Meeting the Mentor: Upholding Values on "The Outstanding Artist"

Scenic view of a Greek restaurant in Spetses, Greece

I'm at dinner, sitting at a very long table with all 24 of us – contestants, film crew, and the team – all chewing on mountains of lamb, potatoes, and cheese pies. The food is heavenly and such a pure offering from this family, who grills the meat to perfection. Their garden lines the edges of their restaurant, offering the fragrance of dill, oregano, and rosemary to permeate our table.

The family patriarch is in the back, grilling and drinking the village wine from a copper cup. He comes out with shiny eyes and rosy cheeks to welcome us, urging us to eat more lamb.

The Dawn and Drama of Episode 3

The contestants, film crew, and team all gather around a table for a Greek feast

Tomorrow, we start filming episode three of "The Outstanding Artist" bright and early. In this challenge, the contestants will split into two teams to collaborate. The losing team will have to vote off the least contributor. I'm sitting at the end of the table with the crew, and I ask the director, "Tell me again, how is the elimination going to work?"

"Oh, it's going to be great. It will add much-needed tension among the artists. Whichever team loses will have to vote off one of their teammates," he says.

"Hmm, so what role do the judges play then if the artists handle the elimination?" I ask.

"You guys are the mentors in this one, not the judges, because this episode is part of the journey that is 'meeting of the mentors,'" the director explains.

"Yeah, I like that. But in a team of five or six, what if there isn't a clear consensus on who should be eliminated?"

He leans over and says, "That's the beauty of it. There won't be a consensus. It will add tension. Some will choose who they think is weak and deserves to go, but others will target their biggest competition. It's going to be intense!"

I glance around and notice Brie and her husband, John, listening. I can tell by their faces that they aren't thrilled with what they're hearing either. We have a packed day ahead, and filming will start at daybreak. Thankfully, the weather has cooled down, allowing us to film at the hotel. I still have one more day to sort out the logistics for off-site filming.

Expressing Concerns Over Eliminations

John, Jake, Dimitra, and I get back to the apartment, and I get a pit in my stomach, and I don't like it. I tell Jake, "I'm not comfortable with tomorrow's episode. I don't like the idea of artists voting for elimination. We need to change it."

"We can't change it now. It's too late. They can't pivot at the last minute like this. The director will lose it," Jake responds.

"Okay, hear me out. I've run through the scenario in my head, and there is a chance that whatever team Tarana is on could lose. I know she is a fantastic artist, but she's been feeling insecure, and it's affecting her paintings. If her team loses, they might all vote her out, especially since the director has painted her as the 'villain' of the other artists. Tarana had a difficult childhood and was bullied in school. This could really trigger her and hurt her. I think she will feel bullied again. It's not nice. We can't do that to her or anyone else who gets voted off. I don't like it."

Jake responds, "I don't like it either. Let's have them do another mini-challenge to decide who's out, and the judges can decide the elimination again by scoring. It's fair and consistent. I'll write it out and send it to the director and the crew."

I felt so much better. A big sigh of relief! That uneasy feeling in my stomach left, and peace returned.

Tension Rises Behind-the-Scenes

Behind-the-scenes of filming Season 3 of “The Outstanding Artist”

The next day, the tension and coldness were palpable when I arrived on set. Nicolette quietly says, "I don't know what happened, but the director is seething. Everyone can feel his vibe." I saw all the artists waiting around to be interviewed, many of them talking about the tension between Jake and the director.

Then I see Brie, and she gives me big eyes and quickly nods her head to the right, signaling that we need to talk. We sneak away to a corner, and she quietly fills me in. "So, I'm in my room while they're doing interviews. John (her husband) comes to throw me the keys to the moped and yells, 'Catch!' Then I hear the director scream, 'Get that Fu@%#r off my set!' John says,' Who are you calling a Fu@%#r?' Then the director starts screaming at him to leave, or he won't film. So, I throw John the keys back, and he zips off on the moped! I'm like, 'What a jerk! Who acts that way?'"

"Geez! He must be mad about the changes we made in the episode," I say.

"Oh, you should talk to Jake when you can. They really had it out!" Brie tells me.

A Clash Between Director and Team

Elli Milan and the rest of the judges of The Outstanding Artist give artwork critique

I walk towards the pool and see everyone gathered around the tables waiting for lunch. I catch Jake alone and ask him what happened.

"Everything's okay now, but it was pretty tense earlier. The director was not happy about the change and told me that the show had potential, but only if we let him actually do his job. He said we were ruining it by not allowing the dramas to unfold. I told him we didn't want some smutty reality show and we wanted the artists elevated. The hero's journey. He just laughed and told me all he would do then is push buttons and set cameras. He's been grumpy and had an attitude all day."

"Gosh! So unprofessional! It's our show. It's our money that pays for all of it. Plus, he had no right to scream at John."

Just then, I hear a moped pull up. John, Brie’s husband, walks in looking pretty sulky, his sunglasses on, carrying lunch. He plops it on the table and stands back with his arms folded. The director rushes in and points his finger at John, saying in front of everyone, "If you can't keep your mouth shut when we are filming, you'll have to leave."

