America’s Next Top Model holds the dubious distinction of being one of the very few reality shows that I have seen every episode of (at least in terms of the cycles that have been aired so far in the UK, and not counting recap episodes because nobody cares about those). And since the last cycle I watched was the 20th, this seems as good a time as any to put my considerable knowledge and intellect (/my ability to scan the contestant lists on Wikipedia and enter all the ones I liked on a spreadsheet) and count down the 50 greatest contestants ever to have smized their way across a catwalk.
They will not be ranked by ability, attractiveness, go-see scores or smizification (pretty sure that’s a thing), but instead using a complex algorithm that only I will understand, which nevertheless still makes infinitely more sense than the numeric scoring system the actual show has been using since cycle 19. Basically, they have all been ranked according to how fondly I remember them, so there will probably be some degree of recency bias – although I will reveal now that there are only two contestants in the top 10 who didn’t make their debut in the first 10 seasons – but I am confident that every single hamster included here deserves their spot on this list. So without further ado, let’s start counting down…
50. Marjorie Conrad (Cycle 11, 4th place)
Long before this show decided to give each cycle official themes like “The British Invasion”, “College Edition”, “Boys Vs Girls” and “Race Wars” (no seriously, Survivor actually did that one), cycle 11 of ANTM had the unofficial theme of “emotionally incontinent European girls who irritate everybody else in the house” thanks to the presence of angry tattooed Ukrainian Elina and anxious French pixie Marjorie. Both of them were magical in their own special way, but Elina was kind of pretentious and Marjorie was a big messy bag of nerves, so naturally I gravitated more towards Marjorie in my sympathies and that is why she made this list and Elina didn’t. (Spoiler?) Marjorie’s time on the show was characterised chiefly by being her own worst enemy, as her insecurity and predisposition to panicking thwarted her repeatedly (particularly when she had to do go-sees in Amsterdam), but I liked her for her uncanny ability to make the best of the increasingly ridiculous assignments she was given, including “sexy Hunchback of Notre Dame” and “fierce woman trying to pee without taking her dress off”:
That, and the fact that whenever she won a mini-challenge she always picked Analeigh to share it with. I hope that means Analeigh’s inviting her to premieres now she’s a moderately successful actress. I also hope that, when attending these premieres, Marjorie wears practical outfits that can easily be removed in the event of a urination emergency.
49. Brittani Kline (Cycle 16, winner)
I gather that there are many internet circles in which Brittani is an extremely unpopular winner so this might prove to be a controversial choice, but in the grand tradition of reality TV, I didn’t come here to make friends. I loved Brittani for the fact that she was full of UTR promise in the early episodes, constantly ranking in the top spots when Tyra was doing her callouts and emerging as a real contender – and then the Alexandria meltdown happened. All of the girls had been annoyed by Alexandria’s attitude, but it was Brittani who exploded and screamed at her backstage – loud enough to be overheard by Nigel, who promptly got all Nigel about it and called her out at panel, prompting Brittani to have a panic attack and almost get eliminated there and then (with Tyra doing one of her customary “well, I wanted to eliminate you but I got outvoted” sigh-speeches). The best part of this was that it gave two contestants on the cycle a much richer journey – not only did it give Brittani the nadir from which she was able to rise again, crafting a stellar redemption arc after meekly apologising to Alexandria, but it also humanised Alexandria to suddenly have a real, tangible nemesis who genuinely wanted her gone rather than just a group of girls grumbling about how annoying she was. And it worked: Brittani won the cycle and Alexandria got invited back for All-Stars, and they both made it onto this countdown. I’d call that a result, wouldn’t you?
48. Renee Bhagwandeen (Cycle 20, 5th place)
As a general rule, it’s helpful for all reality shows to have an audience surrogate: that one contestant (or in much rarer cases, presenter/judge) who sees everything the same way we do, is irritated by the same people who annoy us, who says those things that we’ll never get the chance to say in person. I suspect that the producers of cycle 20 very much intended for Cory to fill that role, since he got the lion’s share of the confessionals that year – and to be fair, he was exactly the sort of articulate, gossipy, drama-loving character a show like this was crying out for as a narrator. However, I found that the contestant whose reactions most commonly echoed mine was rarely Cory. More often than not, it was Renee.
Even by America’s Next Top Model standards, cycle 20 was full of preening narcissists with limited self-awareness, and the one thing that made their navel-gazing tolerable was knowing that Renee would be sitting there in the background rolling her eyes, ready to demolish them as soon as she got some confessional time. It was particularly delicious to see how much she loathed obvious frontrunner Jourdan for the first three-quarters of the series (until they eventually bonded over a shared enemy), savouring the schadenfreude that accompanied every of Jourdan’s slip-ups.
