Say what you will about the more fabricated aspects of reality TV, but Yvonne Cox can say from experience that the tension can be very real.
At least it is on Syfy’s Face Off, an American elimination series that pits prosthetic makeup artists against each other as they race against the clock to finish sci-fi or horror-type creations. Not surprisingly, those moments before contestants learn whether or not they have been eliminated are particularly intense.
“It’s very scary,” says Cox, an Okotoks artist who has managed to survive the first four episodes in the series’ 10th season. “You don’t meet the judges beforehand. You just know that they are huge legends in the industry. It’s scary, because you want to impress them of course, but when you walk out there it’s quiet and they are already looking at you.It’s terrifying. No matter what, even if you are feeling really good about your makeup, you don’t know if you met the challenge.”
Season 10 was shot over the summer in Los Angeles. So, unlike most everyone else, the 28-year-old knows how each episode ends, although she must adhere to the rigid cone-of-silence commandment that rules unscripted television.
So it was just good timing that she returned home to Okotoks from doing publicity and première parties in Los Angeles just in time for Episode 3. She threw her own Face Off party at the Shark Club on Jan. 27 for family and friends, who watched Cox emerge triumphant in what was surely the strangest assignment yet.
Working with Anna Cali, a fellow contestant from Chicago, Cox was tasked with coming up with a character that matched a fictional language created by linguist David Peterson, the man who invented Game of Thrones’ Dothraki tongue.
Cox, who had survived the first two episodes but was ranked near the bottom, impressed the judges with an elaborate headdress/helmet for her sinister, otherworldly “God-like” character. The usually stone-faced judges enthused at great length about her skills and chose her as the weekly winner.
“It was very much in my comfort zone,” said Cox. “I (was a) foam sculptor so I had to apply a lot of that, what I learned with symmetry and a lot of those details. Also, with my surroundings I had started to get used to the lab and where things were. My partner was great, which makes a huge difference. It definitely was my favourite creation so far.”
Born in Washington, Cox came to Okotoks as a young child with her family. She spent four years as a hairstylist before deciding to take the makeup design course at Vancouver Film School. Upon graduation in 2010, she went to work in the film industry, most notably in a props shop that did work for 2011’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Closer to home, she has worked alongside local filmmaker Cameron Macgowan doing makeup for his indie horror shorts, 2012’s Black Hills and 2013’s Liebe. Cox tried out for Face Off upon graduating from film school, making the top 20 in 2012 and again last year. The third time was the charm, as she became one of the featured 14 artists who competed on Season 10.
Cox said movie makeup has fascinated her since she was a child. It also occasionally scared her. She has vivid memories of being haunted by the cannibalistic Morlocks she saw on TV in 1960s The Time Machine and was enthralled by the gory transformations in the werewolf Howling series or David Cronenberg’s 1986 gross-out classic, The Fly.
“I was always intrigued by that,” Cox says. “But at the same time, I also love creating fantasy characters. I’m not as much into blood and guts, I like doing the character stuff.”
Viewers will have to tune into Face Off (it airs on the Space channel in Canada) on Wednesday to see if Cox triumphs or is set packing. Among the spoils that go to the winner is $100,000.
Either way, she says she hopes her participation in the series gives her career a boost.
“I wanted to push myself and see what I was capable but also just get my name out there,” she says. “Growing up in a smaller town I don’t know as many people in the makeup industry as people do who are constantly around the film industry down in L.A. I’m hoping, since I’m on the show, I get a little more recognized for my work and get some opportunities out of it.”