Contestant trips up on futuristic robots challenge on 'Face Off'

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Special effects makeup artist Daran Holt "doesn't do robots."

He mentioned this fact about four times on "Face Off" (Syfy, Tuesdays). So it was obvious he either was going to knock one out of the park in the face of adversity or indeed design a crummy robot.

It was the latter.

Mr. Holt, of Kansas City, Mo., was one of two grads of Monessen's Tom Savini Special Make-Up Effects program left in the competition. The other four designers -- including Savini grad Tyler Green of Litchfield, Conn. -- embraced the futuristic challenge.

Mr. Green, who has won several individual contests on the program, almost won again with a robot doctor judge Ve Neill deemed "pretty sweet." But the firefighter robot from Bronx native Rashaad Santiago was an even bigger hit, and even his competitors were thrilled when he earned his first victory. (In general, "Face Off" contestants are a very amiable bunch.)

As for Mr. Holt, who celebrated a birthday with red velvet cupcakes during the four-day challenge, it was tough sledding. His robot was supposed to be a photographer, and other than an elaborate, camera-like headpiece, the rest was as plain as vanilla. Judge Glenn Hetrick even compared it to the awful Andy Kaufman film "Heartbeeps" for its lack of complexity.

Four are left in the penultimate episode next week, which promises vampires.

Pa. resident out of 'Creature Shop'

After being in the bottom two for the first week of "Jim Henson's Creature Shop Challenge" (Syfy, Tuesdays), Robert Bennett was the winner as teams of three worked to design and build new members of the villainous Skeksis from "The Dark Crystal."

Mr. Bennett, from Kissimmee, Fla., stood out for his sculpting work on the head of a forest Skeksis. The judges said it was a close call between that creature and one from a frozen wasteland, a more complex Skeksis that used more animatronics. Belle Vernon native Jake Corrick sculpted the head (judge Brian Henson didn't like how far apart the eyes were but complimented it nonetheless) and the Skeksis' glowing staff.

To little surprise, Tina Rowland of Doylestown, in southeastern Pennsylvania, was eliminated. She and episode one teammate Russ Adams of Odgen, Utah, had bickered their way to a poor design that week, and when they randomly teamed together again, there were more problems.

Ms. Rowland, upon messing up the servos in the head of their Skeksis, declared, "My brain was kind of going to mush."

Many people have compared "Face Off" and "Creature Shop" and even another Syfy tech challenge show, "Hot Set" (film set design). To be sure, there's a formula to these but all in all, they represent about the highest level of craftsmanship under pressure in reality television. It's also somewhat affirming that so very often (see "Face Off," above) the contestants appear happy to help each other when problems arise in individual challenges.

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

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