The game show must go on.
One of the eeriest signs we’re living in a dystopia? The network-TV game shows progressing like there’s no deadly pandemic or divisive election curdling our country. Dancing With the Stars bolstered an eccentric “animal activist” who some think may have killed her husband; Big Brother asked a bunch of Hollister-looking models to leave their quarantine bubble and fly across the country, only to be sequestered again on a studio lot.
Then there’s The Masked Singer. Fox’s anonymous celebrity singing competition debuted less than two years ago but is somehow already on Season Four. A contest that once epitomized late-stage reality TV is now indirectly the biggest advertisement for coronavirus safety precautions. These washed-up celebrities and random athletes sing in ornate costumes and elaborate headpieces straight out of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. (No, furries don’t want to fuck the contestants.) Seeing a two-headed owl walk around in the supermarket is honestly less traumatizing than the mesh rhinestone mask Paris Hilton tried to make hot.
So I reached out to Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer and a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, to ask her which Masked Singer is most likely to win the biggest game show of all: 2020.
So, let’s start with the first one, the Snow Owls. COVID-safe or not?
The masks look fine, but presumably this is two people who are close together. I don’t know if it’s two people. If it is, they’re not socially distanced. But they’re masked. For short periods of time, it would be fine. Think about it like a patient encounter or a hairdresser. Now, if they’re together for hours and hours and one has COVID, it might not be ideal.
The white bubble reads as six feet to me.
The two individuals are not spaced apart. But they are fully masked and presumably not coughing because they’re inside this thing. [The owls are] COVID-19-safe. When the masks come off, it’s different.
What do we think about the Crocodile?
That is just a hell of a mask! [Laughs] So what I’m wondering is, is their face covered? If I looked inside of that, would I see their mouth? Can’t really tell. It might be that their face isn’t covered, in which case, although there’s a lot of things to block it, it really wouldn’t be completely COVID-19-safe if you’re close to that Crocodile.
Let’s say it’s not covered…
Then you could transmit [COVID]. I assume there’s a whole unveiling process on the show. I don’t watch it, but I’ve seen the a-ha moment. Could the mask have some kind of fabric that would just come off with the mask? Wearing a surgical mask under there would sort of cramp your style.
What about the gloves?
Now, I’m not sure those gloves are really that functional. In fact, you’d probably take them off if you were to touch anything, because they look quite elaborate. The role of the environment as a way to get COVID is less than what was emphasized a few months ago. Frankly, I’m not so worried about gloves.
The Sun’s mask is a plate of some sort.
Yeah, that looks COVID-safe, unless there’s distance between her face and the mask. How did they sing through that mask?
She might hold her mic under the circular plate to get a better sound.
This is a different material from what we would normally recommend, but in this case it probably would work just fine.
Why not this material?
It would be uncomfortable to wear a mask like that. The recommendation for people who are out and about is just a comfortable cloth mask. The biggest thing is, it’s got to be comfortable so that you’ll wear it. Particularly for kids who may have a harder time wearing it. In this case, you’re putting on something that appears to be a hard object, which might be hard to breathe through.
This does remind me of one of those face shields, which aren’t that great for protection.
There’s a whole group of people who love the shields, but the recommendation is really a cloth face covering. There’s something called a badger mask. I actually ran into this with a patient this week who is hard of hearing and has COVID. So she’s in the hospital, and she can’t really communicate very well with us, because she can’t see your mouth. That’s a case where a face shield might be helpful, but I’m not sure that the protection is consistent.
[The Sun] should be fine for COVID, though I’m not sure how practical it would be.
She seems to be wearing some sort of ring piece behind her.
It’s incredible to look at. It looks like art. It’s extraordinary, really, the dress and the mask, but, you know, safety in general and safety with COVID — unclear. But probably just fine in terms of preventing spread of COVID to those around you.
Okay, let’s do the next one, the Giraffe.
The Giraffe looks fine. There must be some kind of breathing hole under the collar. That looks like the collar probably functions as a mask. That’s probably where their head is.
The Giraffe, with their tongue out — should they have a mask on?
Well, probably. You know, just to set a good example, the Giraffe probably should have a mask on. I’m not sure giraffes actually get COVID. Primates and dogs, but I’m not sure about giraffes.
