Is everyone familiar with the mythological creature of TV Land known as the “Very Special Episode”? It is the television equivalent of plain, steamed cabbage, not particularly enticing or flavorful, but it’s supposed to be ‘good for you.’ So, you know, it’s not the usual fun and games: perhaps a young person confronts their eating disorder/drug addiction/consequences of reckless sex, or someone dies, or a homeless person comes to the house to show the family the true meaning of Thanksgiving. And we’re all supposed to leave enlightened, if not entertained. Well, unless South African poverty, the history of apartheid, and sexual harassment is your idea of a party, then consider this ANTM’s “Very Special Episode” (and please don’t blame me if this recap is not one huge laugh riot).
Friendship, Friendship, What a Perfect Blendship
This week’s show begins at the Rozenhof restaurant, in Cape Town, with Brittany spearing a big portion of food off of Keenyah’s plate. Keenyah, whose ever-expanding figure the judges have warned could do with a little less food, snaps, “Thanks, Brit.” Brit retorts, “Hey, you’re welcome.” [Peers at menu] Looks like tonight’s dinner special is a heaping helping of sarcastic tension, with a side of unspoken resentment.
Naima reflects on the relationships between the final four: Breenyah, everyone knows, have forged quite the bond throughout the course of the cycle; likewise, Naima feels Kahlen has been her best friend and “emotional support” throughout the competition. That emotional support must have helped Naima after the last elimination ceremony, during which the girls were asked to evaluate one another. Naima is still stinging from Keenyah’s harsh criticism, which not only singled out Naima as the girl with the least potential, but strangely implied that Naima had poopy pants (forget CoverGirl, I smell a new spokesmodel for Depends!). Keenyah claims that more people can relate to her or Brittany than Naima, but judging from the results of the past gajillion weeks of “CoverGirl of the Week” polls, it looks like more people are relating to Naima’s quiet reserve than Brittany’s drunken antics or Keenyah’s cutthroat competitiveness.
Speak of which, sweet little Kahlen has hit max tolerance level of Keenyah’s self-serving opportunism: “She doesn’t put other people ahead of her. It’s always Keenyah, Keenyah, Keenyah.” It looks like everyone’s just about had their fill of Keenyah’s selfishness, even best bud Brit, who gets into a squabble with Keenyah at the dinner table when Keenyah tells Brittany not to interrupt her as she justifies her nasty stratagems. Brittany checks her by saying, “Don’t ever get rude with me like that again because you cut people off all the time.” Brittany observes that as time passes, she and Keenyah are starting to irritate each other. Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but it’s certainly starting to irritate me.
Back at the hotel, TyraMail declares that “every step counts.” “How obvious is that?” Keenyah scoffs. Kahlen asks if it’s so obvious, then what does it mean, runway? Keenyah doesn’t answer though, too distracted by the chocolate muffin Kahlen’s munching. She swoops over to snatch a piece off Kahlen’s muffin like a greedy vulture, and in between violent chomps, mumbles that she thinks the TyraMail refers to runway. Kahlen says that despite the judges’ complaints, she still doesn’t see Keenyah watching what she eats. Oh she’s watching what she eats, all right: she’s watching it all go straight down her gullet into her growing gut. Looks like someone needs to call in the Food Police! Are those sirens I hear? Put down the fork slowly, and step away from the plate...]
The next morning, Keenyah asks if she can wear something of Brittany’s. Without hesitation, Brit says, “You can borrow whatever you want of mine.” Keenyah then demands that Brit “say it again” but with, “’cuz you’re special’ at the end of it.” Brit willingly obeys, saying, “’Cuz you’re special.” Keenyah walks off saying “Cool,” but doesn’t even say thank you. Gee-willickers, I wonder why there’s this perception of her being selfish. I do, however, get the feeling that if she’s this bad over borrowing clothes, that during sex she’s probably one of those “WHAT’S MY NAME? SAY IT, SAY IT!” type of people. Not that I would know anything about that, as I am pure as the driven snow. [WHO’S YOUR RECAPPER? SAY IT! SAY MY NAME!]