I would dearly love to rank Renee higher than this, and had she competed on any of the previous 19 cycles, I probably would have done. Sadly, however, she took part in the first mixed-gender series, and that proved to be her undoing when she got romantically entangled with snivelling, sex-obsessed Marvin. This was where Renee and I parted ways: where we had once seen eye-to-eye on almost everything, suddenly I was at a complete loss as to what on earth she saw in this charmless bozo. And since reality TV loves a showmance, The Renee And Marvin Schmoopy Love Hour threatened to swallow the show entirely – if they weren’t making googly eyes at each other, we were watching Cory and Jourdan tease them about it. So I’m sorry, Renee – your snark was potentially top 10 material, but your taste in men can take you no higher than number 48.
47. Victoria Marshman (Cycle 9, 11th place)
Sometimes the greatest contribution a contestant makes to the show doesn’t even make the final cut, but thanks to the internet it generally surfaces sooner or later. Cycle 9’s Victoria didn’t get a particularly flattering edit: the producers mostly focused on her ‘boasting’ how she was a history student at Yale (which she later claimed was a thing she said once, after basically being cornered into it, and then they just played that same quote over and over again), and the only other screentime she got was devoted to Twiggy’s essentially groundless disliking for her. (Personally this only made me like Victoria more, because Twiggy is probably the worst non-Kelly-Cutrone judge this show ever had.) However, Victoria secured her ANTM immortality after her elimination when she decided to remove her shoes because her feet were hurting, and – legend has it – Tyra responded by calling security because she was convinced Victoria was going to throw the shoes at her. I know Tyra rarely needs help to make herself look foolish, but this particular incident of apparently baseless paranoia has stayed in my mind ever since I first read about it, and it never fails to make me chuckle. (Note to Victoria, in the unlikely event that she ever reads this: if you had actually thrown your shoes at Tyra, you could maybe have made Top 30.)
46. Catherine Thomas (Cycle 18, 6th place)
Okay, if I didn’t make it clear enough in the opening paragraph, let me reiterate that perhaps not every contestant on this countdown is here for the quote-unquote “right reasons”. Some of them are here entirely because they appeal to me in ways that will probably make little sense to anybody else, but hey, it’s my list and I make the rules. Catherine was one of the former Britain’s Next Top Model contestants invited to take part in cycle 18, the “British Invasion” season that was kind of an All-Stars for BNTM viewers (although honestly how you can have one of those without inviting Juste and Anastasija from BINTModel 7, I do not know), where they would be pitted against new American contestants. Catherine wasn’t one of the best models, or the most memorable contestants, but she was from Folkestone in east Kent, which is just up the road from where I grew up, and so I have to laud her for getting cast on an American reality show, a feat that I have long dreamed of but have yet to accomplish. (Although I still maintain that “British superfans” would be an excellent gimmick for my boyfriend and me to be a team on The Amazing Race.) That’s one reason for Catherine’s inclusion on this countdown, the other is the music video task from episode six, where she was introduced as follows: “I’m Queen Catherine, I’m elegant and supreme / A timeless beauty from any era, I’m the only fashion time-traveller”:
Those lyrics probably won’t be winning any Ivor Novello awards any time soon, but the nickname certainly stuck, so she’s been Queeeeeen Cathreeeeeen in our house ever since, and omitting legit royalty from this list would surely be treason.
45. Ann Ward (Cycle 15, winner)
More than anybody else in this countdown, I feel like Ann truly represents, if not the American dream, then at least the America’s Next Top Model dream: a gangly, incredibly awkward individual who was bullied extensively growing up because she was taller than all the other girls, who turned out to be crazy photogenic and, despite having the usual insecurities about not feeling sexy (and also being spectacularly ill-suited for a commercial shoot carried out entirely on rollerskates), was basically the ideal physical fit for the show’s first “high-fashion” cycle. So much so that she completely dominated the competition, getting a record seven first-callouts across the season (a feat unequalled until Jourdan in cycle 20 – but her season was longer and involved more callouts, so you can still put Ann at the top of the heap if you want. I know I do) – which made the cycle slightly dull to watch, admittedly, because there was never any real question of anyone other than Ann winning. But sometimes it’s just very satisfying to watch an outcast finally figure out her place in the world and get to have the last laugh. (I haven’t checked to see what her post-show career was like, I don’t want to ruin the fairytale ending that we already had.)
