Ink Master is the only "reality TV" show I watch, and I watch it because I love tattoos (I've got four -- five if you include one that was covered up -- and intend to get more, but that's a story for another time).
I know that there are several respects in which "reality TV" isn't, you know, real. There has to be a certain amount of scripting to keep things interesting. But if it's going to be good "reality TV" that scripting has to be at least plausible. And in season four, the scripting required to bring one particular artist to the finale just completely failed the "suspension of disbelief" test.
The artist in question is Scott Marshall, who of course is a fine artist (he'd never have been on the show, let alone in the top five, if he wasn't).
At the beginning of Episode 11, title "Karma's a Bitch," the field stood at five remaining competitors -- Marshall, Walter "Sausage" Frank, Matti Hixson, Halo and Melissa Monroe.
The episode opened, as usual, with a "flash challenge." The competitors first had to draw an impromptu sketch of the Statue of Liberty, live from a moving boat, then use that sketch as sole reference to do a tattoo on a human canvas. In the main challenge, each artist had to tattoo a snake, Japanese-style, on a human canvas's rib cage.
In both of these challenges, Scott Marshall was the clear loser. His Statue of Liberty tattoo was visibly incorrect (the statue's head was missing a spike) and his Japanese snake tattoo was picked by the human canvas jury as worst tattoo of the day.
There was simply no doubt that if the artists were judged on the quality of their tattoo work, Marshall was going home. Period.
But the judges instead chose to send home Melissa Monroe. And they came right out and said that it was not because of her work in the two challenges, but because she had previously not been winning challenges and Scott had.
There's a word for that. That word is "bullshit."
Eleven episodes into the season and Monroe (who has only been tattooing for three years) is constantly improving. She just flat-out whips the ass of an artist who's been tattooing for 15 years ... and instead of sending the loser home, they send her home?
I say again: Bullshit.
To the extent that this was supposed to be a real competition, there was no way for Marshall to win it, because in reality Marshall would never have survived the cut from five to four based on the work the artists did in that stage.
The legitimate top four would have been Sausage, Hixson, Halo and Monroe. The legitimate three finale artists would have been three of those four (my guess is that Monroe would have gone down next and that Sausage would have ultimately won, but those are just educated guesses).
The whole thing was transparently scripted to bring the "Sausage-Marshall feud" to the finale, quality of work be damned. And when "reality TV" is transparently scripted in defiance of reality, it stops working.
Hopefully the next season of the show will find a way to make the necessary tension/conflict scripting work with, rather than against, the skill and talent displayed.