John, having spent the last few years in the military, isn't the type to lay low. He throws his shoulders back, gets in the director's face, and says, "You are a snake in the grass; I can see it." The director pounds his fist into his hand and swings back just as Jake jumps between them. "Hey! If you hit my friend, YOU can leave. You're being really unprofessional right now, and you will not talk to anyone here like you have been today. You need to calm down and deal with your disappointments professionally."

The director backed off, grabbed his lunch, and walked abruptly to his room.

The Power of a United Team

Season 3 contestants of The Outstanding Artist hug each other after painting challenge

This is when I realized how strong we were as a team, united by the same goal. We all wanted these artists to experience a transformation and become their best throughout these challenges. We wanted the role of an artist to be elevated in the eyes of the viewers.

Artists aren't backstabbing, insecure egotists ready to throw their friends under the bus to get ahead. These artists are courageous, powerfully deep, fiercely passionate about their cause, and selflessly risk judgment and scrutiny to put their work and themselves out there.

They left their children, families, and everyday lives to travel to this Greek island and share their hearts with the world. They allowed themselves to be filmed through the creative process, hoping to inspire those who would watch.

Upholding Our Values and Vision

No matter the challenge or how difficult the solution was at times, we had each other to share the responsibility. We trusted each other both in capability as well as integrity. I knew I could count on Jake, Dimitra, and John to do whatever it took to make the show a success while staying true to our vision and principles. I knew these artists could trust us to show the viewers who they really are, not some fabricated shallow caricature on a trashy reality show. I knew we had a unity of purpose that was unbreakable.

Have you ever faced a situation where you had to uphold your values in a challenging professional environment? How did you navigate it?

Share your experience in the comments below!


  • Melody

    “For every inch of dark there is a mile of light” thank you for being the light! Can’t wait for season 4!!!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    We are excited for season 4 too!

  • Silke

    When I read this post I was so glad you stood your ground and did not give in. You really are on a mission. You do all this to bring art and the artists forward and try to make the world a better and more beautiful place. I am happy to be a tiny part of this mission and trying to grow on the Mastery Programme this year to spread the mission!

  • Cheryl Ann Hunter

    Wow Elli, your story brought back memories for me when my daughter competed on the show “American Idol,” and when the show “Wife Swap” involved our gymnastics center in an episode. Between 2009 and 2012 my daughter Miranda was part of a pop music girl group. They made it through the first selection round and onto the televised stage competition. She was underage so we accompanied her to the show. Throughout the day producers would call the girls to the side and talk with them, and though I could not hear what was being said, I could read on the girls’ faces that they were not happy. When it came time for the performance, we parents were watching from backstage. The group did very well, and two of the judges really liked them. Simon and another male judge, however, did not. Simon said, “I don’t think anyone will like you.” The explanation was that they were too “Barbie-like.” This was not the part that bothered me or the girls, however. We all realized that competition is just that, and we all felt good about the group making it to the televised round, that was a win. The part that was so disappointing was what we heard from the girls afterward. Apparently, the producers were trying to get the girls to be the “mean girls” of the competition. They wanted them to comment about the other contestants and make fun of people. None of the girls in this group were that type, they refused to do that. They responded to the producers that their purpose of being on the show was to expose their talent, not be mean to others. Also during that time, my sister and I owned a gymnastics and circus training center. Two brothers were students with us, and their parents were on the series “Wife Swap.” The producers wanted to feature the boys’ gymnastics classes and the interaction between the “parents” while at the gym, etc. We witnessed so many “set-ups” that involved the negative reactions and scripted bickering between them. This was a wakeup call for me and my daughter about how the reality shows are created with drama in mind. I love your show, and am so glad to know that you try to protect the integrity and mental health of your contestants. Thank you Elli.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Wow!! What insight! I totally believe you!!!

  • Suzanne Maxim

    Wow. I’m so glad that this show didn’t go the way of all the reality shows out there that have gone the trashy route. Why this world feels the need to tear people down for entertainment is beyond me. Art is so much more than that. Thank you for sharing this story. I imagine this, and Tarana’s departure, is the reason that there was such a break between episodes.
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Hi Suzanne, I agree art is much more than a show! The big break will have after every 4 episodes. We lived this out more than a year ago!

  • Elaine Wong

    Elli, your post truly touched me, and I found my tears welled up as I read through it. I felt compelled to come here and express my gratitude to you and your team. Thank you for illuminating the darkness that seems to be creeping into our world, a place where shows like Squid Game (and the likes) suggest that survival requires fighting among each other. I firmly believe that true thriving comes from lifting each other up in harmony, not fighting against one another. Thank you for holding strong to your values and vision. That’s the reason why I love Milan Art family and everything you guys do!
    Elli Milan Art replied:
    Aww! Thank you so much! This topic seems really important to you! Lifting the darkness off the world must be a part of your destiny! Thank you for caring!!

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