44. Nicole Fox (Cycle 13, winner)
However much you might like a particular reality show, there comes a time when you have to accept that you’re not going to like every single winner. Indeed, there are only six winners in this countdown, and we’ve already had three of them before we’ve even reached the top 40 (feel free to speculate as to who the other three might be, and when we’re likely to see them), which suggests that having the necessary qualities to win the contest doesn’t necessarily go hand in hand with being a compelling presence on television. But my main lingering memory of Nicole is that she was…well, she was nice. She seemed pleasant. She had a sense of humour. She had perspective. She had a bloody eyeball. And you know what? Sometimes that’s enough to get you a place in the hall of fame. Also in her favour: that even as the winner of Tyra’s cycle exclusively for shorter models, she was still half an inch taller than Eva Pigford.
43. Jael Strauss (Cycle 8, 6th place)
This was always going to be an awkward update to write, because while I don’t think this is really the time or the place to discuss Jael’s life after the show (if that’s what you’re after, there’s more than enough about it on Mail Online), it also seems wrong to ignore it entirely. It’s a shame that Jael is primarily remembered as a cautionary tale at this point, a tragic example of what happens when young people are exposed to the dark side of the business – but we’re here to talk about Jael as an ANTM contestant, and the key thing about Jael was that everyone on the show seemed to love her unreservedly. And remember, this was a season with Renee in it, so that’s quite an achievement. She also was unfortunate enough to have one of the most truncated journeys in reality TV history, riding into the show on a wave of positivity and optimism, determined to be everyone’s friend and make the most of this magical experience – which all came to a crashing halt a couple of episodes later when she got a phone call telling her that a friend of hers had died from an overdose. This being Top Model, of course, the next week’s photo shoot was “fierce sexy dead bodies”. Oh Tyra. Obviously her most famous moment on the show will always be that time 50 Cent chucked her in a pool, but it’s important to remember that she gave us so much more, and for her (well-intentioned but ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to promote harmony in the Cycle 8 house, I salute her.
42. Yvonne Powless (Cycle 19, 8th place)
Interestingly (disclaimer: may not be actually interesting), this was probably the only case where I had two contestants competing for one spot for essentially the same reason. Yvonne and cycle 20’s Chlea Ramirez are both later-years candidates who were largely unmemorable except for their ability to generate absolute hatred from one of the judges. The main difference between them is that Chlea’s spat was with Kelly Cutrone and Yvonne’s was with Bryanboy, and since I already have a contestant who will be ranked much, much higher than this for scrapping with Cuntrone, it made sense to cut Chlea and let Yvonne have her moment of infamy. Essentially, the contestants were taking part in a steampunk-themed photo shoot and Yvonne’s outfit required a wardrobe change midway through. Yvonne was kind of over it at this point and stood there pulling a face, at which point Social Media Correspondent™ BryanBoy, who for some reason was standing around wearing a pinstripe suit jacket over his shoulders like a supporting mobster in a very low-budget Godfather remake, called her out for her attitude, and Yvonne basically told him to go fuck himself. This was one of those peculiar situations in which Bryanboy was technically in the right and Yvonne was technically in the wrong, but he was just such an ass ass in general (did I mention what he was wearing?) that I couldn’t help taking her side unequivocally. Ultimately she apologised to him at panel and got sent home for Daring To Disrespect The Client (/The Person Who Is Claiming To Represent The Client But Is In Fact Doing Fuck-All), but you’ll never convince me it wasn’t totally worth it for that one glorious all-too-brief moment.
41. Jaclyn Poole (Cycle 16, 6th place)
Jaclyn is fascinating to me because even to this day I don’t quite know where it all went wrong for her. During the early days of cycle 16, I was absolutely, 100 per cent convinced she was going to win it. How could she not? She was a sweet, wholesome, gosh-darn-it girl-next-door type from Texas who took a great picture and seemed like she may have actually been created in a laboratory for the specific purpose of one day fronting a CoverGirl campaign. Sure, she wasn’t exactly high fashion, but I just figured that was going to be the obligatory obstacle that she would have to overcome on her road to victory (/would get conveniently forgotten about at final panel). I felt no cause to doubt my conviction as she progressed through the competition, charming virtually everyone she met, doing well at challenges and photo shoots alike – and then she only booked two go-sees and got sent home for it. It’s one of the most arbitrary dismissals of an apparent front-runner that I can remember, and I still can’t quite make sense of it. The best explanation I can give is that this was around the time that Tyra actually started taking the go-see episode super-seriously as an indicator of the girls’ ability to book work out in the real world (LOL BOKAY THEN), and she genuinely took this to mean that designers wouldn’t be interested in Jaclyn. But who knows what really goes on in the mind of Tyra? Certainly not I.
