Tattoos and body modifications are rapidly becoming the “norm” for our society. Over 50% of the U.S. population has some kind of visible tattoo. There is, of course, still a sect of society who associates them with criminals and miscreants. But, as someone who has a few of them myself and as someone who can’t resist getting dragged into whatever tattoo documentary, reality or competition show might be on television, I can say this sect is growing smaller and smaller by the year — maybe even by months or weeks — if the increasing popularity and saturation of televised tattoo shows can be seen as any indication.
Best Ink, a new tattoo competition show, aired March 27 on Oxygen Network. Similar to its Spike TV counterpart, Ink Master (which filmed its first season in New York City at roughly the same time Best Ink was being filmed in Los Angeles and is currently casting for its second season), Best Ink pits an initial group of ten tattoo artists from around the United States against one another in a competition, vying for the top prize of $100,000 and a cover story in Tattoo Magazine.
The first episode puts the artists out on the beach in Southern California, scouting out iconic butterfly tattoos then reimagining them in their own style, in their first “Flash Challenge.” These artists have been asked to reinvent the wheel, if you will, creating butterfly tattoos that would stand out in a literal ocean of butterfly tattoos.
Morphing another iconic tattoo, the rose, into her butterfly gives artist Charlie an advantage over the other artists, giving her a top seat in the Flash Challenge alongside Nicky’s American traditional inspired skull with butterfly wings, but in the end, it was Charlie’s originality that wowed judge Sabina Kelley.
In this competition, the artists’ live canvases are referred to as Skins and in the first application challenge the artists’ cover-up skills were put to the test as their Skins revealed old ink they were no longer in love with. As a reward for winning the Flash Challenge, Charlie was given the opportunity to steal any of her competitors’ Skins but opted to keep the one she was originally assigned, hoping that the others would pay her the same respect later on in the competition, stating “I believe in karma.”
The cover-up designs ranged from a baby-doll zombie to a buffalo and landscape to a bio-mechanical piece by artist Roman, who persuaded his Skin to let him make the decisions, telling her that the only way to really make a cover-up work was to let him do whatever he wanted. This, in the end, was seen as a negative by some of his peers, and by this writer as well. Okay, you’re the expert, but maybe do whatever you want with what I want in mind. After all, I’m the one who has to look at it in the mirror every day.
The first episode of Best Ink comes with a surprise, twist ending. The artists themselves vote by secret ballot to pick which of them will be placed in the bottom three and the judges will eliminate based on that selection. In this first episode, Jessica, Tiffany and Meghan are chosen by their peers as having executed the worst tattoos of the challenge. It is finally baby-doll zombie creator Tiffany who is selected for the final elimination by the judges and she is the first to be sent home, bringing the competition to nine artists.
Being a sucker for tattoo related programming, I know I will continue watching. I haven’t picked a favorite yet, but I’m sure I will before too long. Best Ink airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on Oxygen.