No more ink: Season 14 of Ink Master is a wrap. After being revamped for its new home on Paramount+, the tattoo competition show made its return to our television sets this fall with a cast of former contestants looking for redemption.
With a new slate of judges and more intense competition than ever before, Season 14 was different from any past season of Ink Master. Here’s the million dollar question: with all the changes, is Paramount+’s Ink Master better or worse than the original show that aired on Spike TV?
I’m still on the fence as far as my feelings on the new version of the show. There were many things I liked, but there were also some things I wasn’t a huge fan of. Let’s discuss!
Spoilers ahead for the now completed season of Ink Master, available exclusively on Paramount+.
Better: Bob And Angel Got Their Second Chance
Prior to Season 14, Ink Master finalists used to return home for several weeks to complete a “Master Canvas,” usually a back piece. However, Season 13’s finale never happened due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and finalists Bob Jones and Angel Rose never got their chance to go head to head.
To remedy the issue, Bob and Angel were given spots on the Season 14 cast. While the rest of the cast was made up of former contestants looking for redemption, Bob and Angel made history as the first competitors to return to the show never having won or lost the title of Ink Master.
Not Better: The Flash Challenges Were Reused
One of my favorite parts of early seasons of Ink Master was the flash challenges, which usually revolved around the contestants flexing their artistic ability with media other than ink and needles.
For this redemption-themed season, flash challenges were reused from old seasons. It took a lot of the fun out of the competition for me—sure, it’s wild to see people make art out of gunpowder, but it was a hell of a lot wilder when I saw it the first time about six seasons ago.
It also gave some competitors a leg up on others. It’s a lot easier to complete an unconventional materials challenge if you’ve already completed the challenge once before. I think the intention was to up the level of the art being created in the flash challenges, but I was personally bored by the lack of creativity.
Better: The Elimination Challenges Always Had A Twist
The flash challenges were boring, but the elimination challenges were anything but. Each elimination challenge in Season 14 of Ink Master had some kind of twist—whether the artists had to combine styles, finish someone else’s work, or tattoo a difficult part of the body, at least one curveball was thrown at the competitors in every elimination challenge.
My personal favorite example of this was the challenge where everyone had to tattoo pinup animal tattoos. The results were some of the coolest tattoos I’ve ever seen, and that’s because the crazy twists and turns in the challenges kept the artists on their toes creatively.
Not Better: Dave Navarro Was Only There Via TV
All of the original Ink Master judges are gone, replaced by veteran tattooers Ryan Ashley, Ami James, and Nikko Hurtado. While I don’t have beef with the new judges, I definitely miss the energy of former Ink Master host Dave Navarro, who now only shows up via TV in what seems to be pre-recorded segments.
The new host is alright—Joel Madden, tattoo aficionado and lead singer of Good Charlotte, has an unbiased hand when it comes to judging and hosting. But it’s hard to say goodbye to Navarro, who seems to be phasing out his participation in the show.
Madden and Navarro somewhat shared hosting duties throughout the season, with a TV dropping into the room whenever Navarro had a special twist to give the contestants, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Joel Madden has a solo gig for Season 15.
Better: The Tattoos Are Better
The proof is in the ink: these tattooers are just better, and as a result the tattoos they created are some of the best in Ink Master history.
I was especially impressed by Bob’s robot foo dog—from the popping colors to the clean lines, this tattoo is near perfect.
Basically, no one was safe in this competition. Even artists who created great tattoos went home because the competition was just that tight.
Not Better: Bringing Old Ink Masters Into The Competition Was Kind Of Unfair
Mid-way through the season, Dave Navarro dropped a bomb on the contestants: Four old Ink Masters would be returning, and all the contestants would have to face off against them in order to stay safe from elimination.
But (in Dave’s words) “that’s not all—” the returning masters were then given the opportunity to enter the competition and compete again for the title.
All four masters—Steve Tefft, Tony Medellin, Anthony Michaels, and DJ Tambe—opted to stay. In my opinion, that was a little unfair to the contestants who had already fought to make it to that point in the competition—but we’ll come back to that later.
Better: Finalists Chosen By Blind Judging
For the first time, the judges selected the finalists blindly. I loved it—it eliminated all bias from the judges’ decisions, and it felt like the first time the playing field was truly even.
Ink Master should definitely continue this tradition in the future. Personally, I don’t think Gian or Creepy Jason would have gotten near the finale if the judges had known which tattoos were theirs, and that’s what makes it fun! I want the winner to be the one who can truly make the most badass tattoos, not the one the judges secretly favor.
Not Better: The Anticlimactic Decision
When it finally came time to decide the winner, the judges had narrowed it down to four finalists: Bob, DJ, Gian, and Creepy Jason. In a twist, the two most recently eliminated artists (Angel and Anthony) were brought back as a jury of peers to put one person as a finalist.
Angel and Anthony picked DJ, who had drawn a psychedelic back piece in a combination of tattoo styles. After the judges determined that DJ and Gian were the final two, their decision was split—two votes for Gian, and two for DJ. So the choice flipped back to the jury of peers—who had just (about five minutes prior) stated they preferred DJ’s piece.
So, DJ won. Wooooo. A very well-deserved victory, but probably the most anticlimactic finale I’ve ever seen.
Better: No More Live Finale
The finale was boring. It was. But I still far preferred it to the hour-plus long live finale that used to cap off seasons of Ink Master before the revamp.
Do I think DJ deserved a little more pomp and circumstance? Yes. Do I want Season 15 to go back to the live finale format? Absolutely not. The old finales were always super drawn out, with only about five minutes of actual judging. Hopefully in the future, the producers can find a happy medium between the two finales.
She/her. Lover of female-led comedies, Saturday Night Live, and THAT scene in Fleabag. Will probably get up halfway through the movie to add more butter to the popcorn.
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