Going quickly back, is there any possibility that an owl or a crocodile has been known to get COVID yet?
I’m not aware those animals have. I’ve heard about dogs, companion animals. Because primates are used as a model for vaccine studies, they can be infected, although I think their response is different.
What are we thinking about the Dragon here?
It seems even more pronounced than the Crocodile, where it looks like the person’s face might be exposed in the mouth. Maybe they’re looking through the nose. I’m just trying to imagine where the eye holes are, so it might be that they’re fine. But again, that open mouth. If there’s no cloth in there, that could be a source of exposure.
Now we have the Popcorn.
Oh, wow, that is something. It looks kind of like a hard mask. I don’t know where the face would be in this case. Presumably underneath that head. [COVID-wise, this is] possibly okay. There’s probably some kind of fabric covering of some type there. It looks kind of like the sideline mascots. Like the Nebraska Herbie Husker.
Where do we even think the head is?
It would be interesting to try to understand where the eyes and mouth are. At least on the surface, this looks like it would be okay. Plus, I don’t think anyone wants to get near you when you look like that. [Laughs]
It looks like he’s opening up for a hug.
Yeah, you shouldn’t be hugging people. Seven eyes and at least eight arms — that’s a lot of arms, you know.
Now this one’s interesting. This is just a mouth.
This could be just fine. It could be one big mask. The head is probably, like, right up into the top lips. Probably the fabric covering would work. This might actually be the best mask of all from a COVID standpoint.
It looks like the kind of mask I wear.
But is it sending a good message? As far as I’m aware, now is not the time to be making out with strangers.
Maybe not with strangers, but physical distancing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ever be with people. It’s just you have to keep your pod of people you interact with small. Be smart with who you’re kissing.
Then we have the Jellyfish.
Yeah, it’s kind of bizarre. That’s a mask over the face?
Yeah, we have a face on a mask.
This looks pretty contained. That scarf might work well as a little gaiter mask or something.
Do gaiter masks and bandanas hold up?
There’s this whole noise around “this mask is better than that mask,” but for people who are out and about, any kind of cloth covering is better than none. It’s different in the clinical setting where you’re really in close contact with people. A mask is just one aspect of prevention, but probably the most important one.
The mouth of this Mushroom could also be the mouth of the contestant.
Yeah, it looks like it might be okay — assuming the “mouth” is actually a fabric, some kind of cloth covering, which would make it actually perfect.
So if I just put my hair fully in my face, is that a mask?
No, it’s not. This one is a no because we can’t really tell if the person’s face is right there under the hair.
Then we have the Broccoli.
Again, is there a fabric covering of some kind? It looks like there probably is.
The Gremlin looks okay to me. The Gremlin looks pretty contained. This is probably some kind of fabric covering.
Let’s talk about the Baby Alien.
I have no idea what that is.
I don’t know where the head is.
Can’t really tell, but the head looks pretty covered here.
Do aliens and astronauts need masks?
Aliens do not need masks. Aliens, young children and older adults do not need masks if [they] can’t actually take it on and off. Up to about age 5 to 6, a lot of times, kids just don’t have the social ability to wear it. You wouldn’t put a mask on a baby because it would be unsafe. The person really needs to be able to take the thing on and off themselves. I think the Baby Alien might not be able to do that.
Thoughts on the Serpent?
Oh wow. Is there fabric in there? Like the Crocodile and like the Broccoli guy, it should work well.
Okay! Last one. The Seahorse.
That looks pretty contained as far as I can tell.
Can COVID-19 transfer in the water?
Water is not a concern. What’s happening outside the water on the beach is a concern, but water itself, like a swimming pool, ocean or lake, is not a concern. There’s no COVID.
All in all, which masks would you say are the most and least safe?
Boy, the Lips look pretty safe there. That’s, like, completely encased. Giraffe looks pretty safe to me.
What is the worst?
I’d say the two people in the Owls might be a concern because of the closeness. Frankly, all these would probably be acceptable, especially if you have distance built in.
Thanks for being our Masked Singer mask whisperer.
This is much more interesting than what I usually talk to people about. Masks come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. But the main thing is: Wear a mask.
All images via Michael Becker/FOX