By Emily Rome
Updated August 28, 2012 at 06:45 PM EDT
Credit: Peter Svenson
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Last week, Syfy kicked off the third season of its effects makeup competition show, Face Off, with a new batch of aspiring makeup artists, plenty of reality TV drama and a wowing Star Wars cantina-themed challenge.

Tonight’s episode, “Pirate Treasure,” sends the remaining contestants to San Diego, where they get their challenge assignments aboard the HMS Surprise, the ship used for filming Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.

Briefing the contestants on their pirate-themed challenge is the show’s host, McKenzie Westmore.

Taking on the Face Off hosting gig the show was a natural fit for Westmore – she comes from a family of movie makeup artists, which includes her father, Michael Westmore, who has worked on multiple Star Trek series, and her uncle Marvin Westmore, whose credits include Blade Runner and the original V mini-series.

Westmore talked to EW about growing up with a family of makeup artists, shared her thoughts on last week’s season premiere and teased some upcoming challenges and guest judges (including Kevin Smith’s appearance for a superhero-themed challenge and Paul W.S. Anderson’s turn as a guest judge for an “Alice in Zombieland” challenge). Read on to learn more about what’s in store for tonight’s episode and the rest of the season.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why were you interested in hosting Face Off?

McKENZIE WESTMORE: I never saw myself doing reality. I came from the world of theater. I studied Shakespeare. I did opera. I did musical theater. And then I progressed into television. I did a soap opera for 10 years. It was always about scripted, whether it was live or televised, and I never, ever envisioned the world of reality. And when Face Off came along, it was one of those things where it’s like, “How could I not do this?” I always wanted to carry the family name on in some way, and years ago I dabbled in the world of makeup, and I love it and have a passion for it, but my main love is acting and singing. I wanted to continue on that road, but I always told my dad, “I’ll find some way to continue on the family name.” I always thought it’d find a way to do that, but who knew there’d be a reality show about special effects makeup? So here we are. I can’t imagine not doing this now.

What was the reaction of some of your family members when you told them you were hosting the show?

Oh, they were so excited, especially my dad. He was so, so thrilled, ’cause he was one of the first people to talk to them about “Do you have a host for this show? Have you seen my daughter?” He and our mutual business manager, Helen, between the two of them, they both were mentioning me as [Syfy] started to look for people to host. It was very organic how it all happened.

Credit: Lewis Jacobs/NBC

You and your family must have had memorable Halloweens.

We had so much fun for Halloween. My dad and my mom and I used to decorate our front yard as a cemetery. I remember they were doing construction and they were redoing the front yard, so at one time it was a whole pile of dirt, and so we just made the best of it, and we made this whole cemetery. My dad cut out tombstones, he cut the wood, we painted them, and then we would paint the silly little things on them. Made skeletons, put them everywhere, so the decorating was always incredible, but yeah, the costumes were ridiculous. It almost wasn’t fair when I would go to school with my costume and we’d have a contest. I think it almost got to the point where I wasn’t allowed to go. One year my dad did me as a cat from the musical Cats, so it was fun, amazing stuff.

You’ve had a lot of cool judges on Face Off, both your regular panel and the guest judges. Which judges have you geeked out over the most?

Kevin Smith for sure. Totally geeked out over Kevin Smith. And he was sweet as can be. Paul W.S. Anderson was actually a big one for me too cause I love all the Resident Evil movies. I love all his work. And again, so super nice, so super kind. And Gail Anne Hurd, from The Walking Dead – I’m a big fan of that – and again, so incredibly sweet. We’ve had some of the biggest names in Hollywood on this show, and they are all the nicest people you could ever meet.

Do you get to have any input on what the challenges are on the show?

No, they definitely share everything with me, but they have a whole department that does that, and they come up with that, and they test the idea out and see how it’ll be.

If you could pitch one idea for a challenge, what would it be?

A musical. Something like Wicked or Shrek the musical. Something where people have to come out and sing and dance through the makeup. We’ve done dancing for sure, but to be able to sing through it would be really interesting to see.

We got a good dose of drama in the premiere, especially with Tommy and Joe working together for the Star Wars challenge. Can you tell us any more about what went down when Joe up and left the set?

