It seems like just yesterday that America’s Next Top Model — the crown jewel of Tyra Banks's burgeoning media empire — anointed the minimally plus-size Whitney Thompson as its victor. Yet here we are again, getting ready to doom another innocent girl to a year of filming "My Life As a CoverGirl" spots in front of the lip-gloss display at the local Wal-Mart. However, in a refreshing change from past cycles, none of the finalists fills us with rage, or even mild confusion: McKey, Analeigh, and Sam would all make satisfactory winners. In fact, for the first time ever, we two can't even come to the same decision as to which girl has the razor-thin edge. Nevertheless, here are our best-guess odds on how things will shake out on tonight's finale.
McKey and Analeigh: Both 2-1. Since we've barely seen their runway walks (thanks to the show's criminal lack of instruction even though the catwalk coach is on the damn judging panel), we're forced to go by appearances. This classic showdown of editorial versus commercial — the kind that makes it really easy for Miss Tyra to natter on for ten minutes about how they are polar opposites while we silently plead with her to wear longer skirts — has us split between equally plausible conclusions.
In the editorial corner there's the edgier McKey, whose quirky, toothy smile might not sell Land's End turtlenecks but is exactly what Tyra means when she says "pretty-pretty" isn't always "model-pretty." Her pictures have improved to consistent greatness, even with the hideous makeover that looks like a drunk stylist ran amok with some shoe polish and a Flowbee. Paulina lauds her regularly, her perfect score would've won the go-see challenge if she hadn't returned late, and she may in fact be Tyra's soul mate: Just as Ms. Banks loves using wretched fake accents, McKey randomly spent one entire episode delivering her interview bites in a poorly affected British tone. For all these reasons and the show's tendency to pick winners who look different season-to-season — Dani(elle) to CariDee to Jaslene to Saleisha to Whitney, for instance — Fug Girl Heather keeps picking McKey.
In the other corner is Analeigh, who oozes CoverGirl from every annoyingly invisible pore. That girl-next-door charm (appropriately aspirational for all those kids Tyra thinks she's influencing) is why Fug Girl Jessica leans her way. Tyra proclaimed Analeigh's first stab at a commercial was one of the best in ANTM history — eleven cycles in, that comment finally means something — and the finale's traditional up-the-nose beauty shots will probably flatter her angelic face more than McKey's more angular looks. Plus, Paulina's skepticism has Nigel and often Tyra leaping loudly to Analeigh's defense (Miss J's preferences are less obvious, due to being minimally coherent). And she's an ice-skater! We can just see "My Life As a CoverGirl" spots in which her makeup stays put through several double Axels.
Sam: 20-1. Poor Sam. We love her and her animated sound bites, but we don’t think she'll pull it off — in part because that personality might be too excitable and wacky for CoverGirl, which has no sense of humor about itself, and also because she generally shows up to judging dressed like she’s en route to her shift at Cinnabon and Tyra hates it when the girls don’t adhere to her definition of model-esque (jeans, tank top, heels — seriously, have these people not seen the show?). Although: Sam has taken some killer pictures. The makeup-free shot Tyra took a few weeks ago easily could be a real ad, and if the judges truly take each girl’s body of work into account, Sam might eke out an upset — especially if McKey tanks her commercial, which is a real possibility. Indeed, rather than the winner feeling predestined, it seems like both final challenges actually may turn out to mean something. Imagine that.