No, not a man—definitely not a man. A woman, in fact an attractive young woman, a 20-year-old model named Mariah Watchman, who grew up on the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, is competing for the chance to give her already-successful modeling career a huge boost.
And she’s still alive. When it came time to critique the photos and decide who stays and who goes, the judges—Banks, Kelly Osbourne, PR guru Kelly Cutrone, and photographer Nigel Barker—were pretty hard on Watchman. Their comments suggested she was in serious danger of not making the cut. But ultimately another model was eliminated.
The theme of this cycle is “British Invasion”; the competitors are seven veterans of Britain’s Next Top Model and seven new American faces. In the first episode’s photo shoot, an American was paired with a Brit, both dressed as historical figures from their respective countries. Watchman was paired with Jasmia Robinson, who was dressed as John Lennon and who, ironically, ended up getting the heave-ho. Watchman’s costume was one that is bound to raise eyebrows in Indian country: Pocahontas.
The show’s producers picked the historical figures for each model, but Watchman said she embraced her assignment. “As soon as I heard what the competition was, I knew that’s who I would be,” Watchman told The Oregonian. “I was completely fine with it. There’s no one else I’d want more to portray. It’s someone everybody knows.”
Watchman also pointed out to The Oregonian that the character of Pocahontas is part of her everyday life, saying: “When [people] ask what I am, they always assume I’m Latina. I have to let them know I’m Native American and will say, ‘As in Pocahontas.’ I always have to refer to her anyway.”
Undoubtedly, some previous ANTM contestants have had some fraction of Native heritage, but Watchman is the first reservation-raised tribal member. (At her ANTM callback audition in Los Angeles, she says, she spoke her Sahaptin language to highlight her Native identity.) She graduated from Nixyaawii Community High School in Pendleton, Oregon, and attended Haskell Indian Nations University. The 5’9″ Watchman was a standout basketball player in high school, and was on the team at Haskell, but ended her basketball career when she realized modeling was her true passion. She has been a working model since she was 15.
ANTM filmed its episodes in the fall of 2011. As anyone who’s watched reality television knows, the human drama among divas, schemers, and sensitive types can sometimes turn ugly. Watchman is confident about how she conducted herself. “I felt I couldn’t be crazy or nonchalant about things because I had a whole people on my shoulders,” she told The Oregonian. “I had higher expectations for myself. I wasn’t going to go and be crazy and disrespect people because for Native Americans one of the hugest things is respect.”