Cultural enlightenment turns to a familiar cultural cringe when 33 hyperactive finalists arrive at Waitangi, Bay of Islands, for the first episode of New Zealand's Next Top Model.

The girls make profound statements like, "It's so beautiful?" reminding viewers that we really must curb the influence of E! Channel on the lilting inflection of young Kiwis.

Now in its third season, or cycle as the reality franchise likes to call it, the show follows the same format, in which Auckland modelling agent Sara Tetro, photographer Chris Sisarich and model Colin Mathura-Jeffree select a bunch of tall girls with nice cheekbones from hundreds of hopefuls and then start eliminating them. Mascara tears ensue.

Still noticeably uncomfortable with her celebrity, last year's winner Danielle Hayes greets this year's new intake at Waitangi, her tribe's stomping ground.

Tetro appears "out of nowhere", a little more ebullient than usual, and adds a new line to her scaremongering introductory speech that encourages her finalists to explore the beautiful surroundings and think about their New Zealand heritage.

Perhaps Hayes has inspired a new focus on Kiwi identity this season. Between a very awkward posing session on the bow of a moving yacht, the girls are sent off kayaking - eek! - and smell a tub full of old urine - eww! - at Pompallier House.

Under the guise of a girls' adventure, they are being scrutinised. Who has the best figure? Face? Most potential? Most enthusiasm? Most striking brows? (Yes eyebrows seem to feature heavily this season).

It's all too much for Eden, who has only turned up at her boyfriend's insistence. She goes home, but several others shine, especially in the early settler-themed photoshoot.

There's Aroha, a "plus-sized" beauty, who works in a wool shed; scatter-brained Asher-Jayne (above, who admits she usually hangs out with boys, and who beats her fear of horses in the name of a stellar photoshoot; Aminah Mohamed, originally from Somalia who insists her Muslim beliefs won't get in the way of her modelling (did she watch the lingerie episode last year?); chirpy Isabel, "half-Tongan" who sing-songs her words; striking, yet vulnerable Brigette and carnivalesque, and slightly frightening Arihana Taiaroa, who hula hoops for the judges.

The show has fallen on its feet; this is a dream-team of ethnicities and personalities. And then there is Bianca, whose overgrown mullet, thick glasses and over-sized black T-Shirt label her this year's project.

"Perhaps I can transform from an ugly duckling to a swan," she says. She learns to walk in heels. She listens. Tetro, who has proven she has an eye for these things after turning a farm girl into a mannequin for haute couture last year, insists this duckling has potential.

A stunned Bianca and 12 others, are safe. Sharpen your stilettos girls, Tetro tells them. An hour into the series, the audience will already have their favourites. Let the games begin.