White Girls Can’t Dance
Next stop is G’mbo Urban Ethnic Clothing, where they meet Bebe and Mandela, co-founders of the politically conscious clothing line, who explain that South African history has a “rough background” which I am actually glad the show producers have not taken for granted. They bring the girls for a tour of the impoverished townships which inspire their creations. Keenyah describes the township communities as “basically what we call the ghetto in America.” That’s an understatement: the ghettos of the US look like country clubs compared to the extreme poverty of the townships, where amidst the rubbish and rubble, little metal shacks with plastic bags for roofs provide shelter for its many denizens. “This is not decent living by anyone’s standards,” their hosts point out.
Perhaps their ability to survive is due in part to having a strong sense of pride and community. Bebe and Mandela bring them all to the local Community Center, where they meet Jackie Manyapelo, coordinator of the Jazz Art Dance Theater, who tells them that today’s lesson involves “rhythm and dance.” Kahlen and Brittany are both less than thrilled. “I do not know how this is gonna go,” Brittany admits, as Kahlen buries her face in her hands. “I can’t dance,” Kahlen declares to the room and, to demonstrate, hunches over and waves her fingers in the air, like an index finger variation of Elaine Benes’s crazy thumb dance from ‘Seinfeld’ while Brittany stomps along with her instructor as best she can.
Naima, the trained dancer of the group, is clearly in her element, gracefully mimicking the movements of the teacher with total ease. She says she has always seen a connection between dance and modeling, in that they both treat the body as “a whole piece of movement.” Keenyah believes that “I’m in Africa where my people are from, so I should feel even more empowered, like I am where I’m from, so I really should bring it.” I’m not sure I subscribe to this kind of essentialist thinking, myself—I’m just saying, there’s Asian in my ancestry, but that doesn’t mean I can make rice any better than anyone else (in fact, I cannot make rice to save my life). But, my crappy cooking skills aside, even ethnic empowerment is not enough to keep Keenyah from stopping mid-lesson to moan, “My jeans are too tight.”
Everyone stops for a water break, during which they chat with the Jazz Art dancers about being in South Africa. Keenyah pulls out the race card big time, saying things like, “It’s good to come here, not that it’s more important to me than them because I’m black.” “I’m black!” the multi-racial Naima points out, offended (her father is black/Mexican/Indian, her mother is Irish/black); Keenyah conveniently ignores this, and admits that she feels good that the others are saying “Welcome home, sister” to her and not the others. I’m surprised she didn’t ask them to add, “Cuz you’re special,” to the end of that statement.
Practice ends, and the girls are told that they will now be using what they just learned to perform in a dance challenge before a live audience. The ever-humble Kahlen grumbles, “There are times where, you know, ultimate and total humiliation is just not something I want to throw myself into. I do a pretty good job of that by myself.” That’s not the only surprise, however; in dances Miss J., long legs peeking from the split in his Afrocentric skirt, who asks, “You ready to show me what you got?” On that note, the girls are dismissed to get into costume, brightly colored coveralls that make the girls look like extremely flamboyant car mechanics.
Kahlen, frustrated with this challenge before it’s even began, looks on the verge of a nervous breakdown before she gets onstage; however, once she’s out there, she does perfectly fine with her choreography. “Kahlen never thinks that she did good…but she always does,” Brittany remarks. In fact, it’s Brittany who seems struggle the most, but even she does her best to shimmy through the challenge in her own carefree way; however, “the audience didn’t like my dance [and] I don’t blame them,” Brit says. I guess the South Africans don’t dig the ‘deliciously tacky.’
Keenyah gets up and does something that looks more like a music video rump shake (“Shake Ya Body” anybody?) than a traditional African dance, and speaks yet again about how she is especially “honored” to learn the dance, “being the only black girl” there. Hello! Naima! Black on both sides (and I’m not referring to the Mos Def album)! “Not that I appreciate it more than everybody else, because they’re not black…” Hello! Naima! Still in room!
