Reality check: Belle Vernon native hangs in there on 'Henson Challenge'

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No one wants to be the first contestant tossed out, but in the series premiere of "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" (Syfy, Tuesdays) a couple of the artists seemed to be working really hard at it.

Tina Roland of Doylestown, Pa., and Russ Adams of Ogden, Utah, bickered and stewed in the team challenge in which they had to create a camera-ready, bottom-of-the-sea creature. Their blue fish-like fabrication didn't look that bad. It just fell apart.

By the time the paint dried, a third artist, Chaz Vance of West Falls, N.Y., was sent home. He was part of a team that made an "H.R. Pufnstuf"-like creature that nearly suffocated the puppeteer working inside it.

Seton Hill University senior Jake Corrick worked well with his teammate, Ivonne Escoto of Los Angeles. Their purple creature was well done but marked down a bit by the judges because it looked a little too human.

"[Having teams] definitely helps to have an extra set of hands, but it can create problems, too, because not everyone works well together," said Mr. Corrick, who grew up in Belle Vernon.

"[Working with] Ivonne was very cool because she is an extremely talented fabricator. It was cool to pick up things from her."

The winner of "Creature Shop" gets $100,000 and a job with The Henson Co. Win or lose, anyone getting the chance to step into this version of Willy Wonka's chocolate factory walks out ahead of the game.

The Creature Shop is decorated with puppets and gadgets from all things in the Henson universe. There also is an animatronic beagle puppy from "Cats & Dogs."

Contestant Robert Bennett of Orlando said, "Jim Henson is better than Disney. ... Oh God, I'm going to get fired."

"I couldn't decide whether that should stay in the show, but it was genuinely his feeling," said Henson company chairman Brian Henson in a press call last week. "Disney and Henson are very different. ... There's an irreverence to our work as well as there's sort of a rooted reality toward the personalities of our creations."

'Face Off'

This week on "Face Off' (Syfy, Tuesdays) brought a hit and a near-miss for some grads of the Tom Savini program. Working with 3-D designers, the remaining contestants had to come up with a human mutant that displayed characteristics such as "elasticity" or "magnetism."

Tyler Green of Litchfield, Conn., transformed his female model ("wall crawling") into a creepy yet sympathetic character that sprouted fly-like hairs and antennae. Topped by a delicate paint job of purples and grays, this was the winning look that drew raves from the judges.

"This is really quite exceptional," said Neville Paige.

"Superb," added Glenn Hetrick.

Fellow Savini alum Daran Holt of Kansas City, Mo., narrowly missed being eliminated. His mutant ("panoramic vision") baffled the panel. Calling it "a big blue turtle, which is not a good thing," Ve Neill couldn't understand the creature's story. "The ordinary person's not going to know what the heck you did."

Fortunately for Mr. Holt, Boston's Graham Schofield tried to embody "tunneling" with a mole character. Way too obvious.

"It's a mole. It tunnels. I get it," Mr. Hetrick said.

With Mr. Schofield sent home, five remain.


* Based on a hit Dutch series, "Utopia" will launch on Fox after the network finds 15 U.S. contestants willing to give up a year of their lives. They will be expected to "build a whole new world" -- or at least some semblance of a society.

Participants must be legal U.S. citizens or permanent residents and at least 21 years old. For more information,

Maria Sciullo: or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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