‘Cosplay Melee:’ Review and Interviews – Episode 4

SyFy’s latest competition reality show, Cosplay Melee, aired episode four last week, and episode five airs tonight!

For more details on the hosts and show format, check out my write-up about the premiere of the series.

Episode four contestants–Steven, Becka, Cait, and Josh. Photos provided by SyFy.

First off, let’s meet the contestants from episode four–Steven K Smith of SKS Props, Becka Noel, Caitlyn Culpepper, and Josh of Cosplay Armory. The theme of the episode was “War Games.” For the first challenge, each contestant had to build a weapon for their custom character based on favorite futuristic, dystopian video game. The catch was that the weapon must be designed to be part of a full exoskeleton or suit that will be built in the second part of the show. Steven decided to make a plasma cannon for his Destiny warlock necromancer. Becka goes the Star Trek Online route with her life creating and destroying weapon for her character, One. Cait chooses Overwatch and builds a flamethrower for her junk trawling character. Josh, a lover of Fallout, builds an arm cannon and mini missile launcher for his Wasteland wanderer.

At the judging, Cait was eliminated. Her flamethrower was pretty cool, but the judges felt that it didn’t meet the challenge of being an integrated weapon enough. Becka’s large EPS foam weapon, and Steven’s bio-organic arm cannon were also really cool, but were not a match for Josh. He was declared the winner of the first challenge.

The challenge for the full build was to finish their character’s full armor while also adding lights. The costumes needed to look great not only in the light, but also in the dark. Josh got to choose his light package first since he had won the challenge. Steven deferred to Becka, letting her chose second. There were so many goodies in each package, it was really had to tell what the specific differences were but there were voice activated LEDs, EL wire, and a ton of other really cool stuff!

Becka stated that she is a perfectionist and ended up spending a lot of time on the details of her costume and didn’t focus a lot on the lighting aspect. This is definitely a problem I have as well. I tend to get too focused in the weeds and then not get things finished! Despite that, she managed to pull together a really cool mask, and a novel way of using the LED tubes to make an organic, yet futuristic skirt for her character.

Josh added even more weapons to his build and made some really awesome armor based on Liberty Prime. Although Christian complimented his design for fitting in the Fallout world, he also reminded Josh about taking full advantage of the lighting package. While Josh’s armor and weapons were terrific, he ended up falling a little short on the specific challenge of the build because of the lack of lighting.

In the end, Steven’s organic, yet futuristic and armored warlock necromancer took the prize. While the judges dinged him for having a missing thigh armor piece, he did take Christian’s advice and made extensive use of the lighting package which put him over the top. I’m sure the judges had a very difficult time choosing between the contestants, but in the end, Steven’s armor, use of the lighting, and diversity of techniques (he also scultped, molded, and cast several pieces besides using foam) clinched the win. I’m not sure if it had any bearing on the judges’ decision, but he also had food poisoning during his build!

Episode five airs tonight. Here is an exclusive clip of Aaron working on his chest piece for his super hero from tonight’s episode!

Keep reading for more contestant interviews (Garrick from episode three and Cait and Becka from episode four).

