Friday, October 14, 2016

Project Runway: S15 E5 "There's No I in Team"

15 seasons, and yet Project Runway still manages to get the team episodes right. Don't get me wrong, there's still a lot of typical season 15 ridiculousness in this episode. But I'm not going to lie, guys, I think this might have been the best 90 minutes of the season thus far. And I also have to admit that I don't really understand why. I don't fully understand why I love PR's team challenges so much. They tend to be crass and manipulative and loaded with manufactured (as opposed to organic) drama. Once you get to the judging, they always feel like the judges (looking at you Heidi) are trying too hard to force tears on the runway and cause someone to throw a teammate under the bus. On paper, I should hate all of these things, and in a lot of ways I do. When all of the mean girls ganged up on Ashley last season, I hated it and did not think that it made for great television. But that's not to say that it wasn't effective. But this episode, this was a kind of poetry in motion, and I loved just about every second of it. Even when I was rolling my eyes at it. And why might I have been rolling my eyes? Well....

The Challenge

Here we go again with the judges and the producers just cramming in way too much into one challenge. First off, this is the Mary Kay challenge, which in and of itself doesn't mean much. But it's also the first team challenge, and the designers are working in two teams of six to create a four look mini collection. How much money do they have to do so? Well that depends on how much money three "mystery investors" decide to invest into each team. You see, the teams also have to pitch their vision for their collection to these "mystery investors," each of whom have $1000 to divide between the two teams however they see fit based on their pitches. Also, each person on the winning team gets $5000 just for shits and giggles. Seriously, the longer Tim was up there with the guy from Mary Kay, the more I just wanted him to shut up and pick the teams already. 

The episode opened up with the guys from room 310 (Rik, Roberi, Alex, and Cornelius) waxing poetic about how much they all loved each other, how much they were certain one of them was going to win it all, and just generally sucking each other off is the least orgasmic way possible. So when Rik, by virtue of his win last challenge, gets to pick his first teammate, of course he picks fellow 310er Alex. The button bag, in all it's totally unstaged, completely random, wisdom picks Brik to be the first member of the other team. I mean come on, does anyone really believe that there was another name in that bag other than Brik's? How this fucktard is still on my screen is beyond me, but I refuse to believe him being picked first was anything other than purposeful from the producers. 

Whatever, what follows is what we all expected. Room 310 is quick to stick together, and then they end up with Nathalia and Mah-Jing to round out the numbers. Everyone else is on Brik's team, may God have mercy on their souls. 

Room 310 gets right to work and quickly seems to be sympatico with one another's visions. Mah-Jing is the only person who thinks their color pallette is a bit too drab, and maybe they should freshen it all up a bit, but who really cares what he thinks, he's not a 310er! Meanwhile Brik's team can't even decide on a color pallette, and Dexter's the only person interested in talking about how they're even going to win the money needed for the challenge. From the start, they seem to be doomed, but no one seems to be asking Brik what he thinks, which makes me think there's hope for this team yet. 

Alex has experience making pitches and working in the industry, so he throws his name in the ring to be the person making the pitch. Dexter's insistence on talking about how they go about selling their idea means his team picks him to make the pitch. Automatically there's a clear difference to how these two teams are going to be doing things, but it's neither bad nor good in general. 

The 310ers have decided to be Team Unity, and we shan't say anything more about that. They go to make their pitches to our mysterious investors. Who could it's Heidi, Zac and Nina obviously. As soon as Tim said there were three of them, we all knew who it would be, so the show should just fucking stop it already. Anyways, for Team Unity, Alex does all the talking, and he's good at it too. He answers all of the investors' questions, he presents a clear image of who their girl is, and based on their sketches, he shows something that looks like a polished and cohesive collection. 

Brik's team has decided to be Team Button Bag, and we shan't say anything more about that. Dexter starts talking but he is often helped by Jenni in particular and the other members of his team. They present a clearer picture of unity and democracy than the other team does, but I didn't feel like they presented a very cohesive look at who their girl is. Based on those sketches, I don't think anyone is assuming the same person is wearing each of their outfits. And then they totally flub on Zac's price point question. It appeared, to me at least, that Team Unity won the pitch portion of the challenge.

There's $3,000 in budget to be awarded between the teams as the judges see fit. This is tricky. In a perfect world, each judge would have split their $1,000 evenly between the two teams and we'd have an even playing field. But I doubt they would have been allowed to do that even if they'd wanted to, so inevitably the team that won the pitch was always going to end up with way more money than the team that lost. And that does not a fair challenge make. The question was always going to be about whether or not the team with more money had a distinct advantage over the team with less. We'll circle back around to this idea later. 

