Project Runway: “The Finale Challenge”
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Project Runway: “The Finale Challenge”

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Project Runway

“The Finale Challenge”

Season 9, Episode 12

Project Runway doesn’t do that thing that Survivor does where, at the end of the season, the remaining contestants think back on all those that have fallen before them. The closest that this show comes to that sort of reflection is Viktor and Josh, sitting in their apartment, talking about Bert. “It just took us time to understand who he was,” Josh says. Viktor nods and says, “He probably could have stayed longer than Kimberly.” This is the lesson they take away from Bert’s Project Runway life: He is better than the worst remaining designer, probably. What a legacy.

Josh wishes he were reflecting on Anya’s demise, but she is very much alive and, after winning last week’s challenge, $20,000 richer to boot. “How do you get to this stage of the competition that is a design-based competition?” Josh says, posing the question that is a self-answering question.

Heidi sends the designers to Governors Island, a former naval base off the southern tip of Manhattan that now serves as a huge park. There, Tim Gunn is joined by two people who may not have been informed that they would be appearing on television today. One of these special-guest chatterboxes is from the Storm King Art Center, which either specializes in sculpture installations or offers great deals on aluminum siding, I forget which.

The challenge is to be inspired by the sculptures, or the island, or pretty much anything, and generate three looks out of it. They get to ride around the abandoned island in golf carts! That looks like fun. Josh drives his golf cart to a building with an old cannon outside. “I have a brother in the military, and I was drawn to the artillerary,” Josh says. He would be adorable if only he weren’t so not.

They go to Mood. Swatch, official dog of Mood, is nowhere to be found, as he has been for most of the season. My guess: contract holdout.

Back at the workroom, Tim emerges holding the velvet button bag. “We all love the button bag!” Tim says. He’s peppy in this episode. The button-fueled twist is that the designers will be paired off with assistants. To that end, the five most recently eliminated designers walk in. Man! There are some duds in this group. Bryce? Becky? It’s strange to realize that they were still around a mere five episodes ago. It’s like when you’ve been on an airplane for a long while, and you look at that little video map, only to find that the plane has moved just a couple of pixels or so. And you think, “It feels like there should be more distance between here and there by now.”

Everyone pairs off. Josh describes his vision of a stained-glass dress to Bryce. “It’s very you,” Bryce says, the most artful non-compliment he can offer. As Josh lays out his plan to cut between the lines of his fabric and insert see-through panels and paint the panels different colors, he sounds less like a designer and more like a substitute third-grade art teacher desperately improvising an activity for that day’s class.

It is with great irony and zero self-awareness, then, that Josh proceeds to impugn Anya’s design skills. “I just had $20,000 swept away from me by a beauty queen,” Josh says to Bryce. Hey, yeah! Sometimes I forget that Anya is literally a beauty queen. She is quite gorgeous, though, not to mention poised, eloquent, focused, and thoughtful. Indeed, Anya is an exemplar of human beauty in more ways than one. Anyway, I’m sorry, what were we talking about? Oh, right, the petulant grease-haired piss-pants who gags on his lip gloss whenever he faces a little competition. The poor dear.

Olivier and Viktor are working well together. But Olivier is troubled by the conservatism of Viktor’s designs. “I just think it’s the last challenge, and you want to go a bit, like, chhrhrhr.” We learn what it sounds like when Olivier tries to growl.

During the critique sessions with Tim, Josh grows enraged that Anya has the temerity to include two dresses among her three looks. He says that “in terms of range, there should be at least one jacket in everyone’s three-look collection.” He obsesses over this jacket thing, and it looks like he is headed for a runway meltdown. We can only hope.

The models come in for a fitting. Kimberly’s model tries on a pair of pants, reminding Kimberly that oh, yeah, people have butts.

Viktor gets better results. “It’s cute, right?” he says to Olivier while looking over a dress. “I think boobs don’t fit so well,” Olivier replies, but he’s not talking about the garment—he just means in general.

Runway show. Heidi introduces the regular judges. Then she coos, “And our very special guest judge…” which is the cue for Zoe Saldana to emerge from behind the scrim. Look, Saldana is a glamorous actress and all that, but I think the other folks who made runway-show appearances this season have grounds to be miffed. All the previous guest judges had to sit down with Spray Tan and Grumbleface when they were introduced. Now all of a sudden Uhura Jr. gets to make an entrance? Why must Project Runway coddle the privileged class and perpetuate our nation’s systematic inequality of glam? Kenneth Cole, Christina Ricci, Adam Lambert, and all the other “normal” guest judges, you are the 99 percent! Rise up!

Josh’s collection is first. There’s a white dress that might be worn by a pro tennis player who doesn’t have an apparel sponsor just yet. Another model is swallowed up by a chintzy toga-type thing made from what appears to be an airplane blanket, albeit an airplane blanket from the future. The most baffling look is a T-shirt/mesh skirt/vest design. The T-shirt is straight out of Gap Kids 1988, and the vest has these clear plastic epaulets, conferring the rank of brigadier general in the Cellophane Guild. The overall effect is to transform Josh’s model into the “ugly girl” character from any John Waters movie.

Heidi asks Josh why he was “so attracted to this lurex” that he used in the toga gown. “Because it was nice and shiny?” she asks. Josh seethes, and it gets weird in a hurry, which has happened a few times with Josh in this episode. “Is that an assumption?” he says, a response that doesn’t quite parse. Kors tries to redirect. “I think you’re a little bit of, like, a magpie,” he says, furthering Project Runway’s mission to honor every species of bird other than owls.

Kimberly’s bright orange coat could have been nice, but by itself, it looks just a bit too heavy. Thus, Kimberly’s decision to add a bulky scarf—on the outside of the coat, no less—pushes the design over the edge. It feels leaden and clumsy. “An exchange student from Holland,” Heidi calls the look, in her best line of the night.