Speaking of Naima, as expected, she excels in the dance competition, conveying passion and confidence with her every move and making it all look so easy. “Being a quiet person…dancing has given me an outlet to express myself without speaking,” she says, and the message is received by the audience, loud and clear. They vote for her with their applause when Miss J. asks them who they think is the best.
As the winner, Naima will get an extra 30 frames on their next photo shoot; plus, she will pick which girl will get an extra 20 frames added to hers. Surely Naima will help her best friend Kahlen out by picking her to get the extra frames, right? For shame! Naima gets Machiavellian and instead picks Keenyah, of all people, to share the prize, leaving an already tender Kahlen looking hurt. “I have to think as a competitor,” Naima explains, “Her pictures are already great, and if she gets more frames, it’s going to give me less likely of a chance of surpassing her at panel.” Keenyah, for all her selfishness, is still loyal to Brittany when she is told she must pick which girl gets to have 10 extra frames. “Brittany, you get to tell Miss Kahlen that she gets nada,” Miss J. says, not mincing words.
Brittany hugs Kahlen, and reassuringly says, “She takes fabulous pictures, she doesn’t need any extra frames.” This is cold comfort to Kahlen, who breaks down into tears backstage. “Is this some kind of small attack on me?” she ponders, wondering if the other girls are trying to get rid of her. She hopes the rest of the competition will go by quickly because she feels it’s starting to wear her down.
Free-hee Nelson Mandela
The girls receive a mysterious TyraMail that says only “46664.” No one is sure what it means; Kahlen guesses it might be a “pizza delivery guy’s phone number,” I wonder if it is a zip code to a property that is Hell-adjacent. Well, the place they’re taken to is certainly far from Heaven: it is Robben Island, location of one of South Africa’s most (in)famous political prisons, and the place where Nelson Mandela, the single most important leader of the anti-apartheid movement, was incarcerated for nearly 20 years.
Their guide, Modise Phekouyane, gives them a tour of the island and explains how Nelson Mandela “rose from the ashes of Robben Island to become the first elected state president of [the new] democratic South Africa.” He explains the significance of 46664 to the girls’—it was Mandela’s prison number—and how this number came to symbolize the hope of black South Africans. Meanwhile, Miss “I’m the Only Black Girl” Keenyah must ask Brittany whether Nelson Mandela is alive or not, convincing me that I need to go wherever she went to school in Compton and smack her World History teacher upside the head. Even Brittany knows that—HELLO!—Nelson Mandela is still alive and kickin’, and seems a bit taken aback that Keenyah doesn’t appear to know much about him.
They stop in one of the hallways, and Modise presents the girls with the key that he says opens the door to Nelson Mandela’s cell. He offers it to the girls and asks who would like the honor of unlocking Nelson Mandela’s cell before handing the key to Naima. Keenyah looks on with envy, confessing that she wished she was the one opening it, to which Brittany comments, “She thinks just because she’s the black one that she deserves to open it.” Keenyah then adds that she doesn’t “really think Naima is black, I just don’t see that in her”—ironically, to paraphrase another great black leader, judging Naima by the color of her skin and not the content of her character. “I’m not the typical black girl,” Naima says, but being there means a lot to her too.
Keenyah cries in Nelson Mandela’s cell, but Brittany doubts that, before today, Keenyah even knew who he was, since she had to ask if he was alive or dead, “so I didn’t understand why she was getting so emotional.” In the van leaving the island, Keenyah goes on and on about how much it meant to her to be in Nelson Mandela’s cell, and Brittany is starting to feel that Keenyah’s “because I’m black” proclamations are simply “for show.”
