By Margaret Lyons
Updated March 18, 2010 at 11:21 AM EDT

Image Credit: Martina Monica Tolot / The CWNudity, screaming, wipeouts, and the dawn of the André era — but remind me again why this week’s Top Model needed to be a grueling 90 minutes? It would have been (barely) permissible were it one giganto episode, but no, it was pretty plainly the ass-half of last week’s also needlessly long episode, plus a full regular episode. I can’t tell what’s worse: that kind of cruddy last-minute patchworking, or Tyra’s wrap jumpsuit with pockets. Just kidding…, of course I can tell. It was the jumpsuit. Let’s do this, kids.

When we left off last week, the modeltestants had just been told they had to do a nude photo shoot. In the ANTM glory days, that might have been an actual problem, but even sweet-as-pie Jessica (who could have watched the first season back when she was 11 years old) got naked with hardly any complaining. Alexandra, Angelea, Raina, Simone, Tatianna, and Anslee managed to pose relatively problem-free, but Gabrielle — my favorite from last week! — wasn’t “present” enough for Mr. Jay. Also, her one item of clothing was leggings, which she wore; Krista’s one item of clothing was a dress, which she just held against her naked body. I know, I know, we cannot impose the rigid logic of our world onto the magical nonsense of Tyra. But it’s hard. Jessica was a little shy, Brenda had a Claudia Schiffer-esque glint in her eye, Naduah struggled a little, and Alasia struggled a lot.

And then we hit on one of the themes for the episode: Ren is unpleasant. She bragged that she gets along fine with the hair and make-up people, but that the other contestants don’t do it for her. That’s fine, Ren. I’d be hard-pressed to pick one of the girls to hang out with, too (Simone, I think it’s our lucky day?), but like, get a book, or a sketch pad, or practice meditation. You don’t have to like everyone! But you don’t have to be so grumpy about. Ren did a bang-up job, though, and then Krista kinda sucked. Hats off to the breast-blurring department, who really had their work cut out for them this week.

Back at the house, I was treated to one of my least-favorite things ever: a group of people laboriously reading out loud together. Make it stop! It’s right up there with emcees saying “I can’t heeaaaaar youuuuuu,” which is the sound Satan makes. The crack team of cryptographers put their heads together and deciphered they’d be heading to judging. So early in the episode, you say? Indeed! This was but one of two panels convened on this weird extended episode.

At judging, we met this season’s new addition, Mr. André Leon Talley. For once, Tyra’s insane gushing is actually totally accurate — Talley’s a major force in the fashion world, even if he did make Jennifer Hudson wear that hideous bolero thing to the Oscars back in 2007. (Never forget.) I get that fashion is a do-what-I-say-not-what-I-do kind of thing, but taking jewelry advice from a guy wearing a dinosaur-tooth necklace (?) to the side must be pretty tough. I mean, yes, Anslee’s necklace was criminally ugly, and my eighth grade self called and wants it back, but still.

Anyway, picture time. Ren looked wonderful, and the judges were impressed. They also loved Angelea’s shot, which I found draggy at best. They would stop and look at it if it were a page in a magazine, the judges raved. So would I! And then I would announce to anyone within earshot “Holy fart, what kind of shoe ad or grotesque fashion editorial is this? And does that toe look diseased to you, too?” The judges found Alexandra’s photo too forced but loved Raina’s sultry vibe, which André likened to a courtesan. Tyra correctly guessed that Raina did not know what the word “courtesan” meant, even though Raina is a 22-year-old college student. Really, Raina? Really? Grrr.

Anslee, who might be the world’s sourest person, gave the camera a “telescopic view into her nether regions,” which is the quote where I decided André was the best thing to happen to this show since Janice Dickenson. Sorry, Ms. Jay, but you’ve been ousted. Simone didn’t smize hard enough, Gabrielle’s shot was met with disapproving silence, but the perky Jessica’s shot was terrific. Both Krista and Naduah’s photos were weirdly bad, but Brenda — who for some insane reason still doesn’t like her completely awesome haircut — looked great. Tatianna’s face-on shot was surprisingly elegant, even though she seems sort of hulking, and the incredibly grating Alasia’s shot was so crummy that the show inserted clown music. When André claimed to love it for its weird badness, Nigel openly laughed at him.

Guest judge Sally Hershberger put on her molester/Terry Richardson glasses, and then the panel agreed Gabrielle’s photo was bad. Sadface.

Tyra announced that this cycle, the winner of best photo gets to partake in the winner perks of the subsequent challenge, no matter how she does. A twist! At long last, something even marginally new or different about this cycle! Hallelujah. The first recipient of this magnificent gift was, drumroll, Jessica! Angelea, Ren, Brenda, Simone, Tatianna, Anslee, Raina, Naduah, Alexandra, and Krista were safe. Will Alasia and Gabrielle please step forward? Tragically, the ANTM PTB sent the way more promising Gabrielle a-packing. In my notes for this episode, this is where I wrote down “what?! whaaaaaat? now i hate this season!!!” That’s your peek behind the curtain, PopWatchers. You are welcome.

Back at the house, Ren put on a babushka or something to drown out the noise of people playing chubby bunny. Again, sure, they do seem annoying. But when you then confessionalize that you’re “too intelligent” to hang out with these people? That’s when you seem like a real jerkwad. There can only be one Elyse Sewell, Ren, and your sleepy-voiced complaining just can’t compare to actual zings and humor.

Naduah told Raina and some of the other modeltestants more about her background — she has eight brothers and sisters, she’s done four “international fashion weeks” in Cancun, she turned down Playboy, her husband is black and they take sexy photos together, etc. She didn’t mention having a child, but she lists her occupation on the CW’s site as “full-time mother.” No one mentioned that Naduah’s accent seems to come and go, but Raina and Brenda agreed that the bald one’s stories didn’t quite add up.

