The Austin Chronicle

Face Off Recap: Nekkid Time

By Richard Whittaker, January 30, 2012, 8:00am, Picture in Picture

Three weeks in to season two of SyFy's Face Off, and we have so many questions. Can Austin's own Matt Valentine win two episodes in a row? Will this week's challenge be solo or a team effort? Will it stress prosthetic or make-up skills? And will we get mean Sue or gushy Sue?

Well, one of those questions is answered straight off in the pre-credit sequence. Contestant Sue has been bizarrely, nay schizophrenically edited in the first two episodes, zooming from mean-spirited to positively perky. This week she OMG swoons that guest judge Asher Roth is "awesome." (Please note, I'm not wholly sure what an Asher Roth is, and I'm OK with this. I think he's the rapper that it's OK for accountancy seniors to like. Is that him?)

But lo, what's this pre-show warning? "This program contains material that may be deemed inappropriate for some viewers" Wait, what? Now this just got interesting.

Yup, it's time to break out the body paint, aka the nekkid episode. But first, house intrigue!

Episode one winner Brea, Sue and Matt are commenting on "The Jerry Curse." Now, as previously noted, I've tried to be generous about Jerry, presuming that he has been edited to be mean, that somewhere on a cutting room floor there are hours and hours of him petting kittens. After all, apart from getting critiqued by the judges (acid Oscar winner Ve Neil, animatronic Patrick Tatopoulos and the increasingly grumpy Glenn Hetrick) the cast also faces the cruel interpretations of SyFy's editing team. However, whatever the reality of Jerry the man versus Jerry the character, he still gave the editors some pretty juicy material to work with (sitting on his immunized keister through episode one's Wizard of Oz challenge and then convincing his own team to change its concepts, then throwing Nix under the bus in episode two's infamous turdle debacle.) It does seem that Jerry is not the easiest person to work with (as they put it, he drains other people's creativity.)

Of course, after this verbal throw down it's inevitable that at least one of them would be teamed up with Jerry in the foundation challenge. And so it's Tara that becomes his partner in a bout of tag-team facial makeup. It's like a prosthetics version of HOLY SHIT HEATHER JUST SWORE. Seriously, did not expect that from Miss Goody-Goody.

Anyway, where we? Yes, sorry, the foundation challenge. It's basically a makeup version of the Exquisite Corpse: Contestants are split into teams of three and have to work on the same model, but they don't get to tell each other what the concept is. It's supposed to test whether they can work as a group on a project, as much as it tests their individual skills. However, it may actually be a Peter Venkman-esque test of psychic skills.

At least they get to be judged by Jennifer Aspinall, who was make-up boss on Saturday Night Live and Mad TV (although it seems a little mean of host McKenzie Westmore to mention Mad.) Hopefully she spent some time on the set, because the blink-and-you'll miss-it televised visit sees Beki winning whirlwind immunity for taking the lead on her team's lizard alien.

And now the spotlight challenge. Our hostess introduces Roth by running through his resume (cut to Sue, Athena and Brea about to pass out from the "20 million views on YouTube" comment) before he gets to plug his new album Is this Too Orange?. "I found out along the way that orange is the color of the creative chakra," he burbles, before laying out the challenge: A body-painting exercise, with two models against the large background: One has to fade into the scene, and the other has to stand out. And here's the real trick. The tableau will be photographed, as if it's the cover for Roth's new full length (due this March!)

Confused yet? Athena isn't. Since body painting is her metier, she should cruise this. But it's going to be one of the most interesting challenges of the year. Last season's body painting challenge pretty much involved having a single model match a scenery shot, which tested the artist's eye and painting skills more than their conceptual vision. This requires a strong underlying idea – and, seriously, since all the models are nude, SyFy's genital blur button is getting a real pounding.

The models are less important than the background. Tara and Jerry get first dibs and go for a canvas of a brick wall with some simple shadows. Rayce and Beki go for what appears to be Ed Gein's barn: Sue and Heather are on a rollerskating elephant: Athena and RJ grab a poolside view: Ian and Miranda go for a park hedge scene but get caught in development hell (bad news, since this is a one-day project): And no-one wants the wall of shoes, So, since Brea won week one and Matt won week two, they're teamed together and that's what they're left with. Huh.

When Matt opts to fade his model into the shoe background, everyone thinks that he has lost his mind. Rayce (whose more abstract "spirits in an attic" concept with Beki avoids need for exact line and color matches) notes that he will have to paint every single sneaker. Repeat, ad nauseam.

But what's the concept? Taking her cue from the sneakers, Brea comes up with a hoops theme (seems apropos for a rap album), and then Matt gets to utter the immortal phrase "let's make a basketball of her buttocks." (Or, as I have dubbed it, a buttsketball. Now, I've talked to Matt's camp since the episode aired, and he came up with the much smarter "assketball.")

But this is a bold step. First Neil wanders through and say she's a bit worried (after all, Matt has to recreate every single shoe on the rack on his model's body) but that's nothing compared to one of their models passing out, mid-paint job. Little alarming that Brea seemed more bothered about her makeup job getting wrecked by the paramedics than the model himself, but again let's presume that's all in the editing. Mind you, the sympathy algorithm reverses quickly. Her only option is to get a new model, recreate what she had done earlier, and then have him Photoshopped onto the photo of Matt's shoe-rack-woman. All in one day.

What's worse is that they have to create something that's truly camera-ready. As RJ notes, it all depends on the angle between the photographer and the model: Mismatching sharp edges will be more obvious, and that will highlight any problems with the paint.

But did Matt and Brea secretly draw the long straw? Everyone's thinking is that anyone trying to recreate the Footlocker will have to draw shoe after shoe after shoe. In fact, Matt obeys the first rule of camouflage: Broken lines. He creates a sneaker stencil and leaves his model stood straight up, meaning he's breaking up all his straight lines naturally. Plus, on the photo the eye is drawn to Brea's bright orange baller and the, er, buttsketball, both of which defy lines.

Matt's seeming madness yet again disguises genius, as he walks away with another win. So he's going two out of three on spotlight challenges, and next week should be another strong showing when he has to create a new horror villain. Then again, will it be playing too much into his field?

Just as their desperation play is paying off, Jerry finds himself back down in the bottom of the pack again. His to-camera critiques Tara's paint job come across as a little too mean, but they're right. When the photos come back, her paint job is far too thin, and her figure barely fades at all. Hetrick is particularly mean, calling it not ready for a county fair face painting booth (Jeez, Glenn, when did this become Chopped?) No surprise that they're in the bottom two with Miranda and Ian's weird vegetable stalker/Roxy Music hybrid.

And, at the same time, exit Miranda. That said, Tara was very lucky herself: Kind of surprising, since her first two costumes (the solo Scarecrow from episode one and her fishy collaboration with Matt last week) were so good) but if an interior decorator left that many streaks you'd want your wall repainting (wow. Little too easy to go all Hetrick there. Sorry, Tara.) But this whole episode was about cracking comfort zones, and it started to show the lines between the top talents in their fields and the real generalists.

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