'Ink Master' season 9 premiere eliminates one shop and introduces game-changing twist


Get ready for a game-changing twist in season nine of Ink Master. Spike already introduced an interesting new spin on the competition series by having this season dedicated to naming the first ever "Master Shop." But by the end of the premiere, the nine tattoo shops competing for the title — and $200,000 prize — discover that the game is a little more complex than that.

Tattooing just became a team sport

Season nine immediately kicks off with the 18 contestants joining judges Dave Navarro, Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez for their first flash challenge: ice sculpting. There, they learn they'll be working in teams with their fellow studio artist.

"Win and you both win," Dave tells them. "Lose and you're both out."

That's right, everyone's fate in the competition is in the hands of their co-worker. Fortunately some of them already have experience working closely together. Dane Smith and April Nicole of Artistic Skin Design in Indiana are dating and have worked with each other on tattoos before. Ulyss Blair and Eva Huber of Allegory Arts in Alabama are husband and wife, so they're no strangers to working together. Others are not so lucky.

The challenge is to create an ice sculpture that represents their studio. Bang and Danger Dave of Tri-Cities Tattoo in Georgia immediately disagree and bicker about their project. These two can't seem to get on the same page, and that shows when it gets down to the critique. Tri-Cities has one of the worst designs of the flash challenge.

A leg up in the competition

The judges focus on application and design when looking for the next Ink Master winner. You need skill to end up in the final three, but you also need to take advantage of anything that comes your way. Winning a flash challenge can give you a leg up.

Ulyss and Eva of Allegory Arts pull off the first flash challenge win with their state of Alabama logo design. They're safe from elimination this week and the judges are giving one other shop the opportunity to join them. Without giving the artists a chance to defrost from the ice sculpting, they bring them to the next flash challenge: create custom lettering out of metal.

The remaining eight teams must carve their shop's name into plaster and pour metal into it. This time around Erin Chance and Doom Kitten of Unkindness Art in Virginia come out the victors. They join Ulyss and Eva as safe in week one while the others must battle it out in the elimination tattoo.

Nobody said this was going to be easy

Allegory Arts and Unkindness Art cannot be eliminated, but one shop still needs to go home. Tri-Cities Tattoo, Classic Trilogy Tattoos, Thicker Than Blood, The Marked Society Tattoo, Pinz & Needlez, Artistic Skin Designs and Black Anchor Collective must prove they have what it takes to stay in the game by drawing and tattooing using a live reference.

Seems easy enough, right? The teams are confident until handlers bring out a live snake, hawk and alligator. They must use one of those animals — and no other reference — to create a tattoo in six hours. And the judges have one more twist. The artists must tag-team on the same canvas and switch off tattooing every hour.

Since the tattoos are being judged as a whole, the teams have to be on the same page. That's easier said than done considering the artists specialize in different styles.

Ultimately the judges decide that Artistic Skin Design has the best tattoo of the day. As for the worst? Tri-Cities Tattoo, Thicker Than Blood and The Marked Society end up in the bottom three.

Oliver thinks that The Marked Society's tattoo is the "ugliest thing in the room." According to the judge, their attempt at an alligator looks like a "wet sock" with eyes. While their tattoo might not be appealing, it's not the worst of the day.

Thicker Than Blood's snake is "anatomically impossible" and doesn't prove to the judges that they can draw. Jhon Campuzano and Babiery Hernandez of the New York studio are the first to get sent home in season nine.

The season nine surprise

Eight shops are supposed to remain in the running for the $200,000 grand prize — but Ink Master has one more surprise for fans and the contestants. A preview for episode two reveals that when one studio is cut, another will join the competition. This game-changing twist means that the original artists from the premiere will have to keep fighting off newcomers every week.

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