But the coat’s failures are mild compared to Kimberly’s second look. The top of this outfit is more of Kimberly’s tame, half-modernized Foxy Brown stuff, which we’ve seen before. The plasticky skirt appears to be a windshield sunshade from Pep Boys, one that was angrily stuffed into a gas-station garbage can.

Kimberly’s third look is a silver cocktail dress that is actually quite striking and well-proportioned, if not the most original thing. When we see this look placed side-by-side with Kimberly’s winning design from the Nina Garcia challenge, it’s hard to miss the similarities.

Laura doubles down on a stark circle pattern that she grabbed at Mood. Incorporated into two of her looks—an ankle-length dress and a jacket—the pattern doesn’t look current. Rather, it evokes the plastic faux-latticework that might adorn a remodeled 1990s mall food court. For the girl who wants to ditch her McDonald’s lifestyle and upgrade to Sbarro chic. And then there’s the rumpled, dingy third look, for the girl who doesn’t feel like getting out of bed. Kors says it looks like either a “laundry bag” or a “pillowcase,” both of which are on the mark.

“You seem very nervous today,” Heidi says to Laura. In Project Runway argot, this translates to, “You will cry now.” Laura does so. “I’ve dreamed of showing at New York Fashion Week since I knew what it was!” she sobs. “OK, let’s talk about your outfits,” Heidi says, with an abrupt snappishness. The time for tears has concluded.

Anya’s collection, helped by some strong assistance from Bert, impresses the judges. Both the two-piece rust ensemble and the long white dress are flattering. The highlight of the collection is a black dress that, in a refined echo of last week’s raven-inspired outfit, swoops to a bold, elegant point at the model’s knees. She looks like the softer side of a B-2 Stealth Bomber. Saldana tells Anya that the asymmetrical cuts give the collection “sort of a futuristic tone, and I’m sort of a sci-fi buff, so I’m all there.” Zoe, I don’t think too many Star Trek fans tune into this show, so you can turn the geek-cred volume down a notch.

But Viktor needs to turn the volume up, according to the judges, who find a couple dozen different ways to tell him so. They believe his work is excellent but not quite chhrhrhr enough. Viktor turns out a smart, crisp collection that nobody is likely to remember long after this episode airs but is nonetheless worthy of a ticket to the finale. I hate those droopy lapels on the jacket—it’s a design element that has popped up a lot this season, and the judges seem to approve, but to me it looks old and sad. The boning on Viktor’s cocktail dress is odd, too, jutting out right below the waistline like Rosie the Robot Maid.

“I’m gonna use a word that some people think is a dirty word in fashion,” Kors says, setting us up to be extremely disappointed with his next sentence: “You have the most commercial collection here today.” Has Viktor stumbled into an alternate Project Runway strategy? Nina is typically regarded as the power broker on this show, but what if Kors fell in love with someone? It figures that the way to win Michael Kors’ heart would be to make straightforward, accessible, mildly innovative wearables—“the clothes that are going to sell,” in his words. Perhaps Kors is going to settle into Viktor’s camp while Nina champions Anya? Could be an interesting finale! I mean, probably not, but could be!

Heidi asks all the designers who they think should go to Fashion Week. Josh selects Viktor and, graciously, Anya. “I went to school for this. I’m trained in this,” he says. “But with Anya, as the sewing is new, she’s able to be free.” So meltdown averted, alas. The rest of it goes how these things always go. Dreams, passion, fresh ideas—all the talking points. Nobody chooses Kimberly to go to Fashion Week, because c’mon. 

The judges talk it over. Heidi revises her opinion of Kimberly’s first look, now deeming it worthy of a German exchange student. That’s not as funny or apt, plus there’s the weird undertones of self-hatred in this version. She had it right with Holland.

Kors makes a good point about Anya’s season-long arc, saying, “She started with this great look that was strictly tropical, and now, she’s been able to handle something urban and architectural and very sophisticated.” Even though Anya has almost always produced appealing work, it did seem early on that she wasn’t going to break out of her fundamental Caribbean mode. Her fashion sensibilities appeared to plateau. Yet in the latter half of the season, she’s found another dimension to her design sense. Since the judges adore nothing more than growth happening before their very eyes, Anya is going to be tough to beat.

Saldana matches Kors’ insight about Anya with one of her own about Viktor: “He’s a designer.”

Anya is in. Viktor is in. They’re the two sure things, and the only two who deserve it.

Josh is in. Somewhat insane but predictable. He tells the viewing audience, “I’m starting to write my book. My history. Which means years after I’m gone, someone will be able to look back and research this moment for me. And it’s amazing.” Hold on—Josh can read?

Kimberly is in. Nonsense. You’re not supposed to be able to back your way into Fashion Week, especially when your Project Runway career to this point has been so thin on glory. But obviously, the producers want to do the “surprise” one-last-elimination thing next week, so they need an extra winner in this episode. Kimberly is their chosen lamb to the slaughter. 

Laura is out. Nobody seems surprised by this. After sending her away, Tim gathers the final four in for a group hug. Then they vacate our TV screens so that Zanna Roberts Rassi can ask a gay, pretend-British introvert what he thinks about boobs. 

Stray Observations:

  • I always liked Bryce, and it was nice to have him back for a moment. He was never an impressive designer, but he seems like a good egg.
  • I like Viktor, too, but it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario in which Anya loses this thing. Can you?
  • My favorite Kors line: “The gown could have been interesting, but it looks like a fence walking.”
  • “There seemed to be this repetition of circles.”
  • “Laura thought I said five THOUSAND dollars.” This cracked me up. I love when Tim gets feisty and zings the designers. 
  • The Statue of Liberty certainly caught a lot of stick tonight.

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