“You do not have what it takes to be ‘Ink Master.’” Fans of the Spike reality show have heard Dave Navarro say that 15 times in Season 5. But on Tuesday, Dec. 16, the “Ink Master” host and judge will finally name the “Rivals” winner.
It’s been an intense season, with 18 tattoo artists battling it out with their industry rivals for bragging rights and the $100,000 prize. There have been great tattoos, bad tattoos, some seriously rough criticism and, of course, shocking eliminations. Season 5 featured three front-runners from the start – Cleen Rock One, Erik Siuda and Josh Hibbard. But in a surprising twist, Josh was sent home in episode 11 after admitting to breaking the show’s contract by smoking weed. While no seat in the finale episode was guaranteed until episode 16, returning artist Jason Clay Dunn managed to beat out Mark Longenecker to stand alongside Cleen Rock One and Erik in the “Rivals” finale.
“I had hopes for Jason, of course; he is a great guy and has been with us before,” Navarro told International Business Times. “I wanted him to do well. In fact, Jason is one of the only ‘Ink Master’ contestants who has tattooed me!”
There's no denying Jason’s skill set. The owner and artist at Tattoo Alchemy in Montclair, California, has 20 years of experience in the field. He knows how to play the game after appearing in Season 3, but his spot in the top three wasn’t as obvious as Cleen Rock One and Erik’s.
“He has done some outstanding work on the show, but he has also made some strange choices, so I was uncertain as to his ability to take a spot in the final three,” Navarro added. “He is kind of a wild card in the sense that sometimes his head gets in the way of his craft. I had confidence that his talent could get him there, I just worried that his head wouldn’t let him.”
“Ink Master” fans should know exactly what “strange choices” the reality-show host is referring to. In episode 11 Jason received criticism from the judges for his choice of placement in the spine tattoo challenge. Jason’s human canvas wanted the Empire State Building even though he already had a tattoo of his name across the top of his back. With no other option, Jason chose to place the spire of the building underneath the lettering of the previous tattoo. Most recently, Jason let his nerves get to him in the episode 16 elimination tattoo. A blank canvas refused to have Jason tattoo a geisha pinup on him, forcing the judges to quickly find him a replacement. The switch-up rattled Jason, and he ended up doing a tattoo the judges disliked. He had to compete in a follow-up elimination tattoo with Mark and Erik.
Mark was the final contestant to be eliminated before the “Ink Master” finale – something that came as a surprise to some viewers, considering a few of his struggles throughout Season 5. An owner and artist at Endless Summer in Cocoa Beach, Florida, Mark entered the show with an impressive reputation from 20 years in the field. His designs were creative, but he didn’t always impress the judges during the critiques.
“He has paid his dues and has been recognized by the community for years,” Navarro says of Mark. “I think that Oliver and Chris pushed him so hard because they know he has the ability to pull off great work. However, my role is that of a client, so my observations have a different point of view. I vote on overall aesthetics more than anything else. I leave the technical stuff to the pros and go with my own thoughts as a client.”
Despite Mark’s elimination prior to the finale, judge Navarro views him as the “success story of the season.”
“At the beginning he took a beating from the judges and he never crumbled. He looked as if he might be the first go and rode it out [until] the final four,” he adds. “Just goes to show that some artists can handle the heat from the judges and make it work, while others let it get in their heads and implode.”
While there were no physical fights like Kyle Dunbar’s meltdown with judge Chris Nunez in Season 4, there was one moment that left “Ink Master” viewers with their jaws on the ground – Josh Hibbard’s elimination. Many who watch the Spike show took to Twitter to express their anger, a move that didn’t surprise Dave at all.
“We all knew very well that Josh’s elimination would be upsetting to many fans -- to be honest it was upsetting to the judges as well,” he explains of the marijuana-use controversy, referring to fellow judges Chris and Oliver Peck. “We all wanted to see a full competition with everybody competing [until] the end. However, it would be unfair to the other contestants, who honored their contracts, to let it slide.”
Despite Josh’s departure from the show, the “Ink Master” season has been a competitive and entertaining ride. On Tuesday, finalists Cleen Rock One, Erik Siuda and Jason Clay Dunn will each unveil their final tattoo, a 35-hour back piece, for judges Dave Navarro, Chris Nunez and Oliver Peck to critique and name a winner.
As for what’s next on the “Ink Master” horizon? Navarro isn’t ruling out an “all-star” season.
“I do think that would be fun, but I love seeing new unknowns get a shot at reaching a massive audience,” Navarro says. “I am sure more will be revealed on the matter in the future!”
Watch the "Ink Master: Rivals" finale when it airs on Spike on Tuesday, Dec. 16, at 10 p.m. EST.