By Ken Tucker
August 05, 2010 at 04:31 AM EDT

Tasked with making “art inspired by nature,” the remaining five contestants on Work of Art: The Next Great Artist were shuttled out to a Connecticut woodland, there to get in touch with their inner Rousseaus, their lurking Walton Fords. It was a double-elimination night, so the stakes — and the gravel, and the sea shells — were high.

Suspense was provided early on by Jaclyn, who trembled like Bambi in the forest (Miles impersonated her twitchiness at being removed from the city) and complained. A lot. “I have a cold.” “I’m incredibly uncomfortable.” “I feel like I have a fever.” And, inevitably: “I would have done a photo shoot incorporating myself” but it was too dang chilly in the woods for Jaclyn to execute her weekly shirt-doffing.

While Nicole was busy planning something with “seeds and nuts,” Miles was just going straight to being nuts, briefly contemplating using mustard gas for his latest installation before deciding that would be “inconsiderate.” Later, mentor Simon de Pury drolly observed that that would have been a “very effective technique to eliminate your competitors.” (De Pury was quite the wit this week; he took one look at Miles’ round, wood, nail-studded contraption and said, “I thought thees wuz a way to preee-pare your cheesecake!”)

The minute I saw Abdi’s portrait of himself, drawn using some of the gravel he’d found in the forest, I knew he’d avoid being in the bottom two; it was indeed a striking image. (The slight suspense created by his work-room admission to de Pury that the nature material was only about a third of his mixture never came up with the judges, at least as we saw it.)

Mid-way through the hour, for no reason at all, we got a brief butt-shot of Miles as he left the hotel bathroom. Otherwise, he spent his spare time saying things such as “Death is one of those things that fascinates me” and nearly drooling when the object of his crush, Nicole, said his piece made her want to “jello-wrestle in it.” “Ohmygod — yeah!” Miles confided to the camera.

Nicole, unfortunately, crafted a piece that looked like a miniature version of the glowing cave in Lost. Or like a split coconut with what I think Peregrine called “Chewbacca pubic hair.” Even more unfortunately, Peregrine put some branches into a paper mache vase that took the form of the lower trunk of a human. She somehow thought this communicated “taking teenagers into the woods and how annoying they can be.” Could not agree more with her thought, but the art didn’t “say” that. Miles stepped in here with a crucial suggestion: “The better thing is to go with teenagers sneaking off into the woods to have sex.” Peregrine loved this notion… and then went off and added a bunch of ridiculously amateurish drawings of people having sex and afixed them to the branches in what would look to any observer as a sloppy after-thought.

I found the Peregrine-Miles interaction interesting for the way, once again, Miles showed us that he knows how to articulate an idea, even for work other than his own, that could have stood up to the judges’ questioning. At the same time, by playing up a sex angle that Peregrine executed poorly, he very nearly helped shove her out the gallery door.

In the end, however, Nicole’s hairy-sphere thing did her in, and — shocker — Jaclyn was eliminated for her installation, which I’d swear would have survived the judges’ scrutiny if only she’d stuck to her quite lovely depiction of a horizon-line and left that clunky rock out of it. Now that she’s gone, we can look at everything Jaclyn made and come to the conclusion that she was certainly better at conceptualizing and executing original notions than, say, Jaime Lynn or Mark or (do you smell cigarette smoke? do you hear someone swearing bitterly?) Erik. For all her self-absorption (or maybe because of it), Jaclyn was second only to Miles in creating work that showed a sense of art history, and an ability to articulate it in a way that would appeal to the judges. Which is not to say that she was a better figurative artist than Abdi, or perhaps not even a better conceptualizer than Nao, given how little we saw of Nao’s work. Let’s face it: Jaclyn made for good TV and was able to justify her artistic existence in a way that didn’t make the judges feel like sell-outs in keeping her around this long.

So: Next week, the finale. I’m so glad the show is ripping off the Project Runway practice of visiting the contestants’ homes, because I love seeing the work lying around in artists’ studios.

Who do you think will win, Miles, Abdi, or Peregrine? I think unless Abdi pulls off another unusually beautiful image, it’s Miles’ show to lose.

Follow: @kentucker