The Forbidden Dance
“Are your feet as heavy as your luggage?” TyraMail asks. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Well, if the TyraMail author is running out of things to say in this episode, I can’t really blame the poor bugger [hugs TyraMail author in commiseration]. The girls are, apropos of nothin’, brought to an ostrich farm for a 1940s photograph for Caress body wash in which they must dance to African drums with three shirtless male models. Huh?!! Jay reminds them that Naima will get 30 extra frames, bringing the usual 70 up to 100. Kahlen is the only girl without extra frames today, which Jay tells her means that she will need to work the hardest.
They meet Johan Wilke, the photographer, then the “three hot guys” (although if you ask me, these guys look more like $10 rough trade than male models), Lee-Roy, Bertini, and Mark, that they will be working with today. While the girls are getting marcelled and glossed in hair and makeup, Bertini puts the moves on the ladies, asking if they want to go out clubbing or dinner. He is particularly aggressive (read: sleazy) with Keenyah, asking repeatedly for her number and to take a picture of her on his camera phone. She refuses him politely.
One thing Keenyah’s not refusing? The offer of food, food, and more food. “I need to go Mickey D style,” she declares, salting up a gigantic plate of greasy (but deliciously golden) french fries. In the same breath, she dares to talk about how she needs to get her body back to the condition it was in when she joined the competition, and how she feels “I pretty much am sticking to my diet” as a split screen of ‘before’ and ‘after’ shots shows just how dramatic Keenyah’s porking out truly is (it really is even worse than I’d thought). They even show her stealing a bite of meat off of someone else’s plate.
Naima, dolled up like a cute, modern day Josephine Baker, is the first girl up and she does a good job of not just dancing, but dance-posing, which is something a little bit different, and actually looks better in photos. Rather than just shaking her groove thing, which anyone with the misfortune of getting caught by a wedding photographer at a reception knows is not always the most attractive of shots, she consciously moves in a way that she knows will look like dancing in a photo, but is still a controlled pose. Jay compliments her for “giving the perfect expression” and being “confident” and “alluring.” During her extra 30 frames, Jay says that Naima goes from “ballerina” to “showgirl” which I don’t think is a compliment, considering the evil giggling behind the monitor.
Keenyah is next, and basically just shifts her hips from side to side without changing the expression on her face. Jay scolds her for this and tells her she needs to be “carefree” and “stop posing for the camera.” She tries to let go, but runs into another problem: Bertini, Mr. Sleaze, is getting a little too hot and heavy with the shoot, making inappropriate “moaning” noises, according to Keenyah, and getting awfully handsy (as evinced in shots with his hand on her thigh). Keenyah is so uncomfortable that she halts everything in the middle of her shoot to complain about Bertini’s behavior. Jay manages to convince her that the shoot is fully professional, and she should feel safe in this environment; she continues, but worries that she could eliminated due to Bertini’s actions if her pictures come out looking awkward as a result of his advances. Naima, however, thinks Keenyah should not “blame someone outside of herself for her shoot going wrong.”
“Brittany’s probably lovin’ it,” Keenyah imagines. Cut to: a gorgeous Brittany looking like a 20s era Anais Nin, gyrating her little heart out with the guys; Jay, however, warns her to be “a little more graceful” instead of just throwing her arms up in the air like she’s dancing at a frat party. Brittany finds this shoot “awkward” and is unsure whether she’s doing well or not; good thing she didn’t hear Jay sigh, “That was a whole lot of nothing.”
Kahlen is last, with not only the added pressure of being the girl with the least frames, but also the discomfort of having to pose with men (which we already know she has issues with) and the added bonus of her self-professed inability to dance. She still struggles with being sexy, but Jay thinks she needs to work on her confidence, remarking, “She can’t walk on to a set super-nervous and doubting herself.” When the girls ask her how her shoot went, she claims to have done The Robot (Electric Boogaloo is Breakin’ 2, mo’fo!)!
Black Light Zone Blow Out
As if her brush with sexual harassment wasn’t tough enough to swallow, Keenyah must have dinner with the guy who manhandled her earlier. All the girls, in fact, head to a nice restaurant to meet the guys from the day’s shoot. Keenyah and Bertini butt heads at the table when Keenyah tells him he crossed the line today; Brittany then tells Bertini she didn’t mind him at all and even allows him to kiss her hand.
