Post by Josh Zinn.
Recently, whilst on assignment in Kuala Lumpur where we were researching the increasing rise of Malaysian youth huffing dried yak blood, my colleague Dena and I, after a long day out in the field, stumbled upon an American television show that was playing in our hotel’s tapas lounge. Tired and slowly coming down from the psychedelic effects of the aforementioned yak fluid (part of being a renowned scientist/movie reviewer is sampling the wares you are assigned to write about), we were in no mood to be subjected to a Southeast Asian version of “The Bachelor” or a program about how the Petronas Towers may be construed as a metaphor for Jessica and Ashlee Simpson. Naturally, our guard was up.
As we relaxed over a beer and a variety of dips and delights, the television screen roared to life with images of people madly running to and fro, clutching werewolf heads and bloody brains in their hands. No, this wasn’t some long lost documentary on the underbelly of Burning Man; this was “Face Off,” the movie makeup competition airing on the SyFy network.
Like most other competition shows on television these days (“Top Chef”, “Project Runway”, etc.) “Face Off” begins with the premise that people like to win things. Not only that, but people like to win things whilst being filmed in confessionals where they are dressed incredibly hip and are armed with a variety of derogatory quips. The show is like high school, but with an advocacy on accentuating, rather than hiding, facial blemishes.
“Face Off” pits these contestants against one another in a series of challenges meant to highlight the positive effects a steady diet of Mt. Dew and Sun Chips can have upon the mind’s creativity. If it weren’t for prepackaged snack food, we soon surmise, who knows whether half these folks would have the ability to shape a zombie groin to the correct level of desiccation needed for its special moment in front of a movie camera. It’s a matter of understanding the natural progression of things and seeing how something flavored “Harvest Cheddar” can enable you to sculpt a really killer witch’s nose.
As Dena and I watched a marathon of episodes (fortunately, tapas is a 24-hour phenomenon in Malaysia), we couldn’t help but wonder if, much like the contestants on “Face Off,” our own talents were being put to a test by a panel of judges whose authority stems from their ability to sit behind a logo-emblazoned desk. After so many reports filed on topics ranging from plants in Kuwait that react negatively to the music of John Mayer to a kind of Norwegian chewing gum that has been linked to demonic possession, we can’t help but feel that there’s got be something more than just receiving a pat on the back from the head of our department. In short, that yak inhalation better win each of us a Prius.
Because of the exposure it gives to the flipside of movie magic as well as the entertainment it provided two Americans coming down from an O+ yak high, I heartily recommend “Face Off.” While it’s true that—unlike, say, “Top Chef”—it doesn’t give suburban viewers the inspiration to host awkward dinner parties where they mistakenly think they can cook, the show nevertheless offers each and every one of us a reason to believe hope can still exist even when the chip bags are empty, the soda cans run dry, and even our sweatpants don’t fit anymore.