The one thing Face Off needs to do next season: change everything

SyFy’s competition series Face Off has been renewed for a sixth season, and that’s great news: it consistently shows off strong talent and impressive challenges, and is a solid competition show. The network also ordered two specials: Nov. 12’s “Naked and Painted,” which is about body painting, and Nov. 19’s “Top 20 Countdown: Judges’ Favorites, Face Off,” with the judges talking about their favorite 20 designs.

While that’s good news, there’s one thing Face Off really needs to fix: Every thing that that it repeats in every single episode of every single season.

Last spring, I wrote about how the show needs to free from her wooden hosting and the lines she says every single episode, which is still driving me crazy. “Please step back.” “Judges, why don’t you take a closer look?” “Please head back to the makeup room.” “There can only be one winner.”

But never-changing rigidity is also infecting the entire show. I cannot tell the difference between any of the first five seasons, except that this season includes returnees. Even then, it’s the same show again and again. Same warehouse. Same pointless visit to a location to introduce a challenge.

The challenges are generally strong, and so is the work. The judges provide good feedback, and even the guest judges are usually insightful. Keep that core.

But everything else, change it up. Redesign the stage or just shoot it from different angles. Mix up the act breaks so that it’s not 100 percent the same formula ever single episode (Walking out of the studio. Commercial. Walking back in. Et cetera.) Have the contestants to leave the studio for judging so the judges can talk more freely and openly.

Impose different constraints during the challenges, such as not allowing them to use airbrush paint or forcing them to use non-conventional materials. Do more non-fantastical makeup, like the great season one challenge where the contestants had to disguise themselves so their family members wouldn’t recognize them. Improve casting; there’s too wide of a range, from super-talented to really weak (so the eventual finalists are usually easily identifiable–hello, Laura and Roy), while this season, there have been far too many whiny contestants.

None of these would cost any more money, but they would significantly increase the entertainment the show delivers. Repetition yields boredom, and I’m getting bored, even with the really amazing things the contestants often create.

Project Runway and Top Chef, the grandparents of the genre, both have their formulas and both have their problems, but have both sustained their formats over many seasons, and have done so by making minor but significant changes. Top Chef moves to different cities and at least tries to incorporate local culture, for example. Project Runway just made several great changes that doubled-down on what the show does best.

Face Off needs to do the same–or, at the very least, crib from those who do it better.

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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.