TV REVIEW | 'SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S SWIMSUIT MODEL SEARCH'
The Audience's Vote Counts on Swimsuit Reality Show
By VIRGINIA HEFFERNAN
Published: January 5, 2005
In her sad, mild voice, Cheryl Tiegs greets the contestants on "Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Model Search" tonight on NBC, setting the tone for a sad, mild hour.
This is one of those reality shows in which viewers - known in the press materials as "America" - vote on the winner. (The prize is a layout in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and a contract with Next, a modeling agency.) With the notable exception of "American Idol," shows that use this system, which has a reputation for being rigged, often hurt their credibility.
Shows should stick with the draconian-panel-of-experts format, especially when it comes to beauty. America, after all, might just vote for whoever catches its untrained eye. It's much better for the authority and drama of a show to leave it to fashion photographers and grandes dames like Tyra Banks to hand down judgments on the modelly arts. Otherwise, we might just think being a model has something to do with being pretty, which you can tell at a glance, and which you don't need a reality show to determine.
Tonight we get the requisite lesson about how grueling modeling is. We hear a discussion among the contestants about the price of breast implants. We see girls not eating. We witness heartfelt confessionals in which girls talk about how much they want to win. (Krisi, 23: "Anybody who knows me, they know how bad I want it. How bad I've worked for it in my life. Please forgive me. Don't laugh at me.")
And we ogle girls, girls, girls. The contestants' first task is to walk a long catwalk in bikinis, while a panel of people from the modeling business - including an especially vulgar lecher named Joel Wilkenfeld, who runs Next - mutter about their strengths and weaknesses. ("Miles of legs" is a typical comment, and "She has love handles.")
Finally, the girls get up in front of the judges and several are cut. (The series has only six episodes, so the cuts are dramatic.) On tonight's episode, it's fair to say that - no matter what you think about reality television, modeling, bikinis, expertise, exhibitionism, vulgarity or even girls - you will not care in the least about who gets cut and who does not.
'Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Model Search'
NBC, tonight at 8, Eastern and Pacific times; 7, Central time
Gavin Polone, Patty Ivins, Julie Pizzi, Terry McDonell and Roy S. Johnson, executive producers; Jessica Borsiczky, producer; Jonathan K. Frank, co-producer; Roshumba Williams, Joel Wilkenfeld and Jule Campbell, judges. Produced by Pariah, PB&J Television and Sports Illustrated.
Thoughts? I haven't seen the show, but it sounds like it lacks the human and outré fashion elements that make Top Model so much fun.