40. Analeigh Tipton (Cycle 11, 3rd place)
First of all, just look at that picture. Look at it. God, the stupid shit they make people do on this show. (But kudos to whoever made the editorial decision to make the girls pose with forks rather than hoes. You don’t want to make the joke too easy, right?) Okay, first of all, Analeigh was one of my favourite contestants on her cycle because she turned up to auditions with one of the greatest backstories in the history of the show (she signed up to a modelling agency which turned out to be a human trafficking ring that sold her to a Saudi Arabian prince but the deal fell through SO DON’T WORRY EVERYTHING’S FINE NOW), and then she went on to have one of the greatest human struggles of our time (repeatedly failing to utilise her background as a figure skater to great effect in her poses but then EVENTUALLY TRIUMPHING) and eventually completed her tragic heroine arc by succumbing to her fate as the third placer to easily the homeliest top two in ANTM history. To paraphrase Alan Partridge, needless to say Analeigh had the last laugh because she went on to a reasonably successful acting career, appearing in Crazy, Stupid, Love with Ryan Gosling and eventually landing starring roles in poorly-received romcom Two Night Stand and über-doomed ABC sitcom Manhattan Love Story. Sure, it’s not the greatest CV ever, but she’s almost certainly managed to land more magazine shoots as an up-and-coming actress than either of those two linebackers who inexplicably bested her ever managed to land as models.
39. Heather Kuzmich (Cycle 9, 5th place)
In many ways the version 2.0 to Shandi’s original prototype (with Ann in cycle 15 being the premium edition, I guess?), Heather was the shy, awkward, gangly girl who somehow possessed the ability to transform into an ethereal goddess when you pointed a camera at her. Heather was also the show’s first contestant with Asperger’s syndrome – a fact that made Tyra’s eyes positively light up with glee knowing that she’d get to have so many Great Teaching Moments over the course of the cycle. Fortunately for Heather, she was absolutely a credible candidate in her own right, so all the talk of her condition informed rather than defined her narrative on the show, but the show did enjoy harping on about it at every available opportunity nonetheless. Personally I’ll always remember Heather for something else entirely, because she was one of the first adopters of that most infuriating of commonplace reality TV mispronunciations: “fustrating”. And now people are doing it all over the place. LOOK WHAT THOU HAST WROUGHT, HEATHER.
38. Allison Harvard (Cycle 12, runner-up / Cycle 17, runner-up)
Yeah, that’s right – one of the holiest of all ANTM contestants ever, the fan favourite who was robbed not once but twice, and I’ve ranked her 38th overall. How you like me now? Obviously there’s a lot to love about Allison – her vampiric obsession with Tyra’s nosebleeds, that baby-doll face, THOSE EYES – but while I always enjoyed her, I’m not sure I ever quite crossed over into full-on love the way that a sizeable percentage of the viewing audience did. My feeling that she was overrated intensified during All-Stars when she somehow won the “write a song and make a music video” challenge by blatantly ripping off the music and lyrics of “one-two-three-four I declare a thumb war” and robbed Lisa of her rightful victory. Still, I loved the fact that she was both wildly popular and a skilled model and yet Tyra refused to let her win. Twice. I have no idea why but it’s always fun to speculate, isn’t it?
37. Katarzyna Dolinska (Cycle 10, 5th place)
There’s a long, proud tradition of ANTM casting girls of Eastern European extraction who turn up, wreck the grading curve for everyone else by actually looking like models in the first place, perform strongly throughout the competition and eventually get eliminated somewhere just inside the top five, never winning. Katarzyna would have been a solid, unremarkable example of the trope apart from one thing: nobody in the entire show could pronounce her name. Seriously, check out this mess:
Even the continuity announcer on the trail couldn’t get it right! She spent the entire cycle being called “Katarina”, “Kutarjuna”, “Katarzeena”, “Cat’s Vagina” (okay, maybe not that last one but I wouldn’t have been in the slightest bit surprised) and inwardly sighing at these idiot Americans. At one point she got so (politely) annoyed by it that she actually gave a little instructional session at panel on how to say her name (“Katar-jenna”, btw), and of course nobody paid the blindest bit of notice. Katarzyna, for having the patience of an actual saint, you’ve more than earned your place on this countdown.