Before I came up with the idea for this newsletter, I was toying with the idea of starting one solely devoted to recapping episodes of America’s Next Top Model. I had polled Instagram and Twitter to see if anyone would actually subscribe to such a publication, and, to my surprise, I got over a hundred yeses on both platforms. Right when I was about to actually do it, news broke that Drag Race royalty Shea Couleé had launched their America’s Next Top Model podcast, So You Wanna Be On Top?—which you need to listen to immediately because, like its host, it’s EVERYTHING. Anyway, since Shea is cooler, smarter, and just generally better at everything than me, I tossed my previous newsletter idea aside, and opted to keep my live ANTM commentary relegated to my mildly miffed partner and roommates.
But once I started writing this newsletter, and realized that I had committed to writing a post each week, and remembered that I don’t actually have any hobbies or the lifestyle (retired club kid here, hello) which could warrant enough material for weekly posts, it dawned on me that I had the perfect excuse to occasionally recap episodes from the series that I rewatch from start-to-finish at least once every two years.
So, without further ado, let’s start from the very beginning.
Of course, this show is teeming with iconic moments—my ice-breaker in any social setting is re-enacting Jade’s improvised Covergirl commercial from Cycle 6—but since this is my first recap, I thought it’d be best if we started from the beginning. In my opinion, it’s just fun to watch the show progress to the—let’s go with memorable—series we’ve come to know today. Here are some examples of that evolution, from Cycle 1:
- The audition process is relatively tame compared to the absolutely bananas moments that arise later on: it’s just Tyra and some of the producers of the show—the Jays don’t arrive until later—sitting at a craft services table asking the girls why they want to be models. One girl is like, “I want to also pursue medicine,” and the judges are like, “HOW DARE U.” We are not graced with glorious moments such as this, yet.
- The first judging panel is in, like, one of the conference rooms at a Marriot Courtyard but they just throw a bunch of purple curtains around in an effort to make it look like their budget for the first cycle wasn’t fourteen dollars. The judges, which include former supermodels Janice Dickinson (we’ll stick a pin in her, but fret not, we will be returning to Ms. Dickinson) and Kimora Lee Simmons, basically sit on top of each other, so crammed are they.
- Even though they fly the Cycle 1 girls to Paris, which is where I suspect eighty percent of their modest budget went, they still squeeze the girls into what looks like a hostel instead of the lavish penthouse suites we see in later cycles.
- They’re just taken to their go-sees?????????????????????? They get picked up and dropped off everywhere! Their legs aren’t even bashed in with a sledgehammer à la Kathy Bates in Misery and then given forty minutes to visit six designers in a city they’ve never been to using only a sundial and an outdated map yet! BOO HISS.
In Episode 1, we more or less establish the groundwork of the show: ten or so girls (the number fluctuates as the cycles go) compete to become America’s Next Top Model, which is determined by various challenges and photoshoots. At the end of each episode, they are individually evaluated by a panel of judges, and week by week, one model gets sent home until only one remains.
Besides a select few, I don’t remember many of the girls from Cycle 1. But let’s celebrate the ones that have gone on to become gifts that keep on giving. During the selection process of who gets to go to New York City to compete, we meet Ebony, whose reaction to being selected has been turned into a gif still widely used today.
We also meet our winner, Adrianne, who has the energy of an eight-month-old puppy after slamming back two Red Bulls. My energy level is…the opposite, but I’m sure we would get along because I’m fairly certain we both have smoking a cigarette in the bathroom of an IHOP once in common.
And then we meet Shannon, one of three devout Christians who moves into the model penthouse, and famously refuses to pose in lingerie but is OK with bikinis???????? She also returns in the all-stars cycle, which we WILL be REVISITING because there is a DIATRIBE to be DEPLOYED about how ALLISON HARVARD WAS ROBBED NOT ONCE, BUT TWICE. Like Laura Dern tells Meryl Streep in season two of Big Little Lies, WE ARE WROUGHT, MARY LOUISE.
