Jim DeYonker
Michael Slezak
November 27, 2007 AT 08:28 PM EST

Across the nation, in the bedrooms of thousands of teenage girls — and, let’s keep it real, more than a few teenage boys — tears flowed tonight. At least that’s what I’m guessing, seeing how gloomy-gorgeous Heather, winner of umpteen consecutive Cover Girl of the Week awards during this ninth cycle of America’s Next Top Model, got unceremoniously dumped from the competition for, essentially, being a really poor reader of Chinese-language maps.

Okay, maybe it’s not fair to assume that only a teenager would go to CWTV.com and vote for what’s ultimately a meaningless contest. There might be a few tweens, and maybe adult relatives of the contestants, who’d do it, too, right?

But that’s not to say Heather’s CGOTW voting bloc wasn’t backing the correct horse. Her battle with Asperger’s syndrome, her intermittent eye contact, and her fragile sense of self-worth, combined with her glorious performance in front of the camera, made Heather the season’s most intriguing model and, as a result, the easiest one to root for.

Yeah, she was woeful last week shooting a CoverGirl TV ad that required her to memorize lines, but I can’t imagine that with a little time and practice (and maybe the love and support of four or five fans asking for her autograph at a promotional appearance in a small-town Wal-Mart), Heather wouldn’t have been able to hold her own with previous Top Model champs like Naima ”Mumblemouth” Mora, Nicole ”Empty Thought Bubble” Linkletter, and poor, poor Jaslene ”They Stole My Soul When I Wasn’t Looking” Gonzalez.

Admittedly, the fact that Heather only made it to one out of five go-sees during tonight’s episode was problematic, but I still contend she deserved to make the trip from Shanghai to Beijing next week. The nature of what makes a ”good model” is arbitrary, to be certain, but even in the scant few seconds of footage we got to see from Heather’s shoot during tonight’s episode, I was struck by how electrifying this gawky girl becomes when she’s face-to-face with a photographer.

Tyra’s parting words of encouragement to Heather — ”You came so far that you have to be so proud of yourself” — would almost have been enough to make me misty-eyed if I hadn’t been able to read between the carefully airbrushed lines. What our maniacal hostess really meant was that, just like the plus-size and/or real-size models who defy the odds and manage to crack the top 13 each season, Heather was just another decoy, an odd duck meant not only to prove Tyra’s open-mindedness about the definition of what’s beautiful but also to provide the show’s producers with a compelling, emotional story arc, complete with a ”you go, girl!” finish.

No, really, you go girl. Immediately back to your hotel suite, pack your belongings, and go home.

Ah, well, at least Heather managed to provide the episode’s funniest line (”The map’s completely in Chinese — it’s all Greek to me”) and also star in its zaniest moment (that snippet of Handel’s ”Hallelujah Chorus” that played when she finally arrived at the offices of fiery fashionista Flora Zeta). But with the elimination of my two favorite contestants (Heather this week and Lisa last), I’m not sure I really care who’s (to paraphrase Top Model‘s still-awesome theme song) gonna be on top-top-top.

Do I root for Chantal, the Barbie doll who got banged up a little bit on the assembly line, and who maybe needs to visit the Wizard to get herself a brain upgrade? I wasn’t quite as outraged as the judges (or designer Lu Kun) that Chantal wore pink and black lace skivvies to her go-sees, but I was offended that Tyra & Co. didn’t call her out for yet another blank facial expression in her Shanghai Surprise photo shoot. Can a girl who has yet to take a truly fierce photo this season crack the final three? I’m guessing not, and that Chantal will go home next week.

And then there’s Bianca, whose raging insecurities all too frequently boil up beneath her spunky-cute facade and turn her into a total she-beast. Okay, I laughed when she and Saleisha showed up at the same time for their Fiona Vong go-see — ”I’m walking, and I look at Saleisha like, ‘Bam, bitch!’ ” — but then she had to go and spoil it, barking, ”Bzzz! You’re out!” when Jenah showed up late to the agency, and flashing a split-second grin when Heather got eliminated. Revolting. Though not nearly as dreadful as the drowsy-nauseated facial expression she delivered in her ”best shot” (!) of the week.

(Oh, and a quick side note: If any of you think Bianca’s light-up floating billboard for the 2008 Beijing Olympics was not a one-time-only occurrence, then I have some tickets to the 2004 Athens Games that I can sell to you at a terrific price.)

So, if I can’t root for Chantal or Bianca, who does that leave me with? Saleisha, the model equivalent of a bowl of Splenda topped with a thick layer of NutraSweet? Seriously, the Camp Tyra grad seemed far less annoying when there were more girls in the competition, and she did actually lie to Bianca about where a designer’s office was located. But this week’s dual jump-and-shriek cries of ”Top five! Top five!” and ”Go-sees! Go-sees!” pushed me over the edge, as did her alarming comment to Vong: ”You’re so cute I’m taking you home with me. Let’s go!” (Um, couldn’t the show’s editors have spared us this moment of ”look at the cute little Chinese people!” stereotyping?) That said, Saleisha delivered the best photo of the week, with a contorted, catlike pose. The only thing the panel flubbed was Tyra praising Saleisha for being more than just ”an edgy haircut.” Um, Tyra, only if by ”edgy” you mean damaged, dated, and downright dreadful. Can you guys imagine if Saleisha takes home the title with that thick mushroom mop still attached to her head? (Shudderiffic!)

NEXT: Gong show

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