“Dinner stinks,” Brittany says later, referring not to the food (which looks delish, by the way) but to the horribly awkward vibe which continues until the bitter end, when the bill is delivered. Keenyah first claims that what she ordered is not on the bill, then later reveals that she brought no money. “Who comes to dinner with no money?” Brittany bellows. There is a kerfuffle between the girls over the bill as the guys watch on, in increasing discomfort. “These poor guys are just sitting there looking at us bashing each other,” Naima says.
Regarding Keenyah, Brittany remarks to Kahlen that “I’m seeing her personality, more and more of the selfish factor, it’s driving me insane…I see fakeness right now.” No fan of conflict, a horrified Kahlen hides her face in her hand and looks like she does not want Brittany to drag her into their drunken debacle.
The fun doesn’t end at the restaurant. Brittany calls Keenyah out on her selfishness on the car ride home, and Keenyah screeches, “If you want to think that I’m selfish, you go ahead and think that I’m selfish.” Brittany manages to slur out a few more instances of Keenyah’s selfish behavior: not just coming out with no money to pay for her drinks tonight, but also her fuss over Naima opening Nelson Mandela’s cell when earlier in the day she didn’t even know if he was alive or not. Kahlen shrinks in the corner of the car, looking as if she wishes she were anywhere else but here at this moment. The whole thing escalates into a screaming match, culminating in Brittany’s tortured yowl bidding Keenyah to “Shuuuuuuut uuuuuuuup!!!”
It doesn’t even end in the car, the whole horrid mess follows them all the way home to their hotel, where the screaming doesn’t stop. Even Naima gets fed up and walks out, closing the door behind her. In the meantime, a redfaced Kahlen is alone on the terrace, crying by herself, like a child of some messed up parents just won’t stop fighting with each other. Everyone goes to bed stressed out and miserable.
What the Hell Do Judges Really Want?
Elimination is heralded by the requisite photo of Tyra, this time accompanied by Miss J., looking like a castaway from a Busby Berkeley musical scaring away an incongruous native tribesman. This whole episode has me wondering why? The regular panel is joined today by guest judges Mandela and Bebe of G’mbo. Today’s test will be all about “moving, moving, moving” Tyra says. Accompanied by live drummers, the girls will be dancing together until Tyra calls for them to stop and pose, kind of like musical chairs, Top Model style. The girls do their best for several rounds, with some stumbling and fumbling, then for the final round the judges join in (Naima even gets a booty bump from Nigel…Luuucky).
Finally, it’s eval time. Janice tells Brittany she was “holding back” and could have given “more bump and grind” while Nolé says “the personality’s just not there.” Her picture comes up and it is absolutely sublime. “This is high fashion,” Nigel declares; “Outstanding,” Janice adds. Tyra says that this week they have not only the girls’ best shots, but their worst shots too; apparently whenever the photographer asked for more “energy” Brittany “lost it,” and they show a pic of Brit with her arms straight up over her head
Keenyah gets heaped with praise for being “smart enough to step out from the pack” during the dance contest, and Nolé outdoes himself with the food analogies when he describes her as being like “a deep cup of hot chocolate, I just want to sip you down” but then says that, in person, “you like your gonna bake cookies in this outfit” referring to her matronly, belly-obscuring babydoll. When the judges are less than impressed with her photo, she is quick to defend herself by placing the blame on Bertini. The regular judges think there must be some better way for her to have handled the situation and regained control; but the guest judges think that being sexually harassed can negatively affect a photo, yet they still feel she did a good, professional job. Her worst photo reveals “tummy action again” as Janice so tactfully puts it; Tyra admits, “I got the same tummy, girl, but I gotta hold it in when I’m modeling.”