To my surprise, Team Button Bag won the pitch by a landslide. Zac allocates his money in a $800/$200 split; Heidi allocates her money in a $600/$400 split, and Nina joins Zac in the $800/$200 club. The larger amounts all go to Team Button Bag who ends up with a budget of $2,200 compared to Unity's $800. That's $800 to make a total of four looks. On top of that, considering Team Unity's upwardly mobile girl working in an office and their moderate price point, they have to make four looks that are classy and expensive looking, but would be sold at a moderate price. In short, they're screwed. 

I wasn't in the bag for either team up until this point. This is partially because I'm not in love with any of the designers yet. But I do love rooting for an underdog. So the moment the scales tipped so drastically in Team Button Bag's favor was the moment I decided I wanted Team Unity to win. I certainly thought the story of how the unity of the 310ers would boost their team up to heights that would surpass their paltry budget, while all the money in the world couldn't save Button Bag from Brik's poor taste and their lack of a cohesive vision would be the better story to tell. I hoped and hoped for it with all my might, but would I get it in the end?

Based solely on Tim's visit, I certainly thought so. He liked Unity's cohesion, and thought they'd youthed it up a bit. Nathalia's coat is the only thing that doesn't really belong, and to her credit, she immediately starts to change it. Conversely, he points out the lack of unity in Button Bag's collection and how simple Erin's coat is. Erin's response is to sew some kind of embellishment onto the pockets and call it a day. Brik and Jenni decide to use that interesting, but ultimately unflattering mohair fabric to create an entire new look. Brik and Jenni working together on a dress...this bodes well. 

The Runway

Team Unity
Look 1: Hm…. The color in the print certainly brings in a youthfullness that I appreciate. I agree with Cornelius when he says it looks polished, but I don’t know that I think it looks expensive. If there wasn’t that strange glittery sheen to the dress, I might be more excited about this, but I can’t see a woman at a tech company wearing this to work.

Look 2: I love this but I hate the fit of the pants. What material was used? It almost looks like a neoprene, but that can’t be right, can it? It doesn’t look like it hangs the way a jersey would, but I don’t know. The pants throw me off, but I think the top and the belt are spot on.

Look 3: I thought that if I looked at this long enough I would love it and see something good in it. I was wrong. That print worked a lot better as a jacket or a top than it ever could as a pant. And that jacket…I don’t know. Is it ugly? Or is it just boring and odd? I don’t know which, but I know I hate it. And the cut of the hem of the blouse underneath it is just not good. It’s purposeful, but I can’t see anyone, certainly not the woman they described, wearing it.

Look 4: All that ass! Sorry, I went to a place. I certainly think this looks young, and I say that as a good thing, but not a great thing. I think for an evening look this works, though it is ill-fitting. I think I could even argue that the same woman wearing the first two looks is likely to wear this on her night out. So I think all of that is good, but there’s something, and I can’t figure out what, that’s stopping me from being totally in love with it. OK, but not great.

Team Button Bag

Look 1: I don’t do this often, but as soon as this look turned the corner, I literally exclaimed “DAMN!” out loud and with some force. Let me get this out of the way first: I hate the detail on the sleeve. It looks stupid and childish, and like a forced way to bring cohesion to the collection. But everything else about this is great. It looks polished, well tailored, expensive and yet affordable (because it’s denim). A woman walks down the street in that and you think she looks like a million bucks without having to have spent a million bucks. I love it. Except those damn sleeves.

Look 2: That bib is disgusting and wrong. When she was walking out, I thought they had done something unique to the cut towards the bottom of the skirt, and I was impressed. But then she passed the light and I saw that it was just that the skirt was riding up and wrinkling, and I was bored. I’d like it a lot more without that stupid bib piece, but even then it’d just be a boring simple dress. That bag isn’t doing anyone any favors either.

Look 3: I am an out and proud gay man, so I want you to understand the magnitude of my next statement: I would let the woman wearing that outfit do whatever in the world she wanted to me. Powerful, stylish, sexy, unique, well made, and well thought out. I can’t say enough good things about this. I almost want to critique her styling as I’d like to see it on someone with their hair slicked back in a tight bun, but that’s just me. I’m in love!

Look 4: I love Erin, but I think this is a swing and a miss. Or at least, I think it’s very much not for me. I can’t say that anything about it is objectively bad, but I can say that I stared at it for awhile and just never felt any affinity for it. I thought the yellow and the mohair would go together better than it ended up doing, and there’s nothing remarkable about the look outside of the jacket. And I don’t think the jacket is remarkable for the right reasons. So no on this for me, but if someone disagrees, I won’t be surprised.

