When it comes to reality competition shows, I basically stick to cooking series and Syfy’s Face Off, as I love both food and monsters. The movie makeup challenge is entering Season 7, and one of the reasons it continues to attract viewers is because it’s a series based on imagination and the creation of art, neither of which can possibly be done to death. Face Off definitely has its recognizable tics, such as at least two people per episode saying, “I could go home tonight!” and the annoyingly drawn-out pre-commercial reveal teases, but there’s something exciting and hypnotic about watching characters come into being through makeup artists. For better or worse, Season 7 kicks things off in an unpredictable way by adding a new judge and some unneeded gimmicks to ramp up the pressure on the 16 contestants vying for the top prize.
Host McKenzie Westmore alerts everyone almost immediately to the day’s biggest twist: nobody is even technically a Face Off contestant yet, and the upcoming challenge is their Final Audition. Also, there’s going to be a double elimination. (Cue that one Face Off instrumental that really gets the audience pumped.) Double eliminations aren’t the most original spin, but it certainly puts everyone on their toes from the ground running. As one girl says, she quit her job to fly out for the taping, so not even making it to the show proper would be particularly devastating. I don’t quite understand why the Final Audition part even made it past the concept stage, as these people are all clearly on television while doing this, but whatever gives these artists more to say during their talking-head spots, I guess.
The contestants are, to be expected, an eclectic bunch. There’s no point in rattling off every single person’s name and past work here, but suffice to say all the bases are covered. One of the older contestants does amateur prosthetics with his son, one guy is an Emmy-winning artist with a lengthy Hollywood resume, and one is a former cake decorator who made a recent career change. One girl has blue hair and blue eyebrows, while one guy has a patterned beard and wears a brain slug-ish hat. But talent can only be judged by execution, right?
This is a Life or Death challenge, with half of the contestants choosing either a “life” or “death” motif, which comes with its own particular piece to use in their makeup, such as a scar prosthetic or a piece of fur. At one point in the competition, McKenzie surprises the group with a mid-challenge twist, which is when they bring out A Nightmare on Elm Street icon Robert Englund, who offers the group some advice on creating a memorable character.
The other big change in the show is Academy Award-winning makeup artist Lois Burwell (Braveheart) joining Neville Page and Glenn Hetrick at the judge’s table. While the beloved Ve Neill was present for the reveal and judgments, she will be absent for most of Season 7, as it was recorded during her time spent working on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 and its sequel. (She’ll be on three episodes, including this one.) While Burwell isn’t given much to do beyond offer a few generic opinions, she’s a legend in the biz and will hopefully offer a unique perspective on the ghoulish and angelic creations this season’s contestants will bring to the stage.
There are some great designs in this episode and it’s obvious some of these challengers are going to go far in life. Some contestants, on the other hand, should be hiding their own faces with makeup. As Face Off premieres go, this was…(commercial break)…about as good as it gets.
Face Off premieres tonight, July 22, and will air every Tuesday night on Syfy at 9 p.m. ET.