Ink Master: Battle of the Sexes – Season 12

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I know, I know. Tattoo TV is trash TV. Or at least one would think so. But I’ve been watching this show for years, and these artists are incredibly talented. Do I necessarily want their art covering my entire back? No. But they are amazing artists nonetheless. As tattoos have become more commonplace, the contestants on this show have only gotten more impressive. Let’s take a look at Ink Master.

The Premise

It’s a tattoo competition, so that more or less covers it. Artist from around the country converge in NYC and live there – together in some loft – for the duration of the taping of the show. They start with a bunch and one goes home every week. The prize is $100,000 and a feature in Inked Magazine.

The Judges

  • Dave Navarro. Guitarist for Jane’s Addiction and tattoo covered guy. He’s the heart of this show, and he’s the main host as well as a judge. He’s an all-around Goth dude.
  • Chris Nunez. He’s been a tattoo artist since 1991 and owns a shop in Fort Lauderdale. His specialty is Japanese traditional tattooing and he’s super picky on Japanese day. His outfits are eclectic.
  • Oliver Peck. He’s has been doing tattoos since 1990 and owns a shop in Dallas. His specialty is American Traditional tattooing so he gets to be picky a lot. He chews a toothpick 100% of the time and has Willie Nelson hair.

The Format

The episodes usually start with something called a flash challenge. The teams (this season – other seasons the artists have gone it alone) are given a task, some art task far outside their specialty, and the one that wins gets an advantage when the tattoo machines come out. I love the flash challenges. If you ever wondered what a group of artistic people could create on a giant canvass using only pushpins or crayons or paint guns, this is the part of the show for you.

Up next are the elimination tattoos. The winners of the flash challenge get to assign what are called the “human canvases”. I know, that’s gross. But it’s people who want tattoos and want to be on the show. They make a request that fits the week’s theme and the flash challenge winners get to try and trip up their opponents by assigning them the more difficult tattoos. Sometimes this advantage backfires magnificently.

The tattoos are then critiqued by the judges. One person is chosen to have done the tattoo of the day, another is sent home. End of episode.

Season 12 – Ink Master: Battle of the Sexes

The early days of Ink Master were mostly filled with male tattoo artists but the times, they are a-changin’.  The show took some heat for its testosterone filled panel and has in recent years done pretty well in bringing in a more diverse group of artists. This season upped that ante and pitted the men and women against each other in teams. They did flash challenges and some tattoos together as a team, but in the end it was still a single artist that took home the prize.  They also brought in former contestants on some episodes to act as judges. Those judges had a chance at a $25,000 prize during the season finale.

In a lot of ways I hate this kind of contrived controversy. They want people to form alliances, bicker, and be their worst selves. Ink Master has traditionally been masterful in finding the biggest assholes in the industry to compete, just to drum up anger and confrontation. THAT is why I was ready to give up on the show.

But this season the contestants defied their masters. Yeah, there were conflicts, but for the most part people acted like human beings. There wasn’t a single (or as in past seasons, multiple) artist that we wanted to see get sent home simply because they were such a giant jerk. So refreshing! I sincerely hope that Navarro makes some sort of effort to see the benefits of letting the art talk and leaving the stupid sniping and backstabbing for the various Real Housewives and Bachelor incarnations. They don’t need it and it actively gets in the way of enjoying what the artists are doing – which in some cases is really beautiful and impressive art.

If you have any interest at all in the art of tattoos, give Ink Master a shot. You don’t have to start with season 1 – jump in anywhere. Ink Master: Battle of the Sexes, aside from the stupid name and archaic premise, turned out to be one of the most enjoyable seasons of the entire run. It would make a perfectly good starting point if you were so inclined. Ink Master airs on the Paramount Network. If you have cable you can download their app for free and catch up on the most recent season. You can watch all the seasons on their website (again, if you have cable TV that includes Paramount – you have to sign in). Other seasons are available on something called Philo. You can also rent or buy the episodes on Amazon. I’m really glad they dialed back the faux drama this season, I hope it becomes a trend.

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