Ryan Ashley - Ink Master
Ryan Ashley is one of the female artists still in the running for “Ink Master” Season 8. Spike

The contestants on “Ink Master” may be dwindling, but the Season 8 competition is only just heating up.

Ten artists remain heading into episode 9, and three of them are females. While female tattoo artists are nothing new to the industry, this season could potentially deliver the first female “Ink Master” winner.

Kelly Doty, Nikki Simpson and Ryan Ashley Malarkey — along with the recently eliminated Gia Rose — formed an alliance in week one. Although Season 8 is technically Team Peck v. Team Núñez, the women stuck together and rattled the male competitors in the house. They have all proven that they’re strong artists throughout the past few weeks, but the alliance is what surprised showrunner and executive producer Andrea Richter.

“I think going into a season of ‘Ink Master’ — at least as a reality television producer — I never go in with a pre-conceived notion with what I think is going to happen,” Richer told International Business Times. “I think you pick great characters, you pick great artists and you wait and see what happens.”

For Richter, the first successful alliance that really played out was in Season 7 with Christian Buckingham and Anthony Michaels. Both artists made it to the finale, but Anthony ultimately won the season.

“That was the first time we saw an alliance take place that really held, and then Season 8 is just a further evolution of that,” she explained. “You never know what’s going to happen. You put four strong women together — what’s going to happen? You put four strong guys together — what’s going to happen? Who is going to bond? Who is not? Who is going to help each other to the end? This story is phenomenal because they lead it, and we follow.”

Richter revealed that the series has always been searching for talented women to appear, whether through submissions or recommendations. Ryan Ashley is actually an artist who they’ve been talking to for a couple of seasons.

“Sometimes we have artists who are waiting in the wings because it’s not the right timing in their lives to leave for a couple months,” she added. “I think that for Season 8 it just happened to be the perfect combination where the ladies were all available and ready to compete at the same time.”

Episode 9 of “Ink Master” will air on Spike Tuesday, Oct. 18 at 10 p.m. ET. Are you rooting for Ryan, Kelly or Nikki? Tweet your thoughts to @AmandaTVScoop.