We really didn’t know what was going on. When we were in the middle of filming, we didn’t know what was happening except we were through deliberation, and we were getting ready to name the top and bottom looks, and next thing, I’m told, “OK, we’ve got no elimination happening. Here’s what we need to say right now.” That was really it. That was all we were really privy to. We had no idea what was happening.

It was tough to watch them clashing so much when they were supposed to be working together during that challenge. Is it hard for you to see that kind of thing and resist interfering?

Yeah, it is, especially as the seasons go on. There are times where I’ll go out, and I’ll say, “How are you guys working together?” and they will look me flat in the eye and lie to me and say, “We’re doing great.” And I can’t, but there are so many times where I want to say, “Really? You guys are not working well together. Come on.” It is really a big part of Face Off and the challenges and even just working in a lab. These artists are going to be in a lab setting at some point. They’re all here because they are all talented, so at some point they will be in a lab setting, and it’s about teamwork. The teamwork is as important as the creativity and the artistry. So when they can’t show that they can be a team player, nobody wants to work with that.

At the other end of the spectrum, you had Rod lending a helping hand to competing teams. What’s it like to see that?

That speaks volumes. That’s amazing. And I didn’t even know that because a lot of that happened after my day was done, so to see the premiere and to see all of that – ’cause there’s so much that goes on. There’s so many hours of footage that is shot here.

With all of those teams, there must be so many cameras in there.

Oh, so many. I can’t even imagine how many hours of footage we have. So yeah, I didn’t know that had happened. Rod has always been just the nicest person. It, again, speaks volumes.

Do you think helping out another team like that ultimately pays off, or are there times when being too nice can backfire?

I think it always pays off. I don’t think it ever backfires. Unless somebody really gets pushed over and they don’t stand up for themselves – that’s where it could backfire. But when you have somebody of his caliber, of his talent, of his kindness, it’s only helps the contestant further on.

Tell us a bit about what we have to look forward to in the second episode of the season.

Our focus is pirates of the Caribbean. We take them down to this ship in San Diego. They got to walk onto the ship and pick their treasure chest, and it had to inspire their makeup. It had to inspire their pirate. There’s some really, really inventive and creative things that the viewers will get to see this week. There’s one makeup in particular that will really knock your socks off – what was created and how it was handled was pretty fantastic.

With this challenge, I feel like there could be the temptation to make these designs too close to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Did they all stand out on their own from those films?

Absolutely. Also, with something like Pirates, it’s such a major budget movie that they can incorporate CGI, so it’s not really going to get that close. It’s gonna be the basis of what those pirates are, but I would say every single one of them stood on their own two feet – or one if there’s a peg leg.

This season is the first year that the audience will get to vote on the ultimate winner. How is that going to change things for the show?

I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s an interesting twist. I will say that there’s a twist mid-season that was never done before on the show, and I was so excited to see the show do something like this because it’s exciting when you can throw in a twist that still hasn’t been done yet in season 3. So this is exciting. And then to have a finale that’s gonna be live [airing on Halloween] – it’s just gonna shake things up a little bit. It’s going to be interesting to see everyone come back and see how things are handled and see what they’re up to now as well as letting America chose the winner.

This twist you mentioned – is that related to voting or judging or what?

It has to do with challenge, judging, voting. It’s kind of related to all of the basis of what the show is. It’s a good one.

The first two seasons were won by two men. Do any of the ladies in this season have a shot at winning?

We had some really strong women with season 3. What’s kind of cool about having the viewers vote is as it does dwindle down, to see if they’re on track with the judging, but, yes, I think there is a really strong group of women this year.

What are some of your favorite challenges that we’ll see later in the season?

I think everyone’s going to really respond well to the Dr. Seuss one. Brian Grazer came in for that. My God, huge name in Hollywood to have on the show. It was very intimidating, but the Dr. Seuss is a cool one. We have another one where we worked with a charity called Kids Say Yes to the Arts, and 7- and 8-year-olds brought in drawings of monsters, their version of a monster, and then the artists had to recreate it and bring it to life. That was probably one of my favorite challenges.

“Pirate Treasure,” the second episode of Face Off’s third season, airs tonight at 9/8c on Syfy.

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