If you’re a fan of reality game shows, you’ve probably seen Ink Master. Just substitute tattoos for food, fashion, haircuts, interior design, or whatever, and you’ve got the show. You’ve got a celebrity host — in this case Jane’s Addiction guitarist and eyeliner aficionado Dave Navarro – a group of the "best of the best," who never enough time to finish the task at hand, and $100,000 and a write-up in Inked magazine on the line. The show premiered in 2012 and has gone on to have 13 seasons, as well as three successful spin-offs. Ink Master: Redemption saw unhappy human canvases come back to get their bad tats fixed. Ink Master: Angels was the one with female judges. And Ink Master: Grudge Match was the one that rehashed rivalries from the other ones.
Flanked by tattoo artists Chris Nuñez and Oliver Peck, and often accompanied by a special guest judge, Navarro has scoured the country to bring the sickest tats to your TV screen week after week for nearly a decade. As with most "unscripted" competitions, however, the reality behind the editing isn’t always what the producers make it appear to be. Let’s take a look into the untold truth of Ink Master and see if we can pick apart the good, the bad, the controversial, and the completely made-up.
Unsurprisingly, the ‘reality’ of Ink Master is completely staged
It wouldn’t be an unscripted competition show without at least one contestant finishing his or her project in the final few seconds of every challenge. American TV audiences are addicted to the thrill of wondering if the person will be able to finish the task in time, then seeing them unfailingly pull it off by the time the judge says "Time’s up!" As one former human canvas revealed to the Reddit world back in 2016, however, that was never, ever the case. "No one ever came down [to] the wire," he wrote, "most artists finished hours before and some even went over 6."
And that’s not the only thing that makes Ink Master totally fake. The former human canvas said that all the drama and hostility that the viewer sees on screen never existed in real life. He said that "there’s no real tension on set," but that the artists know that the more drama they incite, the more screen time they’ll get. This results in artists who are super nice and friendly in person turning into total jerks when the cameras start rolling. He also said that the judges were hardly ever on the set. "They only showed up for 5 minutes to walk around from booth to booth so they could edit them being there the whole time." That’s understandable. The judges have better things to do with their time, like finding the right shade of black make-up to wear (more on this later).
Some Ink Master human canvases received some terrible tattoos
Part of the schtick of Ink Master is that the human canvases get what they get. Then they have to deal with the judges picking apart and pointing out all the terrible features of a tattoo they’ll have for the rest of their lives. But hey, it’s a free tat, right? Still, having saved a few hundred bucks on your permanent disfigurement isn’t much of a consolation when the artist really bungles the tattoo. Screen Rant ranked the show’s worst tattoos, and boy, was there some awful ink among them. Some of our favorites were the person drawn with two right feet, and the horrifying portrait tat that included every single wrinkle of the canvas’ elderly mother (every single one). One of the absolute worst was the artist who misspelled the Bible verse his canvas wanted: "Cortnthians."
There has been some debate over whether tattoo artist Roland’s Acid Cat is good or a nightmarish bad trip inked onto the person’s skin. The number one (read: absolute worst) tattoo on the list was a Victorian lace throat tattoo that judge Oliver Peck called "a big black mess," something he knows all about (and which, again, we’ll get to shortly). Luckily, for victims of such terrible tats, the producers thought up the spin-off Ink Masters: Redemption, which invites the human canvases back to the set for another round of inking in hopes of fixing the unsightly fiascoes.
Ink Master has had some pretty controversial moments
As if those frightful tattoos weren’t bad enough, Ink Master has sure seen its fair share of controversial moments in its 186 episodes, a list of which Screen Rant was more than happy to compile, as well. One of those came in season three, when producers thought it would be great to send the artists into a prison to have them do up some traditional single needle prison tats on real-life convicts. Luckily, no one asked for a swastika or anything like that.
Ink Master has also been criticized for its treatment of women. It took the show eight seasons to see a female champion, Ryan Ashley. The show is apparently not a safe space for them, either. One former employee reportedly experienced sexual harassment on the set and ended up suing the producers after she was fired for filing a complaint about it. Then there was that episode in season four where all the human canvases appeared totally butt-naked, which made some of the competitors understandably uncomfortable. The show’s biggest controversy came in 2020, however, when Oliver Peck was booted off the judges’ panel and Ink Master ended up calling it quits.
Judge Oliver Peck was kicked off the show for being an idiot
Okay, now we’re finally getting to judge Oliver Peck and his thing with the color black. In January 2020, TMZ reported that Peck was leaving the show after pictures of him in blackface — on more than one occasion – were found on his Myspace page. In one, the jerk can be see sporting an afro wig, a blacked-out tooth, and a superhero-style outfit with a giant letter "N" on his chest. In another, he’s wearing a basketball uniform, head and wrist bands, and covered literally from head to toe in black make-up. Paramount Network released a statement saying, "We, like many others, were appalled when we saw the photos of Oliver. We were glad to see his apology and accept that he is taking full responsibility for the damaging impact of his actions."
Part of that responsibility was being told "Buh-bye" by the show he’d worked on for nearly a decade, but "apology" might not be the right word for the statement provided by Peck. According to USA Today, he said, "The producers and I have decided it’s best to part ways. The offensive photos of me which recently surface from many years ago can only be a distraction to the amazing show I have loved being a part of and its many talented artists." He didn’t exactly sound sorry for wearing that makeup and putting that giant "N" on his chest. He sounded more sorry for himself for losing his cool job. Oh well. Buh-bye, Peck.
Ink Master will probably be coming back after being cancelled in 2020
Peck’s racist idiocy was part of the reason Ink Master was cancelled in 2020. According to Variety, the show’s demise also had to do with Paramount Network’s shift in programming strategy. That year, it decided to shift its focus from repetitive, formulaic reality competition shows to more original movies, miniseries, and scripted dramas. But it was also part of the network cleaning up its act in general. It also cancelled the reality series Cops after the murder of George Floyd by a former Minneapolis police officer sparked racial justice protests across the country in June.
Fans of the show saw a glimmer of hope in February 2021, however, when Deadline reported that the network is planning on reviving Ink Master on its new streaming service Paramount+. So never fear, there are more bad tattoos and fake arguments — and, we all hope, fewer racists — to come in the future.