Kahlen is told she’s got no rhythm, Nolé (see what I’m saying, he must have missed lunch today or something) calls her a “saltine cracker dancer” because she was “pretty square and pretty dry.” Her dancing photo is not a judges’ favorite; Nigel thinks she looks “scared” and when Kahlen claims to have trouble being sexy, Janice tells her “Knock it off…there’s a way of just lining those boys up, messing up their hair, pulling down their g-strings and dancing and having a great time.” Basically, Janice is advising she act like old Brittany that they told to act differently. Her worst photo looks to me as if she’s trying her hardest to not touch the guys the around her, Nolé says it looks like she’s “waiting for the bus.”
Naima is last, and Nigel feels she’s a “beautiful” dancer, but was hidden and needs to jump out and make herself more visible. Tyra compares her dancing tonight to what she saw in the LA auditions, and feels Naima is “holding back” big time. Naima stammers, and tries to say she was having trouble concentrating, to which Janice replies, “You were concentrated or constipated?” Her best Caress photo gets big ups from the panel, however. “That was spicy pepper,” Nolé says approvingly. “You controlled this picture, I’m looking right at you,” Nigel says, adding that her body looks “fantastic” and this is what she needs to in person: “step out.” Her worst shot is still pretty decent; “You didn’t need 100 shots,” Tyra quips, “Someone else behind you needed 100 shots.” Could it be, oh I don’t know, the best friend you left high and dry when it came to reward-sharing time?
During deliberations, the most controversy surrounds Brittany. Nigel feels her personality is “shrinking”—um, excuse me, if that’s the case, wasn’t it you guys on the panel who bleached her personality in the washer and then set the dryer to high? “I want a bit of the old Brittany to come back,” Nigel laments. Janice attempts to defend her doppelganger by saying she has more personality than anyone in the entire country of South Africa. Now, I loves me some Brittany, but perhaps South Africans might this claim a tad bit outrageous? There is also some debate over Keenyah’s weight: Janice still finds her “pudgy” whereas Bebe and Mandela point out that “by African standards, she would be the skinniest girl.“ Tyra says that “by African-American standards, she’d be skinny too.” Tyra then proceeds to sexually harass Mandela by talking about how sexy lips look when he speaks.
Time to reconvene and hand back photos: the first goes to Keenyah, whose bold self-promotion has successfully distracted the judges from her pudge; and Kahlen, who is warned that she is “almost a complete package” except Top Models need to be sexy too. The bottom two are comprised of Naima and Brittany (neither of whom I want to see go)! Tyra gives her self-righteous blah blah about how it’s not about the pictures, but what’s inside that counts. You crazy old bat, modeling is ALL ABOUT THE PICTURES, and these girls produced the some of the very best this week.
Tyra then has the gall to tell Brit that she “walked in with so much fire but now the judges just see someone who’s slipping away.” Week after week of being told to TONE IT DOWN by the judges might be the culprit, don’t you think, TyTy? How dare they stifle Brittany’s innate fire, then penalize her for following their orders? Naima is told that the judges still don’t know who she is, and if they don’t know who she is, how can she possibly relatable to all of America? I don’t understand why the judges feel this pathological need to transform every girl into the opposite of what her natural personality dictates, especially when the public seems perfectly receptive to Naima’s reserved, decidedly un-dramatic demeanor, enough to vote for her again and again each week.
Ultimately, Tyra hands the picture back to Naima, and Brittany, holds back her devastation for long enough to hug her friends goodbye and thank the judges. Back in the suite, Brittany says she can’t believe it’s all over, and says she’ll miss the costumes, the photo shoots, but most of all, Keenyah. “We called each other sisters, we’re so much alike,” Brit recalls, smiling briefly through her tears. Mostly, she is proud of herself just for making it as far as she did, “it’s just hard when you’re so close and yet so far.” I hope that this experience hasn’t smothered the big, bold, bombastic personality we all know and love, and that good fortune is close ahead in her future. Cuz she’s very special indeed.
Email me at snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com ‘cuz I’m special (special), so special (special), I gotta have some of your attention, give it to me!