Face Off needs to take off its inflexible mask and free McKenzie

SyFy’s Face Off ends its fourth season tonight, having already been renewed for a fifth season that will air this summer. It remains a strong competition with a lot of talent and some really impressive work.

But it has a problem. Like makeup done that doesn’t allow the actor to emote or even more their mouth, the show is locked in by its rigid structure, and its personality is stifled.

Structure is important to talent competition shows, which follow the same template week to week. That’s fine. But we need life and personality to overcome that, and many shows do, from Top Chef to Top Shot. Those that don’t, like Hell’s Kitchen, are just a predictable walk down the same line season after season. The nature of the creation of makeup isn’t as dynamic as, say, strategy on Survivor, so the episode has to work harder at trying to not repeat the same beats over and over again.

On Face Off, this is most apparent in McKenzie Westmore’s hosting: She’s more Katie Lee Joel than Padma Lakshmi. Nearly everything she says is the exact same thing she says in every episode, and that makes the show feel flatter than it should.

Of course, Jeff Probst has said some of the same lines every episode for 26 seasons, and that works, because there’s a lot more of him and his personality–love it or not–that makes him into more than a robot. Even the first robot host, Julie Chen, has learned to make her repetition (“but first…”) work for her. Julie Chen is no Jeff Probst or Ryan Seacrest, but she’s no Katie Lee Joel, either.

McKenzie is obviously capable of more–occasional outtakes that air between commercials show her being more dynamic and spontaneous–and the show desperately needs her to be free to be more casual and less stiff. And Face Off needs that, too.

Face Off: B

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.