The Judgement

For my money, the outcome of that runway is that both of those teams are pretty much in the middle with one of them just being slightly higher than the other. However, much to my chagrin, the team that's higher is Button Bag. The fact of the matter is that they had two looks that literally took my breath away (one of which even made me question long standing aspects of my sexuality), while Unity had one look that impressed, and even then just the top of it. 

So I'm robbed of my perfect storybook ending to this challenge, but I think it's important to note that Unity wasn't done in by its small budget. I don't think more money would have saved them because they didn't seem to have as clear a vision of who their girl was as they claimed in the pitch. But more on that in a minute.

The judges agree and Team Button Bag wins while Unity loses. But they liked way more of Button Bag's looks than I did. Heidi waxes poetic about how great the little embellishments on the cuffs of Dexter's jacket and pants are. They all seem to love Erin's jacket, though I'm not totally sure why aside from the fact that it's yellow. And no one can say enough good things about Laurence's jacket. Nina points out that the moment she saw it she knew it belonged to Laurence, and you have to agree with that. Luckily, they all admit to hating Brik and Jenni's ugly ass dress. So they haven't gone completely crazy. When the team's asked who should win, it seems pretty well split between Dexter and Laurence with Erin getting a couple votes for some reason. 

Over on Team Unity, all of the comments are about the lack of this girl matching up with the girl they pitched. Nina points out that if any girl walked into her office dressed like that she'd ask her where they were going. Zac says that if they'd pitched evening wear at an entry level price point, they might have been in the top. Nina shoots that idea down by pointing out Alex's dress and the mess that is Roberi and Nathalia's look. And then something amazing happens, or at least I think it's amazing, when the team is asked who should go home, everyone to a person names his or herself as the weakest link. Admittedly, Rik doesn't say himself, but he doesn't name anyone else either. Mah-jing clearly has the best look out of everyone, so it'd be ridiculous of him to say himself (although he does point out that he's been in the bottom before). Instead he very tactfully and gracefully says Alex with a list of very reasonable reasons. I think this moment more so than anything that came before is what made me so impressed with this episode. I can't remember this kind of honest selflessness in a team challenge on this show ever before. 

Dexter wins, and Alex loses. There's something fitting about that as both of the people who kind of took the reins and led there team are rewarded and punished respectively. But here's where I think I'm going to get a bit controversial: If I were Tim, I think I would have saved Alex here. Listen, I know the save isn't something we've ever really agreed on here. Either we feel as though it's used in pity (as with Justin a few years back) or we feel like it's ridiculous and just proprietary (as with Edmond). For the record, I loved Justin being saved, but I was in the minority, but that's neither here nor there. My reasoning this time around is simple: Tim didn't seem to hate what Alex was doing when he saw it in the workroom, so he can take some portion of the blame here for not steering him in the right direction. But also, Alex was just in the top three one episode ago, so clearly there's something to him that deserves to stick around. I for one would like to see more from him. I don't think the judges got rid of someone who could have won the whole competition here, but there's a part of me that thinks maybe he just deserves to stick around for a little bit longer. Based on how emotional Tim was when he came into the Greenroom, I thought for sure that he was going to do it. Alas, no such luck. Goodbye Alex, your slow and sleepy tones will be missed. 

Loose Threads

--Speaking of Alex's visit to the top three last week, how about the fact that Roberi was in the top three as well and both of them end up in the bottom two this week?

--Mah-Jing was our source of manufactured drama this week; which shouldn't be surprising as he plays the role so well. He's a very sensitive man, but all his complaints about being left out fell on deaf ears to me. This fact was made all the more apparent by the end of the judging when he's pointing out how welcomed in the group he felt. 

--Conversely, Mah-Jing's story about his Chinese/Black background was really nice and illuminating. I can see how his years of bullying would have made him into the crybaby (I mean gentle soul) he is today.

--In my notes, I started out by questioning if Mah-Jing or Alex was getting the stronger loser edit in this episode, but by the mid-point I was firmly on Mah-Jing. Alex's story about dropping out of high school was touching, and clearly the kind of last hurrah spotlight we're used to, but the way that Mah-Jing dominated the middle of the episode made me think for sure that it was his time. 

--I'd love to hear what you guys think about the pitch and the allocation of money aspect of this episode. I was firmly against it as I thought it was unfair, but then seeing how the losing team was done in by their lack of vision and not their money, I'm not so sure any more. It seems like a realistic aspect of the fashion world (much like when the contestants work with clients) that I'm starting to think could enhance the show. I don't think every episode should feature it, but maybe an episode or two a season could? That'd be interesting. 

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