After eight models have been selected—which later becomes ten after Tyra surprises the girls with two additions because it’s Tyra—they fly off to NYC and are welcomed into their penthouse, which is the top floor of a swanky midtown hotel. Their penthouse is divided into different sections inspired by fashion hotspots around the world like London, Tokyo, and Milan. No sooner have the girls arrived that Robin, Kesse, and Shannon, our three fervent Christians, decide to immediately get in some light reading.
After Tyra surprises the girls with two additions, one of whom is immediately eliminated at the end of the episode, Adrianne and said eliminated newbie set up camp in the middle of a corridor to smoke cigarettes.
Robin, one of the Christian trio, is like, “Can u not?” And I’m like, “CAN YOU PLEASE FOREVER.” This is the shit I live for. Let me tell you something: the editing of this show deserves a retroactive Emmy for every cycle. I would commission a watercolor painting of literally any frame of a model smoking on ANTM. It is genius; it’s always a hilarious pan and abrupt close-up. Inject them into my veins.
Later, a personal trainer comes by and weighs everyone (ugh), followed by a lady and her entourage of waxers who give each girl a bikini wax.
Then it’s time for the photoshoot. (We have not yet introduced the challenges that precede each photoshoot, which are mainly general clownery meant to entertain the viewer and less about honing modeling skills. See: swinging pendulums.) The girls receive their first Tyra Mail (which is received sans fanfare because I’m pretty sure it hasn’t been officially dubbed “Tyra Mail” yet), which tells them to be up at six a.m. to do a shoot for J. Lo’s swimwear line.
After Tyra chastises some of the girls for running late the next morning, the girls prepare for their first photoshoot, which is being shot on a rooftop in NYC in the middle of winter.
It’s, like, eight degrees, without wind chill factored in. The photographer, Douglas Bizarro, and his partner are like, “Yeah, this is totally normal.” Is it, Doug??????? They explain to the models that swimwear is shot the season before, which makes sense, but, as someone who interned for a fashion magazine or two as a baby writer, any swimwear shoots that I was aware of were, indeed, shot the season before........................in Los Angeles. Or a temperature-controlled studio. Keep in mind that this photoshoot is dipping a toe in the nutty waters of photoshoots to come where risking hypothermia is child’s play compared to the numerous times a model has to be hospitalized. Danielle from Cycle 6 is currently taking a puff of a cigarette and is like, “Ha, wake me up when you’re loaded into an ambulance on the streets of Phuket!”
During dinner later that night, Elyse (pictured above) was dragged for not believing in God!!!!! Robin was not having it. Elyse was like, “Just because I don’t believe in God doesn’t mean I don’t have ethics or morals,” and Robin reassures, albeit not convincingly, that she still respects her. The whole time this is going down I’m like, “They can afford a fancy lobster dinner from some A-list New York restaurant for ten girls but can’t get the judges a longer table so they’re not stacked like furniture in a U-Haul???”
During panel, Janice starts tearing girls apart from the get-go. She’s like “WHY ARE YOUR FINGERS HOOKED TO THE BOTTOM OF YOUR BIKINI, FLOP?????” and Tyra is insulted because she did the same thing in her iconic Sports Illustrated cover. Shade! Never a dull moment with Ms. Dickinson. And it is never long before she says something problematic, in this case a fatphobic comment about Robin, who is larger than the other girls and thus shouldn’t qualify for the title of America’s Next Top Model. Thankfully, Tyra comes to Robin’s defense, arguing that the modeling industry should shy away from paradigms of beauty and then a judge and four of the producers pass away.
Elimination is low in drama—no Tiffany-like moments yet—and one of the girls is sent home. All in all, not the most memorable episode, but it is the first of 315 episodes that deliver us the moments we’ve been referencing for what feels like time immemorial.
Because there are way too many good episodes to choose from, I’m going to need a little help picking which one I should recap next.
Help your boy out and sound off in the comments below!
Cover art by: James Jeffers
Editorial assistant: Jesse Adele