Manmeat: It's What's For Dinner

Could America's next top model be a nude dude posing with a roll of toilet paper?

Yeah, fame is a capricious mistress. But the quasi-fame achieved through a reality show stint is an especially fickle bitch. For instance, it was recently reported that Shandi Sullivan, the favorite to win on the last season of America's Next Top Model, has returned to her former gig as a checkout girl at Walgreens. Shandi, the swanlike minx who frolicked with an anonymous Italian and rendered the Jacuzzi an international petri dish, is probably pricing a package of Durex Extra Thins as you read this!

One would think such a sobering tale would cool the viewing public's fervent interest in America's Next Top Model, but the opposite is true. The show, hosted and produced by supermodel Tyra "Light Bulb Head" Banks, is hotter than ever.

Nobel laureates in chemistry, past and present, gather for their annual colloquium
James Sorenson/BRAVO
Nobel laureates in chemistry, past and present, gather for their annual colloquium

The contestants this season are as diverse as ever (though none approach Elyse from season one in terms of dreaminess. A leggy brainiac med student engaged to one of the Shins? Swoon!) Anyway, this season spotlights such hopefuls as earth mama Yaya, impish Nicole, flaxen-haired and legally blind Amanda, gawky teen Norelle, and bootylectable Toccara, who aspires to be a large-size supermodel. (Toccara was predictably eliminated--or should we say, downsized--at the conclusion of last week's episode.)

The girls compete in modeling challenges that are regarded with utter seriousness by Banks, along with a panel of judges who batter the girls with criticism. (And it's not like the judges are even semi-attractive: Celebrity hairstylist Danilo has a Salvador Dalí mustache and Janice Dickinson looks like a Spitting Image puppet these days. Still, it's fun watching them reduce the models to blubbering fools.) At the end of each episode, during a hilariously solemn ceremony, Tyra gravely eliminates the girl who seems least likely to sell a million copies of French Bazaar. I've noticed that Tyra even adopts a smug aristocratic accent during elimination ceremonies, as if her sense of superiority has spread to her larynx.

Perhaps fearing that the format has grown stale in its third season, the producers have managed to incorporate some Fear Factor-style wankery into the modeling challenges. On a recent episode, each girl had to pose for a jewelry ad with a tarantula on her face. Yeah, we got funny shots of wincing arachnophobes, but the stunt bore little connection to the reality of modeling. ("It's a great shot of the spider," one judge sniped upon seeing Toccara's photo.)

In an equally implausible scenario, the contestants are drilled in red carpet etiquette. I think Shandi Sullivan might be able to tell these girls just how many red carpet events they can anticipate attending as ANTM alumnae. The show is consistently entertaining, but takes itself so seriously that one can't help but gag at all the gravitas. Someone ought to project an educational film about humility onto Tyra Banks's boundless forehead.

 

One can argue that cheese is cheese. But if America's Next Top Model is a finely veined wedge of artisanal bleu, Manhunt is a Kraft Single. Ostensibly intended as a masculine reply to ANTM, this show features male hopefuls sucking in their cheeks and enduring endless product shoots in their quest to attain "fame" as male models. (Regrettably, host Carmen Electra oversees the elimination ceremonies with none of the improvisational brilliance she brought to Singled Out.) The chronically shirtless contestants participate gamely and even shed a few tears under duress. Manhunt's fatal dramatic flaw is that nobody seems to actually care if they win or not.

The targets of the titular hunt are mostly clean-cut fellows with rippled, reflective abs. There's Rob W., a lean, high-fashion type; Paolo, a preening man diva who pops diuretics to lose weight and whose name, it's worth repeating, is Paolo; Kevin O., a stocking-capped slacker; and Hunter D., who has got a fantastic butt--in his chin. As an added twist, there's also Matt, the so-called "embedded model," who uses his secret-agent status to secretly report on the other guys' progress. Hey, remember that show called The Mole? It sure was unique. I wonder what happened to that silver fox Anderson Cooper?

Anyone can see that Bravo conceived Manhunt as a winking exercise in high camp that's as much about the modeling industry as One Tree Hill is about foliage. I mean, it's called Manhunt; the intent is obviously voyeuristic. Curiously, while ANTM successfully courts female viewers with self-esteem psychobabble and cosmetics tips, Manhunt ain't exactly aimed toward the now-iconic Straight Guy. Due to this implied queer gaze, there's a sexual undercurrent to Manhunt that de-emphasizes the competitive aspect. We're not supposed to care who wins, just who looks the best posing nude with a roll of toilet paper. (By the way, it's Rob W.)

I suppose seeing men objectified on television is a pleasant novelty in the vein of The Bachelorette. But Manhunt could leave even the most attention-deficient viewer craving a morsel of substance. The only real meat here is the boys themselves.

 
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