Tonight's episode features one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever seen on Project Runway. “Take It All Off!” has a lot of fun elements—male strippers make everything more fun!—but it’s such a tight deadline that both teams turn out complete garbage on the runway, leading Heidi to declare that there is no winner this week. There is a loser, however. Amanda finally gets booted, after several weeks of hovering near the bottom. She and Richard are the final two on the runway, and with good reason. It’s a difficult challenge, but Amanda proves herself inept at tailoring, sadly, while Richard just breaks down entirely.
Thunder Down Under is an Australian all-male revue, and in what is a shocking development, they have some trouble finding well-made tear-away stripping clothes. Enter our designers, who will once again split into two teams creating two collections for the challenge. The catch? The judges choose the teams. Oh and double-catch? They’ve got only a day, from 10 a.m. when they meet the dancers until midnight, when the workroom closes.
I like a lot of things about this challenge. I love that the designers finally work with men, and I additionally like that the men had measurements that are quite different from the average male model. It forces the designers to focus on their strength with tailoring and improvisation. There’s an interesting focus on functionality that requires a different sense of structure and construction. That being said, 12 hours for tearaway menswear seems like an unnecessarily brutal task. At the end of the day, there are not many designers who can say they’ve produced something both functional and stylish, which makes me wonder if the challenge is just plain too hard. Though it does rather quickly separate the wheat from the chaff, which is perhaps what the writers intended. But it makes for a stressful, rushed episode, that feels like a waste of a good challenge. It’s very clear that the designers are all on the verge of collapse.
Pair this neurotic energy with clients who want to break into a dance number and start taking their clothes off every chance they get, and “Take It All Off!” turns into a weird, explosive episode. At times tensions run so high that it’s less engaging and more embarrassing. The judges, meanwhile, seem woefully out of touch with the designers’ predicament. Rather than embracing how exhausting this challenge clearly is, they seem to find the whole situation mildly funny. Their critiques are all solidly on-point, and guest judge Emmy Rossum is one of the few guest judges to sound intelligent and well-informed, but it’s too strained to feel fun. The pressure of the episode leads the team members to spend most of their time complaining that everyone else isn’t pulling their weight.
Daniel, Patricia, Michelle, and Stanley are put into one team (Team Shades Of Grey) and Richard, Layana, Samantha, and Amanda are put in the other (Team Slick And Hip). It’s not more than five seconds into the team assignments before problems start to arise. Slick And Hip, in particular, teeters between the black hole that is Richard and the other members of the team, who are desperately trying not to go down his vortex of bad.
Richard’s early lead may have masked some of his flaws as a designer. It certainly masked his difficulties working in a team. He may have been perfectly right in his design decisions—his tackiness tends to be up Nina’s alley—but the way he’s conveying them to his teammates is abrasive and alienating. He seems worked up even before the challenge begins, getting increasingly frustrated as his teammates refuse to get on board with his idea for something with a whole lot more bling and pizzazz. Samantha points out: “If Richard dressed these guys the way he wanted, we would have RuPaul.” And Amanda observes: “I worry that Richard’s aesthetic can sometimes feel a little dated.”
It all makes for some excellent drama. Richard breaks down in tears while Skyping with a friend from home, explaining that he feels lost and frustrated. Outwardly he’s brusque and dismissive, brushing off Layana’s questions about her jacket, which leads her to making a critical construction flaw (it looks like it’s made for a woman, basically). With his attitude in the way the designers are unable to reach consensus, and go for a very staid banker-suit look that has very little interesting about it. At one point Layana seems near tears when she asks Stanley (from the other team!) for help with construction; Amanda makes a sad joke about how Richard doesn’t listen to her, and Richard’s response off-camera is, “GIRL, PLAY NICE.”
Samantha and Amanda distinguish themselves by being either much better or much worse than the rest of the team; Samantha’s look is the only one that seems to make sense—the pants work, the vest sort of works, the dude feels comfortable in it. Amanda’s pants are so badly designed that they are both too short and too tight; the velcro seams come apart on the runway, right in front of the judges. (Nina is so tickled by this that she laughs behind her card for a good five minutes.) All in all, the only thing that Slick And Hip has going for it is that all of their clothes came off neatly, with no tearaway issues. It’s true—the best part is that the clothes come off. Hooray!
Team Shades Of Grey seem a bit more together during the designing portion—Stanley efficiently corrals each designer into the area where they’re likely to do the least damage. That puts Michelle on a vest, Daniel on a coat, Patricia on a ridiculously intricate shirt, and Stanley on what feels like everything else. Unfortunately the execution does not make their collection look significantly better or interesting than Slick And Hip. Patricia’s task in particular is laughably small, and she spends all 12 hours nitpicking over her perfect white-cloth basketweave, that doesn’t even end up fitting right. Everything else is passable—the best thing that can be said about all of it is that it generally fits. (Although I did like Daniel’s coat.) The tearaway does not work quite as well. The poor dancers are uncomfortably trying to shed themselves of clothing in the least sexy way possible.
Given how awful both collections are—Slick And Hip sits and laughs through their runway show, presumably because crying is too awful—the judging is particularly painful. Though one of the highlights is Heidi and Nina’s consistently amazed reactions to the beefcake guys taking off their clothes. Their faces hover somewhere between utter shock and delight, and at some point Heidi turns to Nina and with what seems to be perfectly unrestrained girlish glee, exclaims, “Wowza, Nina!” I don’t typically love Heidi, but this is one of her better episodes. Nina, meanwhile, despite all of her laughter, is strangely critical in this episode. I guess she expected sequins and rhinestones from the strippers, even though they asked for something masculine. She also clearly favors Richard—giving him a conspiratorial little nod when he’s talking about his ideas that I think is a bit unprofessional. Richard may be a great designer, but he’s also a nightmare to work with, which I think should be a factor in the judging for the teams’ season of Project Runway.
To heighten the drama, the judges ask Slick And Hip which designer should go home, and that sets off the fireworks. Amanda tentatively brings up Richard, which sets him off. He snaps out a bleeped-out swear on the runway, and Layana leaps to Amanda’s defense, saying perhaps the most words we’ve heard her say on the runway all season. It gets strident and awkward fast. Layana argues that Richard is making too many excuses, when he made plenty of mistakes, while Richard complains that no one appreciated his vision. Richard doesn’t come off looking great. In the end, though, he gets to stay in. He and Layana don’t have any kind of on-screen reconciliation, which can only mean extra drama for next week.
“Take It All Off!” is a perfectly acceptable episode of Project Runway, but it’s too stressful to be wholly entertaining. Somehow, even though last week’s double-elimination was particularly cruel, the challenge and general mood was way more upbeat and positive. This week it sort of felt like all the contestants kind of wanted to jump ship, and that’s a bit depressing. It’s just TV, you guys!
- Team Slick And Hip, on its own collection: “It looks like clown wear!” “Guys, this is so bad.” “This is the biggest trainwreck ever.”
- Layana totally maybe flirts with one of the male strippers!? It’s really pretty cute.
- Zac, when all the men start taking their clothes off: “This is like a weird dream.”
- I really like Emmy Rossum, and I thought she was one of the better guest judges.
- Random Male Stripper, on fastenings: “Yeah, zippers are great, you know something you can do slow…”
- Zac’s only words of praise were for Daniel’s trench coat: “At least there was an attempt at something inventive.” What a contrast, seeing Tim and Zac’s elegant, perfect suits, next to the ill-fitting messes the designers put out.
- “I have a potholder at home that looks like this.” Which leads us to wonder: Does Heidi Klum cook? Or does she just decorate her kitchen with potholders?