In it's 14th season, it's safe to say that the "real woman" challenge has become a PR staple. But I think the truth is that the show's pretty much never really done it "right." Or maybe right isn't the best term here; suffice it to say I can't think of a "real woman" challenge that hasn't been at least slightly off putting. Which on one hand really isn't PR's fault. By it's very nature, these makeover based challenges have to be a bit problematic. You're taking real live people and telling them they need a makeover by a (pseudo) professional designer. There's really no way to do that gracefully or tactfully. But maybe that very makeover aspect of the challenge is the problem?
What I mean by that is there's an entire industry within fashion that's dedicated to "plus-size" models. Granted, in the modeling industry, "plus-size" can often just mean anything above a size zero or so, but still. If the core of these challenges is about seeing if the designers can both design a flattering look for someone not of typical model proportions, and can keep their vision while still serving a client, then why not hire models from these agencies, tell them they're the clients, and let the designers design for them?
The more important question is why, after 14 seasons, do I still have to try and fix Project Runway? I guess that's neither here nor there. This year, the designers are told they'll be making over one of the PR crew members. On the one hand, I'd love to know how the selection process for who would be getting the makeovers went. Was the crew asked who'd want to be a part of it and then offer their consent, were people randomly selected, or was it just a backstage bitch fest about who needs the makeover the most? But on the other hand, I'm sure the answer would make me lose even more faith in everything, so I'm best not knowing.
Swapnil and Merline get the clearest loser edits of the episode as from the start their meetings with their clients go horribly. Merline's client starts off by saying how much she didn't want to be paired with Merline, and how uninterested in Merline's "architectural" design aesthetic she is. Merline suggests making a coat in her typical fashion, the client shoots that idea down, Merline makes it anyway. In other words, they're off to a great start. Swapnil's client explains how simple and paired down she likes her looks to be, Swapnil says she should be more of a bombshell. She says that's not her, but he puts his fingers in his ears and basically yells "Lalala, I'm not listening, I know you better than you know yourself," and goes on to sketch up and design something she could never be happy in.
For this challenge, everyone is given $200, a trip to Mood, and two days. The Project Runway producers spare no expense when it comes to trying to make their frumpy employees into people they can stand to look at everyday. And good for them. But of course, like clockwork, as soon as two days are mentioned for the challenge, cue Swapnil doing nothing for long stretches of time and taking multiple smoke breaks. He neither utilizes his time well, nor creates something his client would want. It's really obvious by this point that it's time for him to go.
As if to make it even more obvious, Tim visits and meets with everyone. Everything is horrible in one way or another, and no one's client is truly happy. I'm going to take this moment to remind everyone that this is the tenth episode of the season; the contestants left comprise this season's top six. Ostensibly, these are the six best designers that tried out for and made it on to Project Runway's 14th season. Let that sink in for a bit before you then remember/realize that NONE of them managed to create a look in over a day (in more time than they usually have for any given challenge) that could impress either Tim or their client.
But I was talking about Swapnil's loser edit for the episode, so let's get back to that. Tim saves Swapnil for last in his critiques, and wouldn't you know it, multiple times the camera cuts to Swapnil standing around, listening to the other designer's critiques, and waiting for Tim to get to him. Eventually, while he's meeting with someone else, Tim looks over to Swapnil and asks him WTF he thinks he's doing. Swapnil says he's waiting, Tim says he needs to be working, and that's that. By the time Tim finally gets there, we see that Swapnil has created the exact opposite of what his client wants, and he hasn't even crafted it to such a point that it's ready to be tried on by said client. So all they can do is look at it on the dress form and question what the hell is wrong with this man. And so arrives the fabled Tim Gunn F-bomb of season 14. It comes after he calls Swapnil's excuses "bullshit" and then proceeds to ask him "What's the fucking point?"
