Welcome to The Ringer’s weekly coverage of The Masked Singer, Fox’s new singing competition series that makes a disconcertingly compelling argument that we live in the darkest timeline. Based on a popular Korean program, the show is Black Mirror’s “Fifteen Million Merits” by way of Stanley Tucci’s wardrobe in The Hunger Games. The basic idea is that behind 12 masked singers—including but not limited to: a deer, hippo, alien, unicorn, and poodle, all adorned with costumes that look like they were designed 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 as a contestant is eliminated each week. Now, let’s break everything down—including the latest celebrity reveal—from Wednesday night’s episode, “Five Masks No More.”
The Highlights (and Lowlights)
We’re now down to 10 hallucinogenic contestants, five of whom competed for a second time this week: Lion, Deer, Peacock, Unicorn, and Monster. Unlike the first two episodes—which saw six contestants split off into pairs, with the loser from each matchup going into the final elimination voting as decided by the ebullient studio audience that may or may not be infected by Scarecrow’s fear gas from Batman Begins—all five singers performed without a direct face-off. The newest wrinkle this episode came from the judges table: We got—actual quote—“celebrity expert” Joel McHale as a guest judge. “I feel like I’m already on drugs,” he said, accurately, looking as if he had been taken hostage by one of his former Community costars. (Joel, blink twice if you need someone to rescue you.)
But McHale was a valuable addition to The Masked Singer, since only he and Robin Thicke seem to be taking the whole “judging the contestants based on clues and vocals” somewhat seriously. This week’s guessing wasn’t as bad as Jenny McCarthy speculating that former president Barack Obama could be the pineapple man (who was later revealed to be Tommy Chong) because, um, Hawaii or something—but Hailey Baldwin was one of Scherzinger’s suggestions for Lion. The thinking there, apparently, was that Baldwin got married to Justin Bieber and then was like, “Sorry Justin, I gotta cut the honeymoon short to go put on a lion suit and get ogled by the ‘Blurred Lines’ guy.”
But that somehow wasn’t the worst guess: After Unicorn, with the generous aid of Auto-Tune, performed a sparkly yet bland rendition of Britney Spears, it’s as if the judges panel caught some kind of airborne disease that forced them to guess former Olympic gymnasts. Unicorn said she was “going for gold,” but that doesn’t necessarily imply gymnastics—literally all Olympians can win gold medals! We also already knew the contestant was born and raised in Beverly Hills, which limits the pool, unless the neighborhood has a secret academy of gymnasts the general public isn’t cognizant of. But sure, go off.
I’m willing to put all the savings in my bank account on the Unicorn not being Gabby Douglas, McKayla Maroney, or 50-year-old Mary Lou Retton, who isn’t even 5 feet tall. (Denise Richards is at least a semi-coherent guess, though she grew up in Illinois. The other strange wrinkle of The Masked Singer is that you spend a disconcertingly long amount of time googling very basic facts about celebrities who may or may not even be on the show.) They even pressed the Unicorn and explicitly asked if she was a gymnast, to which she replied: “In the bedroom.” I then took a shower.
On the bright side, some of this episode’s performances were legitimately good. Peacock—who says he’s performed in Las Vegas—nailed OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” But the true star of the week was Monster, the contestant I most want to hug, who belted out a fiery—I mean this literally, flames were going off everywhere—rendition of Gavin McGraw’s “I Don’t Want to Be.” I don’t even have jokes; this was good. (If you want to skip to the really good shit, the note Monster hits around 1:10 shocks the entire panel for a reason.)
Just like that, Robin Thicke forgot he was in love with a lion:
I’m also willing to bet all the savings in my bank account that this monster is T-Pain, and that he’s singing non-R&B hits to throw us off the scent. (Robin Thicke, for some reason, guessed Derek Jeter and, for the life of me, I don’t understand where he was coming from, or why he thinks Derek Jeter is a professional singer. Is Derek Jeter bribing him with a gift basket?) I wouldn’t be as confident in guessing T-Pain if the singer didn’t shock the world with an unreal Tiny Desk Concert performance in 2014, but he’s got a unique non-Auto-Tuned voice that’s easy to spot. Monster T-Pain is The Masked Singer front-runner, and he’s great.
Somewhat relatedly, this is the image that greets you at the gates of hell.
Best Episodic Evolution
About 40 minutes into the episode, Joel McHale embodied exactly what it feels like to experience, and eventually become entranced by, The Masked Singer. He started out by making glib jokes about how trippy and objectively silly the whole thing was and seemed perplexed by the fervor surrounding a bunch of celebrities wearing bizarre costumes amid enough pyrotechnics to service a Mad Max: Fury Road action sequence. But you could tell, with each performance and set of cryptic clues, that he was slowly getting sucked in. He also routinely provided the best banter throughout the episode. When the Definitely T-Pain Monster crouched to try and hide his height, host Nick Cannon joked it might be Kevin Hart. “How dare you! He’s way shorter,” McHale quipped, perfectly.
McHale’s guesses weren’t bad either, aside from thinking Mary Poppins Returns star Emily Blunt was the Lion. What I’m saying is: Get celebrity expert Joel McHale on The Masked Singer every week. I don’t care if you need to boot someone else—[cough, gets vaccination] Jenny McCarthy—from the panel. McHale’s evolution was a living metaphor for the Masked Singer viewing experience, and you know he’d be so down to do it all again since his reactions by the end of the episode screamed, “I’m DVR-ing the fuck out of this show.”
This is always going to be the hardest decision. There are so many options, and I’m still not willing to throw out the possibility that somebody is lacing the cream cheese on my bagel with LSD. Nevertheless, I’m going to go with Unicorn doing … whatever this is.
Again, how does any of this imply Olympic gymnast? I thought Unicorn was the worst performer of the night and would be eliminated, but the studio audience was apparently less impressed with Deer’s country twang.
And the Deer Was …
While it was clear that Deer isn’t a professional singer, the dude singing through a gas mask didn’t do a bad job! “Get Your Shine On” by Florida Georgia Line was a smart song choice for someone—an athlete, based on all the clues—who’s clearly from the South. Unfortunately, he had to remove his mask at the end of the episode, which revealed … former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
Two of the first three Masked Singer eliminations have hailed from the Pittsburgh Steelers, after the premiere booted Antonio Brown in a hippo costume. It’s unclear what about playing for the Steelers has driven these men to take these measures—or whether the Peacock is secretly Hines Ward—but neither of them were terrible singers, so credit to them.
Bradshaw was an easy guess based on all the clues that implied he played football and hates “ravens”—and if nothing else, his appearance makes for great cross-promotion, as we’re deep in the NFL playoffs and Bradshaw works on Fox NFL Sunday. (Still, credit to McHale for at one point guessing, “Ben Roethlisberger before the motorcycle accident.”)
“This is so stressful. I gotta thank y’all for voting me off,” Bradshaw said, his forehead covered in a thick mop of sweat. The 70-year-old looked exhausted under a costume that looked like a prop from True Detective Season 2’s Lynchian orgy party, so maybe this was for the best. If he stayed a couple of rounds more, I think The Masked Singer could’ve literally killed him. Anyway, this has been my latest dispatch from the seventh circle of hell—until next week, which, by then I’ll have tattooed the T-Pain Monster across my torso.