Tonight’s episode is the first team challenge of the season, breaking the designers up into pairs and assigning each of them the task of creating a “red carpet look,” suitable for wearing to the Emmys, for a former Project Runway contestant. This cunning combination means that viewers will have the thrill of seeing two people learn that they were not meant to work together, in the heightened circumstances that can only occur when Mila, she of the permanent “Who farted?” expression, is silently judging you. Team Mila is composed of Alicia and Raul. Raul is the one who can’t stop saying how much he hates the whole idea of a red carpet look. Tailoring is his thing, as it is Alicia’s. Meeting Mila for the first time, he hopefully murmurs something about how she might look quite fetching in menswear.
The other match-ups are Gunnar and the inexplicably-still-here Kooan, who comprise Team Irena; Gunnar’s good twin, Christopher, and the double-plus-inexplicably-still-here Andrea (Team Anya); Melissa and Dmitry (Team April, now with purple hair); Nathan and Sonjia (Team Valerie); and the immunity-spangled Ven and Fabio in the high-profile position of Team Kenley. That leaves the dour Elena and Buffi Jashanmal, whose name is only the first clue that she’s an escapee from a Thomas Pynchon novel, to take charge of Laura Bennett, still putting the Awww! in Awesome. “She’s wearing an animal print dress under a leather jacket,” the wild woman Buffi says of Laura, a detail that immediately makes her “feel very comfortable.”
It soon becomes clear that there aren’t too many link-ups here that would do Match.com proud. “I’m very easy to work with,” says Ven, “but only if the other person knows what he’s doing. And right now, I’m stuck with Fabio.” They actually turn out to be one of the more smoothly functioning units, maybe because Fabio appears to accept Ven’s estimation of his own genius and is happy to just do what he’s told. Gunnar and Kooan clearly feel that they’re on shakier ground, but they do their best to step up: “You have more of vision of the front, I have more of a vision of the back,” Gunnar says. “We just have to hope they connect.” Tim stops by to see how everyone is doing, but only serves to distract the viewer, who is waiting for someone to point out that the lower part of Tim’s face is turning cherry red. He looks as if he’s having some kind of allergic reaction. Did he kiss that dog at Mood or something?
Tim brings the former contestants around so they can all take turns looking aghast at what the newbies intend to shoehorn them into. While Mila and Tim huddle close to each other for warmth while shuddering internally, Raul shows them what he and Alicia have for them so far, and describes their process. “We decided to play around with leather, and then put some straps in the back.” And after that, we started thinking about how to design the dress. Ka-ching! Laura does a swell Tim Gunn impression, looking at what Buffi and Elena have come up with her and saying that “it’s very ambitious.” That’s more than Elena, who’s been unhappy with the partnership since minute one, can bear. She flees the room, and the show cuts to a commercial without Tim’s voice saying, “Coming up on Project Runway.” It’s like that time Uncle Junior shot Tony Soprano, and then the closing credits played without music. So ominous.
But the real towering mismatch is between Christopher and Andrea. Other team partners are having trouble getting on the same page, but they’re not even in the same library. As Andrea keeps putting off the work she needs to be doing, Christopher turns into a hyperventilating, eye-rolling, walking subway poster for a panic attack. It doesn’t help that Ven and Favio are working so smoothly that Kenley leaves them to it and comes over to Christopher and Andrea’s side of the room, to see if she can help. “You won’t believe what I just did,” says Andrea, in a merry tone of someone very amused by her own mistakes. “Honey,” says Christopher, practically gargling with his own flop sweat, “I love ya, but sew the shirt.” “Hahhahhahha!” says Kenley.
Last few minutes before it’s time to hit the runway. Heidi, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia, and guest judge Krysten Ritter are waiting. “Do you want to fix this?” Irina asks Kooan. “This is your project. I’ll go out there like this, even though I’m embarrassed.” Not every model is as encouraging. Watching Mila do her dead-woman-walking thing in her new dress, Raul observes, “She doesn’t look happy. She’s just here.” Kooan moans something about wanting to eliminate himself, but seeing what the competition looks like is cheering Gunnar up. “It’s actually not awful. I might be ‘safe,’ and that would be great. Instead, he’s invited to stick around. Teams April, Valerie, and Laura are deemed safe and sent back to the dressing room to ponder the whims of fate. As soon as they leave, every blessed one of them starts babbling about how they thought for sure their designs were the best and they can’t believe those losers still parked out on the runway. The problem with young people today is that none of them knows how to dodge a bullet gracefully
The judges shock the shit out of Gunnar and Kooan by informing them that they have one of the two best designs of the night, and suddenly, they both like their creation a lot better. The other keeper is Team Kenley, though the judges praise it in terms that leaves the impression that this whole challenge can be written off as a snooze: The consensus is that the dress perfectly captures Kenley’s irrepressible personal style but is, you know, nothing special or memorable that will get your picture on the cover of People. But don’t get Fen and Fabio wrong, they’ll take it. Both are asked, if their dress is judged the winning design, which of them should be singled out as winning designer. Fabio says something about how he thinks he made a valuable contribution, Fen says, basically, in a pig’s goddamn eye you did, and Fabio all but shrugs in agreement. In the end, the judges give it to Fen again for the second week in a row, because if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know?
For the losers—Raul and Alicia and Christopher and Andrea—it gets ugly quick. In the time-honored tradition of contestants who have failed to grasp that an inability to adapt is not an asset in competitions of this kind, Raul reminds everyone that “red carpet” just ain’t his thing. The judges want to know, if that gunny-sack shit is the best you can do when it comes to designing evening gowns, why didn’t you put her in a suit? Raul and Alicia say they just thought they weren’t allowed to do that. Michael Kors wants to know how the hell they got the idea that they were forbidden from playing to their own strengths in a challenge. To be fair, any casual observer of this show could probably point to half a dozen instances, off the top of his head, of challenges where the whole part seemed to be to deny people the ability to play to their strengths, but still, Tim Gunn was right there in the work room. They could have asked him, just to be sure.
The situation between Christopher and Andrea is much worse. Christopher thinks that Andrea has already quit the competition in her head—an impression she does nothing to discourage when she says that just getting voted off this show would be “a relief”—and dragging him down with her, and even before the runway show he looks miserable and dazed. When he’s asked who is principally to blame for this fiasco, he struggles to hold it together while alluding to all of Andrea’s faults of performance, competence, and attitude, pausing every so often to say that he doesn’t want to “point fingers.” It’s easier to sympathize with him than look at him. In the end, it’s Raul who is sent packing. But before the show fades to black, the words “NEXT MORNING” flash onscreen, and we see the women in their hotel room, apparently talking about the mysterious disappearance of Andrea. One of them says that Andrea has walked out, headed for parts unknown for reasons unspecified, but that nobody knows it yet except for her and the person she’s talking to. The fellow pointing a camera at her probably knows, too, but clearly you just get really used to him.
- Margaret will be back in this space in two weeks. In the meantime, expect to see John Teti holding down the fort a week from now.