When Ink Master season 9 episode 11 first was shown in some of the previews, we heard that a good team was going to go home. The judges weren’t kidding, as by the end of the episode we lost one of the strongest remaining newbie teams — and the first member of the dominant alliance to go out the door.
Artistic Skin Design found themselves departing the competition tonight, largely as the result of both a little bad luck and some decisions that were made along the way. First, it was the move during the first Elimination Challenge for April Nicole, Noelin Wheeler, Cleen Rock One, and DJ Tambe to go with a Four Horseman design that was a little more about artistry and a little less about uniformity and following the adaptability theme. (Seeing Cleen, penalized in the past for not following challenge themes to the letter of the law, be criticized for that offered up some good entertainment.) Following that, Dane Smith just found himself in a position where he had to tattoo against three very good artists in Bubba Irwin, Christian Buckingham, and Aaron Is. he didn’t do a terrible job by any means, but this was just one of those occasions where a good tattoo went home. There wasn’t a whole lot of wiggle room.
If there is anything to quibble about in terms of the elimination, it’s that Dane took a bigger risk that Aaron, who drew the oh-so-familiar skull with some shapes around it. There’s more of something to quibble about in the first challenge, given that a better set of tattoos was not given immunity thanks mostly to a creative decision. It’s a little bit frustrating, but at the same time, also understandable. If the judges start signing off on letting everyone in the competition do what they want, then you run into a position where the themes and the rules don’t matter anymore. It’s a little bit ironic for a show about creative expression, but it ultimately just is what it is. (We do think from time to time that some of the tattoo themes all do sound relatively the same.)
Some of the stranger moments in this episode came mostly in seeing how the contestants reacted to the unusual structure of the hour. There was briefly some strategy talk about there being a potential second part to the horseman challenge, and we wonder if some artists would’ve shaken things up had they known that beforehand. Following that, pretty much Dane’s entire alliance tried to shout suggestions and advice at him during his part of the episode and we wonder if they helped or hurt him.
One thing that hasn’t changed coming out of this episode
Old Town Ink remains super impressive. While DJ is clearly the star of the team, Bubba held his own and then some tonight versus some very good artists and arguably did better than any of them. These guys have the talent to win, and they also have been a part of this journey for a long time now. At least to us, that matters versus shops who just showed up a week or two ago.
As a whole, this was a very solid episode of Ink Master — we don’t mind if there is a little controversy, provided that it makes sense within the rules of the show. We’ve certainly seen far more contentious votes from the judges than the one over the Four Horsemen tonight. Grade: A-.
For some additional news, including a preview for the next Ink Master episode, be sure to move your mouse over to the link here right now. (Photo: Spike.)