Ding-dong, the witch is dead -- buh-bye, Bianca. Nicey-nice airhead Chantal lives on!

Credit: Jim DeYonker

Wow, a Top Model top three featuring Chantal? If you saw that coming, you’ve got a more accurate crystal ball than I. Of course, I’m the guy who back on September 20 — when cycle 9 was barely more than a glimmer in Tyra’s smiling-maniacal eye — predicted that Bianca, Victoria, Lisa, and Janet would be the last four women standing or, rather, sashaying in the competition. (Remind me again: Who is this Janet person?…crickets…I kid, I kid. You can’t blame me for trying to repress the memory of her pretending to give Tyra a bikini wax on board that cruise ship!)

But let’s get back to Chantal for a moment. How did the show’s producers, including the mighty Tyra, allow this innocuous yet utterly unexciting Barbie doll to survive another week in the competition? I don’t mean to be unnecessarily cruel (Chantal actually seems like a sweet kid), but one look at her portfolio (or one minute of listening to her expressionless speaking voice) and you realize there’s not a chance in Beijing she’s actually going to win this thing. And that means every minute Chantal is on screen next week will be utterly devoid of suspense. It’s got to come down to Saleisha vs. Jenah, because Chantal is never going to outpose, outstrut, or outlast her remaining two competitors.

Then again, maybe the judges are seeing something I don’t. In this week’s group photo, I thought Chantal displayed all the intensity of a woman taking a vision test at the optometrist’s office, but Nigel raved and drooled over her performance. And while Tyra was right that Chantal modeled all the way to her ”tippy tippy tippies” with her fierce body language at the Great Wall shoot, once again, her face landed at the intersection of blank and jank. I found it telling that the most effusive praise that Seventeeneditor Ann Shoket could lavish on Chantal after the runway challenge was ”you did a good job with the yellow shoes.”

Then again, if Chantal had gone home this week, the show’s producers would have found themselves painted into essentially the same corner, just with a bitchier brush. You see, up till around 8:05 p.m. Wednesday night, I could’ve still found a way to root for Bianca; yeah, I know her attitude all season has been as frightful as Mr. Jay’s hair has been overshellacked, but it’s such an obvious mask for her frightened-girl insecurities that I’ve been trying to find a way to forgive her for it. Especially because, at times, Bianca’s honesty can be amusing (as with her ”Is it over?” reaction to Twiggy and Miss J.’s robotic narration of that stage show about the four Chinese beauties).

I finally wrote off Bianca, however, the minute she blithely waved off Heather’s sincere farewell letter — in which the reigning Cover Girl of the Week (even post-elimination!) likened her competitors to a second family. (God, how I wish Heather and Lisa had outlasted Chantal and Bianca.) Minutes later, when Bianca deliberately sent Jenah on a fruitless search for accessories at the mall, it became pretty obvious that theTop Model editing team was not paving the way for a last-minute softening that would allow Bianca a chance at redemption with viewers, and at victory with the judges. And certainly, her stiff, awkward, expressionless photo did her no favors. (Who’d have guessed the gruffest, growliest gal in the competition would be done in by having to play a barbarian?)

Actually, though, I’m not sure Bianca is entirely to blame for her performance. Can we all agree that while Tyra has many skills — as a model, as an entrepreneur, as the crazy lady who haunts our Wednesday nights, and as a conceptual ”artist” who marries disparate images like a cartoon plane emblazoned withTop Model contestants and a portrait of Chairman Mao — there are certain photography assignments that may fall beyond her limited skill set? And that list might include tonight’s Great Wall shoot, which from here on out will be remembered as the one where all the girls except Saleisha were shot in blurry, emotion-free profile.

NEXT: Climbing the wall

Indeed, not even the usually reliable Jenah managed to get a portfolio-worthy picture tonight, although she gained something far more valuable: an ”emotional journey” story arc that made it easy for the judges to keep her around another week. Seriously, in the course of an hour Jenah went from mocking her place in the competition (”Being in the bottom two, it’s actually one of the best feelings in the world. You should try it”) to hastily throwing down a pair of psychological aces (the ”I feel like I’m losing myself” in the competition bit, along with the shtick about wanting ”to be someone for my little sisters,” who never had a role model). Is she sincere? Well, probably as sincere as anyone could be while standing in front of the Great Wall of China and hearing Tyra Banks ask the question, ”What wall do you want to climb?”

Oh, and bonus points to Jenah for keeping her lips zipped when our hostess informed her that being onTop Model represented ”the best experience of your life.” If you say so, Lady Banks!

Anyway, if I’m right, and Jenah does face off against Saleisha for the finale, I’m going to have to root for the busted blonde weave over the blunt brunette bob. For starters, Jenah’s runway stomp is infinitely fiercer than Saleisha’s catwalk (though the former’s transformation of her traditional garb into a fashion-forward minidress certainly helped). And secondly, well, cheering for Saleisha is like rooting for the homecoming queen to also take home the valedictorian crown. I just want this girl to taste defeat, if only to squash that perky spirit within that causes her to jump up and down and squeal things like ”Great Wall! Great Wall! Great Wall! Great Wall!” What’s more, this week’s episode found Saleisha uttering two of the most annoying quotes of cycle 9:

Exhibit A: ”I wanted them to see how powerful my beauty was.” Oh, did you now? That is just rich.

Exhibit B: ”I definitely gotta bring it. I gotta bring it more than bring it. I gotta bring it, bring it, then bring it.” You starting to understand now why I cannot, as a thinking person, root for Saleisha?

How about you? Which of the final three — Chantal, Jenah, or Saleisha — are you rooting for? And which do you think is most likely to take home the crown? How awesome-weird was it when Tyra imitated Saleisha’s jumping motion while poor Mr. Jay stood by and tried to look amused? And was the ”who” in Tyra’s ”Who! Will be eliminated tonight?” more muted than usual? I kinda thought it was. (Sniff.)

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Trya Banks

America's Next Top Model

Tyra Banks searches for the next great supermodel

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