GeekDad:
When did you first get into cosplay?
Garrick Backer:
I’ve been playing dress up since I was a kid. Before I got into cosplay I did both theater and was a part of the SCA, a medieval reenactment group. I properly started doing cosplay in 2008, when my wife Jackie and I decided to go to SDCC as Batman & Catwoman.
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I started cosplaying in 2008, after raiding the Sunwell in World of Warcraft‘s Burning Crusade expansion. A friend and I decided to make the Eredar Twins. It was a huge challenge because she was in California, and I was living in Florida at the time, so we had to communicate and plan via MSN MESSENGER. Yeah, Skype wasn’t even a thing back then!
Becka Noel:
I started cosplaying almost six years ago when my fiance, Dhareza Cosplayza (also on Cosplay Melee, episode five) brought me to New York Comic Con for the first time. I fell in love with all of the costumes and wanted to be a part of it!
GeekDad:
Why do you cosplay?
Garrick Backer:
It’s an excuse to build new things and wear them out! The construction process, with all of its problem solving and experimentation, is by far my favorite part of cosplay. I love that I can hone a set of skills, but use them to make new and unique things every time. The cosplay community, and the Maker community in general, showcases amazing things people can do at home with nothing more than a desire to create. I just really love being a part of that space, and giving back to it through tutorials and my YouTube channel.
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I cosplay because I like being able to bring characters to life from my favorite games and fantasy worlds. You become someone or something you’ve connected with electronically and I think that’s such a cool transformation.
Becka Noel:
I love it! I have always loved dressing up in costumes, and when I was in school, I discovered how much I also love to make them! After I attended New York Comic Con for the first time and I found out about cosplay, it was only natural to bring the two passions together.
GeekDad:
When did you find out you were going to be a contestant and what went through your mind when you found out?
Garrick Backer:
We found out a while before filming, and I couldn’t believe it at first. It was a mix of anticipation and worry, but I promised myself to have a good time no matter what the outcome!
Caitlyn Culpepper:
When I first found out I was going to be a contestant for the show, I was in the process of moving from a small ski town in the Rocky Mountains back to sunny southern California. I was excited, but I was also extremely stressed out because I had taken on three commissions for the upcoming BlizzCon AND doing a huge move, so I don’t think I really let it set in until about a week before filming. I was so stunned that I was chosen too because this was a hobby that I never imagined would take me as far as it has, let alone on national television! Then my excitement turned to an oh-shit moment because I realized that everyone in the country was about to see how much of a MESS I am when I work!
Becka Noel:
I think they let everybody know in September? October? It’s all kind of a blurr, haha. I was just really excited!
GeekDad:
What did you learn about yourself and about your own process from being on the show?
Garrick Backer:
I learned that I work well in an unfamiliar space. The crew and cameras didn’t bother me at all. I also learned that I need to keep the bigger picture in mind when working in a crunch. I feel like I tunnel visioned a few things, and if I had adjusted my workflow I could have gotten more done.
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I learned that I still, after almost ten years of constructing costumes, have issues with time management! I also was really happy that I was able to deal with challenging situations quickly and move past them without dwelling. It’s something that I’ll use a lot more in the future. I have a tendency to be dramatic when something small doesn’t work out and just LITERALLY throw shit across my apartment and yell, “THIS IS NEVER GOING TO WORK, I HATE EVERYTHING I MAKE,” but with the show and the support from my castmates, I learned that I can successfully work past all of that and just create.
Becka Noel:
Being on set and TV is a unique experience. So many things are different than you imagined, and it’s hard to tell how you will react being on camera for the first time. The studio lights are very, very bright, there’s crew everywhere, and there are several cameras on us at all times. This was something that took me a little while to get used to. I’m still working on being able to craft and talk at the same time.
GeekDad:
Has the show inspired you to try a new technique or build something you hadn’t previously considered?
Garrick Backer:
I’m excited to work with more motors, actuators, and servos. Movement in practical props has intimidated me in the past, but after that trial by fire I’m sure I can add some cool effects to my future builds!
Caitlyn Culpepper:
Honestly, I’ve been learning so much from each episode I watch, I’m a little embarrassed that I stick to my own tried and true techniques. I definitely am looking forward to trying all the new things the other contestants showed me. Like Josh with his little BBs as detailing–that was brilliant to me. I want to experiment more with airbrushing and up my game at foam because of Steven’s pieces. I was just like what the f$*k have I been doing all these years! And Becka’s piece was so rad, it inspired me to take more risks and just OWN it.
Becka Noel:
Not really in that sense, but I do feel more accomplished and like I can conquer just about anything! I feel like since I made something in a really short amount of time, I’m faster in general now.
GeekDad:
Is there anything you really wanted people to know or see that didn’t make it into the final cut?
Garrick Backer:
We helped each other out so much more than what made it into the episode! I understand that they have to get the show to a certain length, but we really were there for one another. And production had no issues with that. Everyone on that set wanted to show how fun cosplay is, even if you are competing.
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I wish people could have seen my entire concept for my character. I felt like with the piece I made, you didn’t really GET the entire feel of my girl. But my number one goal going into this show was to show the raw and real side of cosplay…which I think I did when I had a little bit of a meltdown. I can’t remember building a costume and being calm the entire time, so I felt like I really represented what it’s like to be so involved with your craft.
Becka Noel:
There SO MUCH footage that didn’t make it simply because you can’t fit a weeks worth of filming into a one hour show. There was a lot of love between the contestants and so much more of our interviews that didn’t get in. It would have been cool to see more of that and even more of the creation process.
GeekDad:
Do you have any plans to make a final version of the character you created on the show?
Garrick Backer:
I think I’m going to make the helm again. I haven’t got the urge to make everything else, but the helmet would make a nice momento.
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I do! I really loved what I came up with. Usually I just make things that people have already created so coming up with an original design that fit in with my favorite gaming franchise was basically a dream come true. I’ve expanded on her look, personality and backstory, and my boyfriend came up with some really cool in-game mechanics so she actually has a kit that would be useful and makes sense in Overwatch. So Blizzard, if you need a new hero…
Becka Noel:
Nope. My mind is always moving on to the next big thing, haha.
GeekDad:
Garrick, I loved the metal wing idea along with the winged helmet. Do you think if you hadn’t had to spend so much time figuring out the wing gadgetry or if you’d skipped the sword, you could’ve put enough details into the rest of the cosplay to win?
Garrick Backer:
Oh, absolutely. It goes by so fast in the episode, but Marty and I literally spent one whole day, 50% of our time, on getting those wings to work. If we had thought of the metal straps sooner, things would have been much more competitive at the end! The sword was a poor last minute choice. I got the idea that I NEEDED a weapon stuck in my head, and I should have used that time on my chest piece. The show taught me that not all those ideas are a great use of limited time.
GeekDad:
Cait, I thought your flamethrower looked really cool. Is there anything you wish you’d done differently in designing it to be more in line with the challenge?
Caitlyn Culpepper:
I thought my flamethrower was really cool too, thank you! As far as I’m concerned, it WAS in line with the challenge, it was just a little more outside the box, and I still stand by my design. I wanted something original and different, but also something that was true to the story of the universe that I pulled her from. She’s a junker chick who plays with fire and her best friends are Roadhog and Junkrat. Her flamethrower was a unique addition to the weaponry already established in the game. Maybe I should have explained that better, hahaha! I think if we were all able to complete our costumes, it would have been extremely evident and made more sense, but I’m still really happy with what I made, aside from it being unpolished!
GeekDad:
Becka, You mentioned several times that you’re a perfectionist and this slowed you down. I have this same problem. Any advice for those of us who have this “problem” and how we can let go and get faster?
Becka Noel:
When you find out, please tell me. I need help! Also, it probably won’t really help anybody but my Dhare is usually the one to tell me to just “Move on” to the next part!

Episode five airs tonight on SyFy (you can also get episodes on Amazon if you don’t have cable).

Will is a geek, athlete, husband to a geek mom, and father of 4-year-old and 1-year-old geeks-in-the-making living in Seattle, Washington. He loves reading, comics, cosplay, games (tabletop and video sorts), and robots - especially Transformers. He's also the co-host of the Sunday Evening with Captain Owen podcast (available on iTunes) and custom prop builder at Billythebrick Cosplay.