On go-sees, Heather couldn't find her way around Shanghai, and Tyra sent her packing, while Saleisha finally showed an ''edgy'' quality

By Michael Slezak
Updated November 27, 2007 at 08:28 PM EST
Jim DeYonker

Across the nation, in the bedrooms of thousands of teenage girls — and, let’s keep it real, more than a few teenage boys — tears flowed tonight. At least that’s what I’m guessing, seeing how gloomy-gorgeous Heather, winner of umpteen consecutive Cover Girl of the Week awards during this ninth cycle of America’s Next Top Model, got unceremoniously dumped from the competition for, essentially, being a really poor reader of Chinese-language maps.

Okay, maybe it’s not fair to assume that only a teenager would go to CWTV.com and vote for what’s ultimately a meaningless contest. There might be a few tweens, and maybe adult relatives of the contestants, who’d do it, too, right?

But that’s not to say Heather’s CGOTW voting bloc wasn’t backing the correct horse. Her battle with Asperger’s syndrome, her intermittent eye contact, and her fragile sense of self-worth, combined with her glorious performance in front of the camera, made Heather the season’s most intriguing model and, as a result, the easiest one to root for.

Yeah, she was woeful last week shooting a CoverGirl TV ad that required her to memorize lines, but I can’t imagine that with a little time and practice (and maybe the love and support of four or five fans asking for her autograph at a promotional appearance in a small-town Wal-Mart), Heather wouldn’t have been able to hold her own with previous Top Model champs like Naima ”Mumblemouth” Mora, Nicole ”Empty Thought Bubble” Linkletter, and poor, poor Jaslene ”They Stole My Soul When I Wasn’t Looking” Gonzalez.

Admittedly, the fact that Heather only made it to one out of five go-sees during tonight’s episode was problematic, but I still contend she deserved to make the trip from Shanghai to Beijing next week. The nature of what makes a ”good model” is arbitrary, to be certain, but even in the scant few seconds of footage we got to see from Heather’s shoot during tonight’s episode, I was struck by how electrifying this gawky girl becomes when she’s face-to-face with a photographer.

Tyra’s parting words of encouragement to Heather — ”You came so far that you have to be so proud of yourself” — would almost have been enough to make me misty-eyed if I hadn’t been able to read between the carefully airbrushed lines. What our maniacal hostess really meant was that, just like the plus-size and/or real-size models who defy the odds and manage to crack the top 13 each season, Heather was just another decoy, an odd duck meant not only to prove Tyra’s open-mindedness about the definition of what’s beautiful but also to provide the show’s producers with a compelling, emotional story arc, complete with a ”you go, girl!” finish.

No, really, you go girl. Immediately back to your hotel suite, pack your belongings, and go home.

Ah, well, at least Heather managed to provide the episode’s funniest line (”The map’s completely in Chinese — it’s all Greek to me”) and also star in its zaniest moment (that snippet of Handel’s ”Hallelujah Chorus” that played when she finally arrived at the offices of fiery fashionista Flora Zeta). But with the elimination of my two favorite contestants (Heather this week and Lisa last), I’m not sure I really care who’s (to paraphrase Top Model‘s still-awesome theme song) gonna be on top-top-top.

Do I root for Chantal, the Barbie doll who got banged up a little bit on the assembly line, and who maybe needs to visit the Wizard to get herself a brain upgrade? I wasn’t quite as outraged as the judges (or designer Lu Kun) that Chantal wore pink and black lace skivvies to her go-sees, but I was offended that Tyra & Co. didn’t call her out for yet another blank facial expression in her Shanghai Surprise photo shoot. Can a girl who has yet to take a truly fierce photo this season crack the final three? I’m guessing not, and that Chantal will go home next week.

And then there’s Bianca, whose raging insecurities all too frequently boil up beneath her spunky-cute facade and turn her into a total she-beast. Okay, I laughed when she and Saleisha showed up at the same time for their Fiona Vong go-see — ”I’m walking, and I look at Saleisha like, ‘Bam, bitch!’ ” — but then she had to go and spoil it, barking, ”Bzzz! You’re out!” when Jenah showed up late to the agency, and flashing a split-second grin when Heather got eliminated. Revolting. Though not nearly as dreadful as the drowsy-nauseated facial expression she delivered in her ”best shot” (!) of the week.

(Oh, and a quick side note: If any of you think Bianca’s light-up floating billboard for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was not a one-time-only occurrence, then I have some tickets to the 2004 Athens Games that I can sell to you at a terrific price.)

So, if I can’t root for Chantal or Bianca, who does that leave me with? Saleisha, the model equivalent of a bowl of Splenda topped with a thick layer of NutraSweet? Seriously, the Camp Tyra grad seemed far less annoying when there were more girls in the competition, and she did actually lie to Bianca about where a designer’s office was located. But this week’s dual jump-and-shriek cries of ”Top five! Top five!” and ”Go-sees! Go-sees!” pushed me over the edge, as did her alarming comment to Vong: ”You’re so cute I’m taking you home with me. Let’s go!” (Um, couldn’t the show’s editors have spared us this moment of ”look at the cute little Chinese people!” stereotyping?) That said, Saleisha delivered the best photo of the week, with a contorted, catlike pose. The only thing the panel flubbed was Tyra praising Saleisha for being more than just ”an edgy haircut.” Um, Tyra, only if by ”edgy” you mean damaged, dated, and downright dreadful. Can you guys imagine if Saleisha takes home the title with that thick mushroom mop still attached to her head? (Shudderiffic!)

NEXT: Gong show

And speaking of busted weaves, let’s talk about our fourth and final candidate, Jenah, who’s equal parts homely and arrogant, until she steps inside her magical phone booth each week and emerges as a stunningly photogenic mannequin. (Seriously, her best shot this week was flawless, even though she looked lethargic and grumpy in the footage of her shoot.)

There are moments I can appreciate Jenah’s self-described cynicism about the competition, but — and this is a key point here — it’s our job as viewers to mock the ridiculousness of Top Model, the contradictory critiques of the panel, the so-not-editorial setups for the photo shoots, the mania of Miss Tyra, and even Nigel’s inability to take a joke. (Wasn’t his whole outrage about Jenah’s sarcasm reminiscent of the CariDee bullfight shoot?) The contestants, on the other hand, are supposed to be taking this whole exercise very, very seriously. I mean, if the models are in on the joke, and openly disdainful of what they’re being put through, well, where’s the fun in that? That’s why I cringe when Jenah makes pompous proclamations like ”Designers are looking for personality. My outlook is sort of, like, whatever.” And that’s also why Flora Zeta’s concise put-down (”Your walk was terrible”) made me want to do a Google search to see if she has a men’s line.

So that’s my dilemma with only two weeks to go: how to pick a favorite from the final four when my heart and mind keep chanting, ”None of the above!” I may be a devoted Top Model fan who’s never voted for CGOTW, but I’m seriously considering a trip to the official CW site, just to see if there’s a write-in ballot for the contestant who went home too soon. Adieu, Heather, we’ll always have Shanghai.

What did you think of this week’s elimination? Would you have cut one of the other girls to make room for Heather, or did Tyra make the right decision? And a few other questions: Why must Mr. Jay wear his shirts cut so distressingly low? Is there any way Jenah could’ve looked less attractive when she arrived at this week’s photo shoot in those shades (which made her nose look like it had been grown on the side of a tree stump)? And did Miss J. really make an exaggerated gong sound in front of Chinese modeling-agency exec Susan Yang? Tell me I imagined it!