The ladies headed off to meet Ms. Jay, who’d been relegated back to runway coach and not judge. If he’s bothered by it, it didn’t show: The walking lesson is as fierce as ever, with an emphasis on time and pacing. Spoiler! The runway challenge will rely on those exact things!

Well…sort of. After the walking lesson, the ladies meet Rachel Roy (again, actual famous fashion person), and found out they’d be walking in an extremely contrived fashion show for her. And the runway has giant swinging pendulums crossing it, perhaps inspired by a really half-hearted Edgar Allen Poe homage, or a down-market Indiana Jones kind of thing. Also, the runway is down a flight of marble stairs. Let the games begin.

Simone, who we saw almost none of in this episode, got beaned by one of the pendulums almost immediately. It looked dangerous for a second, but apparently they were totally light and not harmful at all, because she recovered immediately and seemed fine. Brenda made an strange pouty face but strutted well, while Krista and Jessica both had a hard time with the American Gladiators-style obstacles.

But that was nothing compared to Alexandra. Last week, Angelea said “bitch” around 100 times. This week, Alexandra said “competitive” at least twice as much. It’s a competition, and everyone needs a game face, but competitiveness isn’t a virtue, and really strong competitors don’t talk about how much they like the game. They talk about how much they like winning. Anyway, Alexandra — who is really competitive, you guys! — wiped out on the stairs on the way down in what looked like an intensely painful and not just shameful fall. She didn’t just trip; she was down. And then in a moment of unadulterated schadenfreude (look it up, Raina), Alexandra got hit by the pendulum and fell right off the runway. I assume this will be a .gif in no time, and I cannot wait to watch it. Falling down the stairs? Yeesh. Falling off the entire freaking runway?! Amazing. Brenda and her fishlips won the challenge, but Alexandra won our attention. And that is more important/worse.

At the house, Ren put on her fedora, like we all do. I know I love to come home, change out of my work clothes, put on my jaunty cap, eat dinner, and think about how much better I am than everyone else. That’s just a normal night for me, relaxing at home with my hat on.

Haberdashery aside, Ren made the mistake of telling Alasia to “shut the [eff] up,” at which point Alasia totally lost it. This might have been an exciting moment if you are an unfrozen caveman TV viewer, but I have seen reality shows before, and I know this number. It’s called “Don’t Disrespect Me/No One Talks To Me Like That [and Now I Will Talk To You Like That (remix)].” I’ve heard it on ANTM a few times a season every season for the last, oh, 14 seasons, but it’s also a staple on The Real World, Road Rules, Real World/Road Rules Challenge, Bad Girls Club, Celebrity Rehab, Top Chef, The Apprentice, Making the Band, and every other cohabitative reality show in living memory. Bo-ring.

Oh, was it time for more reading out loud? This time, something surreal happened: Alexandra said “period.” (And not in relation to the 9,000 tampon and pad commercials that aired during this episode.) She said it as part of the sentence she was reading. I thought her total physical humiliation would be the low point for her in this episode, but I was wrong. It was this. Period.

At the photoshoot in Brooklyn (shoutout!), the girls had to spray themselves with blue paint and then get hosed down, in the cold, for a fragrance ad. Sure, why not. Every season involves some kind of get wet/don’t freeze photoshoot, and the women performed predictably, which is to say not very well with a few small exceptions.

Time for judging exclamation point! Tyra wore an ill-conceived jumpsuit that was profoundly ugly, even for her. Yes, it was from the same Rachel Roy collection the contestants had walked in, but she passed over modern two-piece suits and fun separates for Amanda Woodward-meets-Ghostbusters couture. Help her, André.

On the photo front, Alasia looked okay, Anslee managed to degrump herself for five seconds to deliver a stunning profile shot, but sadsack Ren looked physically ill. Krista’s shot was beautiful, but she looked like an athlete more than a model to me. Naduah in her photo looked as fake as her inconsistent accent, and in person looked so done up that Tyra made her wipe off her make-up. Snap! Tatianna’s photo was lovely, again sort of out of nowhere — she doesn’t seem particularly elegant or sensual, but both her photos this week were solid. Brenda had the opposite issue: She looks sleek and model-y at panel, but her photo was a classic potato chin/old-face disaster. Jessica looked too weak, Angelea a little dead in the eyes, and Alexandra was passable but unspectacular period. I’m still trying to figure out who she reminds me of — sometimes it’s Katherine Heigl a tiny bit, but it’s someone else, too. Simone’s shot was pretty good, but everyone’s photo sucked compared to Raina’s, which was completely awesome. A little mannish, maybe, but in an awesome way.

Unsurprisingly, Raina had the winning picture. Krista, Anslee, Tatianna, Simone, Alexandra, Angelea, Alasia, Brenda, and Jessica were safe. Will Naduah and Ren please step forward? At this point, I was rooting for Naduah to stay so we could get to the bottom of her confusing stories, but it was pretty clear it was going to be the mopey Ren who’d be sticking around. We’ll miss you, Naduah.

Well! It’s a world gone mad. My early favorites have gotten the early boot, so Raina and Tatianna have climbed to the top of my rankings. Reality Bites Lite shtick is wearing pretty thin — as is Alasia’s immature blabbering. Everyone else should feel free to make a strong impression any day now.

Should Ren just call it quits like Anslee tried to get her to do? Can Simone figure out a way to bring a little more personality to her photos? Is Krista just too gawky? Play Tyra, PopWatchers: Who has all the potential in the world right now?

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