Haukur Örn Hauksson
7 min readSep 8, 2018


Yes, summer is over, but that’s okay because Ink Master Season 11 is finally upon us. This time, we have a very dramatic and descriptive subtitle: “Grudge Match — Cleen vs. Christian.”

Paramount Network

This references hothead Ink Master Finals runner-ups Cleen Rock One and Christian Buckingham seeking to resolve their legendary rivalry, established in Season 7 and escalated in Season 9. Not only that, but they’ll be leading two teams of artists against each other, competing, as usual, for $100,000, a feature in Inked magazine, and the coveted title of Ink Master.

Before we get into this, I just want to say that I’ve always felt that “A feature in Inked magazine” is by far the least sexy component of that list of prizes. Lately it has come to remind me of Alec Baldwin’s epic speech in Glengarry Glenn Ross: “As you all know first prize is a Cadillac El Dorado. Anybody wanna see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives.” Also, I’d pay good money to see that character as a guest judge one day.

Anyway, I digress. The stakes have, of course, never been higher.

The Format.

The many seasons of Ink Master have had a lot of overlapping themes, but an ever-shifting, multi-faceted and wildly confusing aspect of the show has always been the exact format of the competition. The shadowy council behind the scenes has tinkered heavily with rules and regulations over the years while searching for that golden formula, often with disastrous consequences.

Somebody, maybe a producer, maybe a fresh-faced intern with undying passion and the guts to speak up, seems to have figured out that it is better to engineer the format without getting drunk and/or high first. And so I was very relieved when, in a heavy-handed boxing metaphor delivered inside a boxing ring by ageless vampire Dave Navarro, we are introduced to the beautiful simplicity of the two team, head-to-head setup.

Later, the twists with the blind judging, contestants choosing their leader, and the elimination round made a lot of sense and racked up the tension. Keep it up, brave young intern.

By the way, speaking of young, I hope Dave Navarro won’t come swooping through my window tonight for revealing this, but he’s actually 51 years old. He doesn’t look 51. No, but seriously, he really, really doesn’t.

Paramount Network

I do, however, expect a few gray hairs in his immaculate beard after overseeing this battle between Christian and Cleen, since they are both, objectively, incredibly obnoxious human beings.


Unlike most people on reality television, Christian Buckingham doesn’t suffer from selective amnesia and is actually aware, at all times, that he’s surrounded by cameras and that the game he’s playing is a construct.

He keeps getting applauded for this, like he’s a Machiavellian genius, both by his underlings, the judges, and himself. That guy on Survivor who lied to everyone about his grandmother dying so he wouldn’t get kicked off? Now that is insidious, evil, and absolutely fantastic. Christian’s strategy is to basically repeatedly tell people on a tattoo competition show that they’re not very good at tattooing, and being a general two-faced, common-sense douche.

I know that’s not very nice to say, and maybe he’s a saint when the cameras aren’t rolling. But that tribal monstrosity on his face, I don’t like it, I can’t stop looking at it, and I have to admit I want to know more. How did that happen? How extreme were the circumstances? I feel we have a right to know.

Cleen Rock One.

I have to make a confession right off the bat: I don’t like that name. Never have. If you’re going to willfully spell something wrong, you should time travel back to the 90s, or become a SoundCloud rapper. But if you’re really going for it, the least you can do is limit the douchebaggery to a one or two word name.

His highly questionable name did not hinder Mr. Cleen from being one of the very few people to have an on-screen Ink Master romance (Season 7), and arguably being the Charles Barkley of Ink Master in the sense of failing to secure a title, despite his unquestionable talent. This comparison is particularly apt since Mr. One’s trademark strategy seems to be wearing tight tank tops and threatening Christian bodily harm.

Mr. Rock, he’s pretty intense. Which only serves to remind us further that…

There is very, very little Zen here.

The best quote of the episode comes from resident snark-master Chris Nunez, when he observes that this season is going to be tremendously boxing-y because there won’t be a Zen master floating around calming everybody down with profound wisdom.

Mr. Nunez is referencing Anthony Michaels, the soft-spoken and incredibly chill winner of Season 7, who lead his own team in last season’s incredibly convoluted and nonsensical format. We could really all use more Anthony in our lives.

Oliver Peck then strings together a long list of adjectives about Cleen and Christian, such as “Headstrong” and “Gung-ho,” basically saying they’ll be like two rams, slamming their heads together with a loud, cracking noise again and again.

Look, I’m not saying there’s any genuine concern. I’m aware that this is a show about tattoos and drama, but there must be a balance. Stereotypical hyper-masculine bullcrap from the two leads has limited potential. Which is why the fate of the season really lies with…

The Other Contestants.

Paramount Network

While Cleen and Christian are brash and super gung-ho, the other contestants are mostly adorable. Everyone is unusually candid and nervous, openly wearing their hearts on their sleeve.

There are always too many people to really remember or do justice in the premiere episodes of any reality TV show. It’s a lot like Game of Thrones in that way. Hence, I will only address my personal favorites.

Let’s all salute Oba Jackson, who responds to being called out for stress with “I think you’re confusing nervous with fabulous,” and then goes on to shake like a leaf and confess that “This Ink Master gonna give me a new a**hole.” Oba is not going to win this season, but his attitude is great, his origami tattoo was underrated, and I hope he’ll stick around for a while.

Tiara Gordon looks like a Japanese manga schoolgirl vampire, openly recruits other women into a female alliance, and says things like, “I’m going to f*****g kill everybody in the most artistic, illustrative way that I can.” That is just wonderfully passive aggressive. I think she’ll make top 8.

I must also mention Jimmy Snaz, who perpetually dresses like a 70s rockstar and has a younger brother in the competition. Even if you hadn’t seen the previews for the season you wouldn’t need any shaman-like powers to correctly predict that Mr. Snaz is going to get into some sweet brother vs. brother action at some point. Judging by the previews it’s going to culminate in extremely awkward physical violence. I am here for this.

The only real asshole out of the whole bunch is Austin Rose (not to be confused with the much more talented and precocious Angel Rose). Austin is a poor man’s, or better yet a homeless man’s version of Christian, and he openly admits himself that “I talk a lot, I’m f******g annoying.” This is true. Unable to back up any of his bravado, he nevertheless keeps talking s**t and somehow continues to fail upwards, much like a few other reality TV stars these days.

Last but not least: The best tattoos of the week

The first episode of any reality talent competition is always defined by the American Idol Model. We don’t come here for the quality, we come for The Suck.

So here are the 3 best “worst tattoo” moments of the premiere.

3rd place:

Paramount Network

“I don’t know what I’m doing,” Stacy Smith admits as Cleen Rock One obliterates her koi fish. This leads Mr. One to turn to the human canvas and mouth, “What the f**k,” which leads the canvas to kind of shrug and do a little hand-wave. Eh, what you gonna do. Human canvases. Brave souls, taking the plunge into the abyss. I admire them, in a way.

2nd place:

The remarkably awesomely named DeVonne Foxworth showing that Strategy (#Christian) is actually quite important when playing this game, choosing traditional Japanese for his elimination challenge despite never actually doing traditional Japanese. Oliver Pecker giving him a s**t-eating grin for that decision comes in close second after…

1st place:

“That looks like a dick with scales.”



Haukur Örn Hauksson

Writer/basketball lover/semi-professional dog sitter. Born on a savage, volcanic island in the North, currently residing in the Big Apple.