexia?!

At the shoot, Mr. Jay told the girls the “concept” of the commercial, which was two BFFs hiking? And… wearing mascara? I can state for the record that I always make a point of wearing my most vagina-grazing shorts and bold, carefree mascara when I go hiking in Hawaii. It’s like Top Model is a documentary of my life, you guys.

First up, Nicole was doing her photoshoot, while poor, dyslexic — and apparently economically actually poor — Laura was doing her video one. “She models really well,” said Nigel of Nicole. Which is totally true. If this were a modeling contest, it’s almost like Nicole has the edge or something.

At the video portion of the events, Laura was, predictably, struggling. “When dyslexic people get frustrated, it just makes it worse,” she said. Surely she could have omitted the “dyslexic” from that sentence or added in any other qualifier. Frustration! It’s frustrating, y’all!

Nicole too had a hard time with the unbearable corny and lame lines for the commercial. If she’s going to do more live-action stuff, allow me to suggest a vocal coach: Homegirl needs to open her damn mouth. Her top and bottom teeth are never more than a centimeter away from each other, which is why a lot of her readings sound so flat. Open wide, Nicole. There’s a whole range of voice and emotion buried deep in there.

Laura wasn’t faring all that well at her shoot with Nigel, though. When he asked her to emote, she said she was thinking about milkshakes. In Laura’s defense, milkshakes are pretty damn fantastic — ahem, black and whites?! half chocolate, half vanilla, all awesome? — but loving them might not be enough to convey the oomph required for selling eyelash steroids. Still, both women and their perfectly straightened hair looked really beautiful.

As their last posing challenge, Nicole and Laura were subject to an incredibly strange and awkward shoot for Seventeen, right there in Chez Modelhaus. They were both dressed in atrocious outfits, and one-time ANTM catchphrase photog Gilles Bensimon notched nearly 30 seconds of screen time.

To add insult to injury at their luxurious abode, Tyra showed up. Screaaaaam! Juuuuump! Tyra wanted to get real, you guys, and talk about stuff. Like how Nicole was awkward growing up, and how Laura loves her grandma. Back in the day, Tyra did these heart-to-weaveshearts earlier in the season, where she’d talk to five or even six actual people. Now, though, only the final two get the privilege. Laura cried a little, but otherwise, these interviews added roughly nothing to our understanding of the top two, and they failed their main objective of glorifying the One And Only True Tyra, who just came across as oddly impervious to wind. I’m suddenly nostalgic for a time when Tyra would bust out her best Oprah impression and make everyone weepy.

Anyway, it wouldn’t be a finale without a runway show, and it wouldn’t be this oddly low-budget season without overstating something’s importance, so: Runway show! In what could have been a cool dramatic twist, Erin, Jennifer, Brittany, and Sundai rematerialized to walk in the show, too, but all we heard from them was that they were all rooting for Laura. Ooof.

Backstage, everyone got covered in an absurd, Cullens-on-crack amount of glitter, and Laura marveled that she had a “50/50 percent [sic] chance” of winning. Poor Laura. She only had a 50/50 shot if this were decided at random. This is like saying every sports team has a 50/50 chance of winning every game. Sadly for our bull de-baller, she was the Lansing Lugnuts going up against the Yankees. It’s definitely not 50/50.

When the time came for walking, though, all that testicle removal must have paid off somehow: Laura’s walk was way more natural than Nicole’s shoulder-heavy, stompy march. Also, the show included the, uh, three elements of fire, wind, and water. Sorry, earth; perhaps you’re not model-tastic as the blink-and-you-miss-him Eddie Murphy. To wrap things up, all the models writhed together under sprinklers, like you do at fashion shows.

Finally, it was time for judging, where for once the ladies were wearing heels. And the hideous dresses they wore in the runway show, but still: heels! (Apparently they dried off in between, and got their make-up redone? Or maybe this was shenanigans all over again? Who can know?) Laura’s walk earned raves, and to my shock Nicole’s awkward gait was deemed “signature.” Somewhere, Camille from Cycle 2 gently weeps. The judges revisited most of the previous photos, and it became clear that Laura had her mouth hanging open in every single shot. None of the judges seem to notice, but it bugs me so much I just have to mention it. (In fairness, Nicole is staring down her nose in most of her images.)

I’ll be honest: At this point, I was getting a little worried. Sure, Nigel had complained that it’s hard to understand Laura when she “speaks,” but Nicole had been dinged for her lack of natural charisma. To the editors’ credit here, it did seem almost up in the air at the moment before Tyra announced the winner. Even though all evidence pointed to Bloody Eyeball being the runaway best model this show’s seen in ages, it’s not like ANTM has a particularly solid track record of picking skill over sizzle.

And yet. The winner of this cycle was… Nicole! Hallelujah! In a weird turn of events, Top Model picked someone who might actually credibly model because she’s freakishly beautiful and distinctive and photogenic. I feel like I just saw a unicorn being born.

Thus endeth the 13th go-round of Tyra Banks and her merry models, and I have to say that for a cycle I was pretty down on, Nicole is someone I actually think has legit talent. Despite all the editing weirdness, the lack of meaningful conflict, a strange absence of someone to emotionally root for, this season still turned out kinda great. I hate even saying that, but I can’t help it.

Okay, PopWatchers, let ‘er rip: Are you glad to see Nicole take the crown, or were you pulling for Laura? Do we think Nicole has a future in the industry? And might Laura surprise us all and become a star, too?

Photo credit: Nigel Barker/The CW

BFF credit: Evelyn, who watched this whole season with me

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Trya Banks
America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel

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