‘Ink Master’: Is the Show Scripted? Season 13 Contestant Jessa Bigelow Weighs in

Ink Master premiered nearly 10 years ago and has still maintained relevance and popularity, presumably due to the ever-changing themes or twists and intriguing contestants. The success of the show has created a few spinoffs, including Ink Master: Redemption (2015), which follows canvases who were unhappy with a tattoo they received during the competition, Ink Master: Angels (2017), and Ink Master: Grudge Match (2019).

While a beloved series, it still receives its fair share of criticisms as many fans do not like the “fake drama” on the show. Some have even accused the series of being scripted. Ink Master: Turf Wars contestant Jessa Bigelow weighed in on the debate.

Ink Master scripted
Dave Navarro, Ink Master winner Josh Payne, Return of the Masters winner DJ Tambe, Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez | Bryan Steffy

What is the premise of ‘Ink Master?’

The tattooing reality competition series premiered in January 2012, initially on Spike, and revolves around tattoo artists competing in several different Flash and Elimination challenges to prove their abilities.

For the flash challenges, the contestants must display a skill of the week without tattooing, such as creating images using cups in each diamond of chain link fences for contrast and burning bread to demonstrate shading.

Whoever wins the flash challenge earns the right to select their human canvas as well as pair other contestants with the canvases. During the elimination challenge, the tattooers must put the skill they practiced in the flash challenge to the ultimate test by incorporating that skill or style of tattooing into the piece the canvas desires in a four to six-hour period.

Then, judges, Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro, Miami Ink star Chris Nuñez, and tattoo artist Oliver Peck, who is no longer affiliated with the show due to blackface controversy, critique the tattoos and choose the best of the day as well as eliminate a contestant.

For the finale, the final three artists are given multiple six-hour sessions to create a masterpiece in a style of their choosing. The judges, sometimes alongside the audience, then select the winner, who receives a $100,000 prize. While each season generally features a different theme, they usually follow the same format.

Is ‘Ink Master scripted?

Due to what some perceive as contrived drama during the series, many feel as though the show might be scripted. In an Instagram Question and Answer, Ink Master: Turf Wars (Season 13) contestant Jessa Bigelow clarified the show is “not scripted” although “there are times where we need to discuss things maybe we wouldn’t normally discuss.” However, “the emotions you see portrayed are real.”

The New Jersey-based tattoo artist also explained: “there are scenes that are too long too air.” Therefore, viewers only see the “most important parts” rather than the whole story.

Ink Master Jessa Bigelow
via Jessa Bigelow

Additionally, she described Ink Master as a “game or contest” where fans watch the artists compete with “the pressure taking its toll on us.” Jessa concluded by explaining the contestants are not “acting behind the camera,” but they “also can’t help the way we look once it’s edited.”

Overall, the tattooing reality competition is not scripted as the contestants do not read any prewritten lines. Instead, the show more or less captures the reactions from real contestants in response to contrived situations. Ink Master: Turf Wars airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. EST on Paramount Network.