“I can’t believe the gangster hippopotamus was NFL wide receiver Antonio Brown,” someone said to me this week, to which I responded: “What the fuck?”
Folks, if you didn’t know what The Masked Singer was, you’re missing out. The Masked Singer is Fox’s new reality competition series, based on a popular South Korean program King of Mask Singer. It is Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” by way of Stanley Tucci’s wardrobe in The Hunger Games. I could keep trying to explain what it feels like to experience The Masked Singer firsthand, but I think this GIF of the show’s opening montage of masked performers is evidence enough that we’re already living in hell.
The basic idea is that behind each of 12 masked singers—including but not limited to: a deer, hippo, alien, unicorn, and poodle, all adorned with costumes that look like they were made by Sam Neill’s character in Event Horizon—is a celebrity, and it’s up to the audience at home and a panel of fellow “celebrities” (Robin Thicke, noted anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger) to guess who’s behind the mask. Every episode, a contestant is eliminated; last week’s premiere saw Brown—who, by the way, was in the midst of mutinying against the Pittsburgh Steelers—reveal himself as the eliminated, James Brown–singing man-hippo. (In his defense, the performance wasn’t half-bad!)
Whether this sounds entrancing or horrifying to you, America is hooked: A lot of people are watching The Masked Singer, either in abject terror or actual enjoyment. Wednesday night’s episode saw the next slate of masked performers—the first six of 12 contestants performed last week, so these were the remaining singers from the opening round—introduce themselves, with another elimination on the docket. Which begs the question: Who was forced to remove their mask on The Masked Singer this week, and does this confirm that we live in the darkest timeline? I had to watch live to find out, just like the rest of you, because Fox is apparently so afraid of the contestants’ identities being leaked (?) that they’ve even blurred out the faces of the unmasked singers in the screeners that were given to reviewers in advance. So let’s break it down.
The Highlights (and Lowlights)
The episode, which was titled “New Masks on the Block,” gave us our first look at Alien, Bee, Pineapple, Poodle, Rabbit, and Raven. And again, each contestant offered some clues about their identities. “I’ve spent most of my life onstage, but I was never alone,” Rabbit said, before later confirming he was once part of a band. (This rabbit seems a little thicc, so my prevailing theory is that we’re looking at ’NSync’s Joey Fatone, and that the “New Masks on the Block” title was meant to throw us off the Fatone scent. I refuse to apologize for using the term “Fatone scent”; you are reading a recap of The Masked Singer.)
The problem—and you can find many people expressing these sentiments on Twitter—is that the judges are extremely terrible at their jobs. You know The Masked Singer made a mess of things when Robin Thicke is far and away the most pragmatic and agreeable person in the room. Now, I don’t expect the judges to successfully guess who all the mystery contestants are—it wouldn’t be all that fun if everyone’s identities were revealed at the onset, even if the internet is already hard at work debunking these identities—but Ken Jeong theorized that the Rabbit could be Jake Gyllenhaal. Seriously. These were some of their other guesses.
SPOILER: Matthew McConaughey, Barack Obama, RuPaul Charles, and Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg are not on The Masked Singer; that’s, perhaps, fourth-season material if this thing retains its preposterous ratings. In fairness, the Ginsburg suggestion was a joke, but Jenny McCarthy earnestly burst out “Barack Obama?!” because Pineapple had a Hawaiian shirt on. This is what we’re dealing with.
The opening contestant montages on The Masked Singer give meaning to the question on everyone’s minds: “Did someone spike my drink with ayahuasca?” They are bizarre and occasionally compelling, and added context doesn’t made them any less weird. (Since you’re already subjecting yourself to this, I would highly recommend this Masked Singer bonus material on YouTube of the masked monstrosities doing the Bird Box challenge.)
Picking a favorite Masked Singer contestant montage is like picking a favorite child or a favorite John Wick movie, but I’ll go ahead and say it was Alien that most made me feel like I was still listening to Jeff Bridges speak at the Golden Globes.
Alien did an OK job singing Portugal. The Man’s “Feel It Still,” though the (presumed woman) hopefully didn’t hear Jeong’s commentary throughout the performance. “I’m kinda turned on by the alien,” he said, before later adding, “This is the hottest alien I’ve ever seen.” This implies he’s … seen other hot aliens?
The weird Alien objectification from the Hangover dude notwithstanding, this was the trippiest moment in the trippiest show on television—at least until we discovered who was behind Pineapple, the eliminated contestant of the evening.
And the Pineapple Was …
It’s worth stressing: Pineapple was a bad singer, belting out a rendition of “I Will Survive” that could’ve easily found a home at a karaoke bar at 4 in the morning. Nobody’s going to argue with the elimination, but who was it? Well, the man who shared the “fun, tropical spirit” of his costume was ... Tommy Chong.
It checks out: The guy’s been high as a kite for decades, and he definitely knows how to have a good time. And not to dunk on Chong, but The Masked Singer did seem like the perfect venue for a washed C-list celebrity people haven’t thought about in years—if the Fatone scent theory is anything to go by. Shout-out to Jenny McCarthy for getting pretty close to the trail by guessing Cheech—wrong famous stoner, but still, pretty good. (This doesn’t make up for her Obama suggestion, by the way.)
So there you have it. The Masked Singer is down to 10 equally terrifying contestants, as this totalitarian regime continues next week with more singing, more hallucinogenic montages, more awful guessing from the judges panel, and the eyes and ears of a captivated and potentially horrified American audience. We’re definitely off the deep end.