When the fourth season of “Ink Master” debuts Tuesday on Spike TV, the Big Island will be in the house.
Roland Pacheco, owner of Xisle Tattoo in Hawi, is one of 17 tattoo artists from around the country who’ll battle it out for a $100,000 grand prize, a feature story in Inked magazine and the title of “Ink Master.”
The 43-year-old Hilo native, who has written two books on Polynesian tattoos, said he didn’t audition or send a tape to secure his spot on the reality-competition program, which was Spike’s highest-rated original series in 2013.
“I was invited,” Pacheco said. “Casting sent me an email and that’s how it started.”
The contestants, who apply permanent ink to volunteer human canvases, face three judges — renowned tattoo artists Oliver Peck and Chris Nunez, plus Dave Navarro, guitarist of Jane’s Addiction, who also serves as the show’s host. Pacheco described Navarro as “a very nice guy.”
“Of all the judges, he was the only one who was genuinely concerned about the artists,” Pacheco said. “He would listen and try to understand what you were trying to say. That being said, he’s a rock star, so there was a little bit of that diva stuff going on, too. Other than that, he was a sweetheart, though.”
There are also celebrity guest judges, including New York Yankees southpaw CC Sabathia, rock star-filmmaker Rob Zombie, and former World Boxing Association lightweight champ Brandon Rios.
The show was shot in New York City over an eight-week period and the artists weren’t allowed to leave the house except on a couple of occasions.
“It was crazy. I thought I had prepared for it, but it turned out I really hadn’t prepared myself for the extent of what was happening, what we were being subjected to. There was no way that anyone could anticipate that,” Pacheco said. “I’m kind of a private person, so I don’t really at all like having people up in my business. And it was a very weird situation. I think it was like an Army barracks situation where there are, like, two bathrooms for 17 people. You all just have to get along to some degree. All the men slept in the same room, so you had to deal with everyone’s idiosyncrasies and stuff. The hardest part of being sequestered like that was that you really couldn’t go out and do anything. You had to just stay inside all the time. That really got old because you’re in a very small space.”
The artists were allowed to use their cellphones “only at night after filming,” Pacheco said. “That was, I think, a saving grace, because a lot of us would’ve lost our minds if we couldn’t talk to somebody.”
Pacheco, who’s married to photographer Anna Pacheco, said that new line producers who had worked on the “The Ultimate Fighter” program had initially planned a cellphone ban — which is standard on the UFC-produced series — but tattoo artist Kyle Dunbar, a fan favorite who’s back after a final-four showing last season, “was instrumental in getting us our phones.”
“He was talking to the producers and telling them that things were different last season and that we needed to bring things back to what they were,” Pacheco said.
Pacheco described it as “pretty much the producers’ job” to create drama among cast members.
“You’re miked all the time. You’re saying things under your breath; you’re stressed out. And they would play off of those things,” he said. “That’s what the job of the producers is, to listen to what you had to say and pick apart the juicy details and have you add on to it or indulge it, if you will. And some people are more easily persuaded to go along with that and I wasn’t.”
Pacheco said contestant Scott Marshall became the house villain, a role filled last season by Joshua Hibbard.
“He kind of fell into that role,” he said. “There was no one who was really combative. There were some people who were not filtering themselves and that was pretty obnoxious. But that’s how they were. They were genuinely that way. But you couldn’t fault them for it because they were genuinely like that.”
Pacheco described the stress from the living conditions and time constraints on the challenges as “just crazy.”
“You’re in a situation that is atypical of what you would find yourself in, in a normal tattoo environment,” he said. “The challenges were very challenging. They would take us out of our comfort zone and put us through the meat grinder and give us x-amount of time, which is about one-tenth of what we normally have to do stuff, to be creative. As a tattoo artist, or as an artist in general, you have to have time to create things. … There’s a process to creating art, but in the show, there’s no process. You have an hour to do essentially five hours worth of work. And that’s a challenge, to make sense of this really chaotic schedule that they had us on.”
The program debuts at 8 p.m. on Spike TV.
Email John Burnett at email@example.com.