On Wednesday, America's Next Top Model (The CW, 8 p.m. ET) premieres its 16th cycle. Yep, that's right -- this is the 16th group of aspiring models to be pitted against one another in several highly stressful, catwalk-related challenges.
Ironically, the chief criticism about ANTM -- that the atmosphere is just plain cruel -- is also one of the reasons for its longevity. It's the eternal question: "What will Tyra Banks make these girls do next?" Because, really, with each passing season, being a contestant on this show gets increasingly arduous. Even treacherous.
In the trailer for Cycle 16, the girls' first challenge involves teetering -- uh, strutting -- inside a giant plastic bubble over a pool. Later, we see a wide-eyed, wet-behind-the-ears model made to pose with bees -- live, buzzing bees -- crawling all over her.
Of course, some of the young models on this show are clearly deserving of Banks' tough love. In this trailer, she pokes fun at what's become the standard ANTM archetypes, from the naive spazz to the angry nonconformist. So far, this season's naïve spazz appears to be 20-year-old Jaclyn; while 18-year-old Sara will probably fill the nonconformist role. For a full list and descriptions of this season's models, click here.
Last season's upgraded grand prize (a spread in Italian Vogue, the ultimate arbiter of high fashion) remains in place. Once again, the winning model will get a chance to pose for said spread, a contract with IMG Models, a cover of Beauty in Vogue, and a $100,000 contract with CoverGirl Cosmetics. Banks has tried various gimmicks over the years, from plus-sized models to "short" ones. But the "high fashion" bent seems to be the show's most well received.
We can probably expect this haute couture angle to continue -- at least until Banks feels the need to change things up again. Maybe around Cycle 25 or 30. By then, they'll probably be shooting models while tossing them out of airplanes, or lowering them into lions' dens. By then, mere bee stings will seem so 2011.