I've mentioned before that I have a great love of Reality TV competitions based on artistic skills. One of my favorites is the SyFy Network's special-effects based show, Face-Off. It often embodies the best parts of the genre without the more troubling and annoying aspects.
The contestants on Face-Off are all professionals in the movie make-up business, mostly specializing in Horror and Science-Fiction effects. Each week the contestants are given a theme that they must build an original make-up around, ranging from straightforward (vampires) to the unusual (zombified Alice in Wonderland characters). While there is a strong horror bias to the show's set-up, there are frequently challenges that veer off into less terrifying areas, such as super-heroes; however, if given the opportunity, the contestants tend to bring everything back to horror if they can.
The show has a large number of positive attributes. First of all, the sheer creativity evidenced by the contestants each week is pretty amazing, and provides lots of intriguing visuals. Secondly, the judging doesn't seem to be swayed as much by personal aesthetics as other competitions; in cooking shows judges might have different palettes, and on fashion shows judges might have different ideas of what is or isn't in style, but on the special-effects show most can agree if the look is sloppy or shoddy. And finally, one of the best aspects of the show is the the contestants actually help one another out. And this isn't the "oh, I will help someone out at the beginning of the show but at the end its every man for himself" spirit that might happen on other such programs, but instead is more a sense of professional courtesy that has pervaded every season so far. Yes, there are occasionally contestants with big egos, but on the whole there's very seldom been any big "villains" to cheer against on the series. And while conventional wisdom might hold that having a good villain is key to having a good reality show, my enjoyment of Face-Off tends to put that idea to the test.
The latest season of Face-Off is about to end this week, with one episode airing Tuesday night and the finale airing on Wednesday. This year they're switching things up for the finale: they're allowing the public to vote on who the winner is, a la American Idol. I'm not 100% sure I like that idea, as often the judges can see things up close that don't translate as well on TV; on the other hand, since the make-ups are usually designed to be seen on film, audiences judging by what we're able to perceive on screen does make sense. I just hope that voters are voting more on skill than on personality. Of course, the lack of a "villain" makes fair voting more likely.
I would encourage anyone who's a fan of reality TV competition shows or who just has an interest in special-effects in general to give the last two episodes a try.