Autumn Cook is unabashedly geeky. So much so that she and her significant other named their 6-year-old daughter Pippa Raygun: "It has a lot of nostalgia for us, and it's a heck of a cool pen name for a daughter of two artists," she said.
So when Ms. Cook, 35, joined the cast for Season 4 of Syfy's competitive reality series "Face Off," she had her geek tricorder set to "stun." It must have been really trippy when, in the second challenge -- this episode ran last week -- the crew was sent to San Diego and Comic-Con.
They were paired with well-known graphic novel artists during the concept stage and charged with creating a superhero. Eric Zapata, a graduate of Tom Savini's program at the Douglas Education Center in Monessen, met Jim Lee and could hardly contain his fanboy vibe: "I just want to scream," he said.
On the show, Ms. Cook got teary as she remembered the joy Pippa takes in getting dressed up to play Wonder Woman. In fact, being at Comic-Con left her with mixed emotions.
"She is such a big fan of comic heros, and there was the guilt of being there without her. So I had to make her proud to make it up to her."
She conferred with British comics artist Mark Buckingham and came up with "Mercury Ray."
"I definitely wanted to keep my character sexy and keep the whole DC Comics idea of what a real heroine looks like."
When it came to final looks and judging, she and Mr. Zapata were not in the top, nor the low group. Wearing bright blue Ben Nye lipstick to match her shoes, Ms. Cook absorbed the criticism and praise of judges Glenn Hetrick, Ve Neill and Neville Page.
"As sloppy as everything is, it feels most 'superhero,' " Mr. Page murmured during close-up inspection.
The overall look, however, was praised, and both Ms. Cook and Mr. Zapata advanced in the competition.
Mr. Hetrick often glares on camera but Ms. Cook described him as a "swell" guy.
"I don't think he's scary at all. Maybe that's part of my problem," she added, laughing. "I wouldn't be surprised if I scare Glenn a little bit; I am from Pittsburgh."
Ms. Cook grew up in Arnold, Westmoreland County, and attended Valley High School. She said she wasn't aware schools even taught special effects makeup until enrolling in the industrial design program at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh.
She worked her way into doing not only horror/special effects for various shops, but also glamour makeup. When the chance to try out for "Face Off" arose, she tried out for Season 3 but got caught up in the paperwork and didn't meet the deadline.
Hoping to display a well-rounded skill set, Ms. Cook said she is especially strong in the fabrication part of creating special effects.
The craziness of trying to meet the "Face Off" challenges were exhausting, but she discovered this about herself: "You don't know until you push yourself above and beyond that you're capable of more than you think."
• Hollywood's iconic "Mel's Diner" was the scene of this week's challenge on "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off." Three weeks in, it's beginning to dawn on viewers that there pretty much isn't anything Hines Ward cannot do.
Win a Super Bowl MVP award? Been there. Learn a bunch of ballroom dance routines in a week? Done that. And now the former Steelers receiver is serving up dinners and goodwill.
The remaining six contestants had to put their spin on three classic diner specials: a tuna melt, cheeseburger and club sandwich. Mr. Ward is thrilled in his mastery of a scary-looking food processor, but he starts to feel the heat of the kitchen when he and Carnie Wilson become short-order cooks.
He goes all in with his bacon cheeseburger, putting bacon in and on the patty. It's a hit. At the request of a diner, he also dances in the parking lot, but he's left in the glittering dust of the other team's captain, figure skater Johnny Weir.
Mr. Weir -- star of his own reality series on another network -- is eminently entertaining. Decked out in a silver, sequined jacket and matching shoes, he glides through the dinner crowd.
A prediction: It will come down to Mr. Ward and Mr. Weir in the finale.
• On "The Joe Schmo Show," (SpikeTV, Tuesdays) it's Chase Rogan's 28th birthday and he gets a birthday cake and a phone call from his wife, Taylor. Earlier, he "wins" immunity in a wonderfully ridiculous challenge involving the fake contestants being hooked up to heart monitors to measure their reactions to various stimuli.
Later, the Pittsburgh agronomist also is forced to "out" a housemate. This is as awkward as it sounds, and he tries to gently let down "Skylar," who refuses to believe it.
• So what's new on "Dance Moms" (Lifetime, Tuesdays)? Not much. The team went to North Carolina and performed a group number about immigration. Mothers fought and cried in the days leading up to it. Little girls danced.
Maria Sciullo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG. First Published January 26, 2013 5:00 AM