After Swapnil sputters out a little more bullshit, Tim takes his client and leaves without giving them the chance to chat and recenter Swapnil on the best course. So here's where things get a little bit dicey to me. Swapnil clearly wasn't communicating with his client, and there's a good chance that no matter what she said, he wouldn't have heard her and wouldn't have produced something to her liking anyway. However, not five minutes earlier, after Ashley had yet another breakdown and her client wasn't happy, Tim makes it a point to say he's going to step away and leave them alone to come up with a course of action that suits them both. Ashley and her client come up with a new outfit in that span of time. Swapnil has been screwing himself in this challenge and has no one else to blame, but in the interest of fairness, doesn't he deserve the same opportunity that Ashley (and presumably the other designers too) got? In short: is it actually fair that Tim Gunn, the man who is meant to be their mentor and their guide through the competition, ushers Swapnil's client from the workroom after his harsh critique and leaves Swapnil to figure it all out on his own? I've been questioning Tim's tactics all season long, and while I understand that he's frustrated with the effort and the talent level this season, I can't say that I agree with this move. It may not have made a damn bit of difference, but I think he has to leave Swapnil and his client alone to talk it out a bit more. I wouldn't be saying that if we hadn't seen him do so for Ashley.
Tim comes back in right after the meetings, explains why he's being so tough on them all, and then promises they'll have a second fitting towards the end of the day. This gives them their whole second day to, in most cases, make entirely new looks and then have time for another fitting and a few more hours for final touches. All told, it's still more time than they generally get for anything else, so everything should come off without a hitch.
Swapnil starts work on a new look, the late night fitting comes around, and his client hates the new look as well. You could argue that she was being a bit inflexible, but more importantly she told him specfically what she didn't want, she told him this multiple times, and he proceeded to give her what she didn't want with two outfits in a row. So really, who can blame her for being upset about it? There's something to be said for compromise, but there's also a big difference between an actual compromise (where both parties give up a little something) and sheer capitulation, which is what Swapnil wants. With two and a half hours left in the day, he has to make a third look in the hopes that it's closer to what she wants. Spoiler alert: it isn't.
Ashley: I haven't even mentioned Ashley yet as Swapnil kind of floored me this entire episode, but this is a challenge everyone thinks Ashley should have in the bag, and then she sends this down the runway... It was clear from the moment she left Mood that the fabric choice was 100% wrong (the second challenge in a row that she's made that mistake), but then on top of everything else, the fit is unflattering, and the design is old and boring. We all wanted to know what would happen when Ashley got a "real woman" challenge, and now we do and still wish we didn't.
Candice: Yeah that happened. I'm sorry, but I'm seriously flabbergasted by this. I can't even begin to know what to say. My initial intention was just to write "Sigh" here and move on, but is that even possible? How could she ever have thought that this was an acceptable thing to do? Her taste level has just flown away in the night, and this is astonishingly bad.
Edmond: This is another case, for me, of two great pieces from Edmond that just don't go together. I'm upset that the photoset Lifetime has uploaded doesn't show the actual coat because without it on, it's impossible to see 1) how nice it is, and 2) just where this outfit fails, which is in the pairing of the two. There also appears to be some fit issues on the skirt, and the top doesn't photograph in a manner that shows off just how brilliant it is, but his client looks strong and capable and happy in her look, and I can see a real person being interested in buying that dress. I think fewer people would be interested in the coat by itself, but that's not to say that I don't like it.
Kelly: Kelly was lucky that the only real problem with her first look was a fit and tailoring problem. All she really had to do was lower the waist and create the vest and she was good to go, and good for her too as this finished product is pretty great. I don't know how much it embodies the makeover aspect of the challenge since it's pretty much just a higher end version of what her client would be wearing on her own, but the outfit is killer nonetheless. And it looks great on her.
Merline: This is my personal favorite look of the night. It's also the look the best embodies compromise. Her client specifically said she didn't want the jacket that Merline created at first, and so what does she do? She refashions it into a killer vest. Paired with the two pieces underneath it, which are both just smokin' hot and super sophisticated, and you've got a seriously winning combination. And her client fully owned it on the runway. This was a woman you could tell was happy and feeling sexy in her skin because of what Merline did for her. I love this to no end.
Swapnil: I honestly don't know what to say about this. I think the final piece that he sends down the runway is not the most horrible thing I've ever seen on the show, but I do think it's stupid conceptually, and a bit boring. Though I don't hate the skirt, and I probably wouldn't hate the top without that stupid cape attachment. The main problem with it is how unhappy his client is, and it's impossible to separate what I think about the overall design of the thing and what she clearly feels about it. He gets an F for working with his client, and a C- on construction and design.
Swapnil, Ashley and Candice are in the bottom, and as has been the case for awhile now, the judges have both good and bad, though perhaps more good than bad, things to say about Edmond, Kelly, and Merline'e looks. To his credit, Swapnil says all the right things on the runway yet again. He talks about his poor time management, and his inability to really deliver on what his client actually wanted. He doesn't come out and say that he was trying to get her to see something in herself that he saw in her, but that's probably for the best as no amount of seeming altruism could save him on that front. Zac, who's been over Swapnil for quite some time now, admits that he's bored with Swapnil's one trick pony routine, but they all believe in his talent level.
They also come down pretty hard on Ashley who should have rocked this and yet failed horribly. They're all a bit sick of the crying and the self doubt, and I honestly don't know what to say about all of it. I love Ashley, and I probably always will on some level, and I don't want to make light of how she's struggling to have the kind of confidence that her success on the show thus far demands of her. But I do also understand the desire to grab her by her shoulders and shake her a bit. She's won multiple challenges, she's made it to the top five, she's about a step away from making it to the finale, what on earth has to happen before she finally gets out of her own way and accepts that she's here because she deserves to be?
During the closer look at the designs, the judges tease the possibility of a double elimination, but it was obvious they wouldn't pull the trigger on it. First off, they've gone to that well too often for the threat to hold any real meaning; secondly, I can't imagine that this late in the competition they'd allow the top four to be decided with a swooping double elimination. However, there's a very simple reason why they should have gone with a double auf: The Tim Gunn save would have been put into play to save the second designer. Obviously Swapnil goes home here (Kelly wins incidentally), but that leaves Ashley and Candice both sweating it out on the runway in Swapnil's wake. Given what we've seen from her lately, it seems clear that Candice is a lock to make it to NYFW and she could even win the whole thing. Shocking since back when we were all calling for multiple eliminations to cull the dead weight, she was easily on my chopping block. Ashley has faltered a bit these last couple weeks, but the judges do believe in her and it's also clear she's set for the finale assuming she can right the ship and ride it out. So there's no way that Tim would let either of them go here. It's the most dramatic move possible, not because they'd send two people home, but because it would require Tim, after his profanity laden outburst from earlier, to stand in the greenroom and look Swapnil in the eye and tell him he's sending him to the workroom to clean up his space after he'd told either Candice or Ashley that he thought they were worth saving.
I don't generally argue for drama for drama's sake on this show, but this is one moment where it could have been worth it. Also, let's say Ashley was the designer they decided to send home with Swapnil. Maybe Tim using his save on her would have been just the jolt she needed to kick it in gear and really solidify her place amongst the designers. And if it had been Candice, I think it would have been the proper punishment for what she sent down the runway this week.
It doesn't happen, so it's a moot point either way, but what a missed opportunity. In any event, here we are. We've got our top five designers, and we should be about a week away from deciding who will be making collections to show at NYFW. After so many years of the top four all making it to the finale, I can't help but to assume four of these five people will be going as well. It's too bad because they really are all equally talented and by that logic should all make it to the finale. But even if they did, I can't think of a group of collections I'd be less excited for than these.
--There was an extended hair consultation for this challenge and I really couldn't tell you what was said in it. Not because I wasn't paying attention, as is my custom during these things, but just because I couldn't take my eyes off the hair guy (I learned here that his name is Greg). The dirty dirty things I'd like to do to that man.
--I think these last few episodes have solidified my thoughts about a general season long edit and how useful it could be. Swapnil's smoking habit and generally lax attitude towards work would have been seriously useful information to have earlier than we had it, and since it led to his ultimate downfall, it could have been a strong story to follow all the way through.
--There's a great, and obviously staged, shot in this episode of Swapnil re-sketching his look. He's sitting on the couch in the background, and a pack of cigarettes is sitting on the coffee table in the foreground. It's obvious and on the nose, but I loved it in spite of myself and wish I had had the presence of mind to screenshot it and use it as the image for this recap.
--Has Tim ever sent someone home in as chilly a manner as he did this week, or was it just me?
--Speaking of Tim, at this point, should we assume he just won't end up using the save at all? If he doesn't, would we consider that to be more of a good thing or a bad thing for the show?
--Merline seems like the odd woman out for the top four to me, but I also think she has the ability to turn it on at the right moment. I also think Ashley and Candice have the ability to slip up at the wrong moment and screw themselves out of a place in the top four. So I guess that means that Kelly and Edmond are the only two I think are a lock to move on. Though I think the most shocking thing that could happen at all would be Tim uses his save next week, and they somehow have to figure out a way to let five people show in the finale, or at least send them all off to make collections with the promise that one of them will go home before NYFW anyway.