The last really good episode of Project Runway that we had was only good because of the surprise double elimination ending. Tricks and surprises is always one solid way for this show to impress. But sometimes it's fun to be reminded that that's not the only thing PR has up its sleeve. Is this episode shocking in any way? Not really, there's one twist we'll get to later but nothing major. And yet there's something about it that's exciting and kind of stressful, and then a real relief once the end turns out just the way it should. But first:
The ChallengeThis week has the designers heading to Austin, TX to get inspired by Austin's oddity. While I've never thought of Austin as weird, I can certainly see how someone would draw that conclusion. I was born in Houston, and I live in Florida, so I've spent most of my life in The South. As a gay black man, that hasn't always been easy, but that's neither here nor there. One thing you find being liberal in a place as conservative as The South is that people who are also liberal tend to congregate in pockets. Miami and Ft Lauderdale (pretty much all of South Florida really) are very liberal havens in an otherwise red state. Austin is viewed the same way by people in and out of Texas. But Austin is still in Texas. So while a lot of people commend it for being the best part of the state, it still can't escape some of the typical trappings that come along with living in TX. Hence, oddness ensues.
The designers are sent there to be inspired because the challenge is to create a high end look out of unconventional materials found in a feed store and a BBQ restaurant. This brings the total of unconventional materials challenges up to three this season, two of them being back to back. I was left wondering what I thought about that fact. On the one hand, I like the idea of book-ending the season with unconventional materials challenges. The contestants had to prove something major right out of the gate, and then they had to bring it back around at the end. But putting two of these challenges back to back feels like the producers panicking over the lack of them throughout the season. The second one should have been at the midway point of the season and there would have been some good symmetry in that.
The designers return to New York and find out they've got two days for this challenge and everyone except me rejoices. The inconsistent time table on challenges has been something we've complained about with this show for awhile now. This challenge being a two day challenge reeks of the producers trying to give the contestants time to create the best looks they can for this final moment. But that's not how the competition should run. At this point, the heat should be on and we should be looking for the highest talent. Those contestants shouldn't need two days to make a single unconventional look.
That becomes even more evident as the first day draws to an end. Rik and Laurence meet the end of the day with a fairly complete first look. Erin has once again spent her entire first day making flowers out of mealworms and guitar picks. Beautiful though they were. Roberi and Cornelius are both banking on the second day to get their looks finished. Roberi at least has an idea and roughly half of his dress done, Cornelius doesn't even seem to know what he's doing by the end of the first day.
As Roberi talks about how happy he is to have a second day, Tim walks in to tell them about the twist. They're going to create a second look. This look also should be high end, it should compliment the first, and it will be made with conventional materials. Rik and Laurence pay some amount of lip service to being worried, but the truth is both of them are done enough with their first looks that this shouldn't be a problem. And thusly we see again just how much separation there is between the talent. Laurence and Rik have been lodged at the top for awhile now. Erin does not have any time management skills, but you at least trust her to pull something out in the 11th hour. Roberi and Cornelius seem to be the two left behind.
Since the first time I mentioned who might be in the finale, I've been pointing to Roberi as a wild card. He's been coming on strong in these last few weeks, but his aesthetic is hit or miss at best. The judges have liked him a lot more than I have even though I've liked his looks plenty. But where he'd fall by this point was always a mystery. So when we see him struggling to finish one look here, let alone two, it feels like the writing's on the wall for this elimination to be between him and Cornelius.
Cornelius on the other hand we've all known didn't have what it takes to make it much farther. But he does have the Tim Gunn Save as a mark in his favor. The question therefore becomes, does Tim's faith in him translate over to a spot in the finale while Roberi gets the short end of the stick? In the end, it simply all depends on the final looks.
But that all ignores one important aspect of this twist: it makes the two day time limit more understandable. The producers weren't trying to sure up their position with the contestants, they were luring them, and us, into a classic PR bait and switch. Being told they had two days gave everyone a false sense of security. It meant Roberi could try out something a lot more ambitious than he otherwise would have, and when the hammer comes down about the second look, there's automatically a source of drama attached to the question of whether or not the designers will even finish. I'm even more surprised by just how few twists have been on this season than I am by how few unconventional materials challenges we've had.
Most of the ideas for the second look are pretty simple. The unconventional looks are all going to carry the challenge on this one.
The RunwayErin Look 1: I like this a lot. I guess Erin really is back on top after all. I think the worms are in a sweet spot between being understated enough to blend in, but eye catching enough to stand out, which is hard to pull off. The colors of this look are really wonderful. And it's all really cute together. High end fashion? Maybe not too much, but a really cute look all the same.
Look 2: This I don't like. The print isn't my favorite, but I also think it's maybe the most interesting thing about the outfit. And these two looks, beyond a color similarity, don't really say cohesive to me. And this doesn't feel like high fashion at all. It feels like something you could probably buy at Target right now.
Rik Look 1: I like this quite a bit. I think he's right that the materials aren't immediately obvious. Aside from the stiffness and just lack of movement of the top (which is the bane of unconventional materials usually), it just looks like a really nice dress. I don't love the placement of the dog leashes around the boobs, but I don't hate it either.
Look 2: His problem with this look was that it was too young and innocent. He distressed the fabric, which I actually like, but that one thing alone didn't mature the dress. It could stand to be a bit sexier, but it's not a bad look. His two dresses do seem to go together in a way I appreciate though.
Laurence Look 1: Ok I love it, obviously, but I'm going to nit pick something here: the waist area. Something about the ropes that separate the skirt from the bust looks weird. Like it did something funny to her shape. Everything else I love though. It's bird seeds, but something about this looks expensive.
Look 2: Is this look maybe a little too simple? Sure, but it's still really nice. There's still a place for simple and chic in high fashion. And if you're a little bored by the front, I think you have to be wowed by the back, right? I love it, but I'm willing to listen to complaints that she needed to go further.
Roberi Look 1: hm....The purple cord drawn throughout the dress and ending in that plug....Is that great or horrible? I think the pop of color is very nice, so it adds that, but the plug at the end screams of what the dress is actually made of which tends to be a down side in unconventional material challenges. I think I like it more than don't, but it is the sort of thing I feel a bit split on.
Look 2: This dress screams Roberi. The shape of it, the pattern mixing, it's all quintessential him. That's not a bad thing, it's just maybe a little predictable at this stage. I neither love nor hate this look, it just exists and is kind of forgettable.
Cornelius Look 1: It's good. I don't think it's good enough for this stage of the competition, but it is good. It's one of those unconventional material looks where a lot of stuff has been glued onto a muslin base, and that always bores me a bit. But in his defense, his cut outs are pretty and the placement appears to be well thought out.
Look 2: Pants are always good and fun, but this just isn't special enough at all. I don't even know what to say about it.
JudgementThe big surprise might be how much all of the judges love Roberi's looks. The unconventional look was clearly going to be something they all loved, but I was surprised by how impressed with his conventional look they were. Nina's got the compliment that I can agree with most which is that both of his looks are very different but clearly come from the same person. All of the girls want to wear his conventional look, and no one has anything to say about the plug that I found to be so distracting. In the end, Roberi gets the highest praise on both of his looks of any designer.
The judges are split on Laurence. Nina compliments the hard and soft elements of her unconventional look and the back of her conventional look. But Zac and Heidi aren't as impressed. They both find her second dress to be boring, but everyone compliments her on taking a risk and presenting something they wouldn't have guessed came from her. We said last week that she'd be likely to branch out more in this challenge and that's exactly what she did.
The contestant with the fewest positive comments turns out to be Rik. Zac likes the top of his unconventional look but not the bottom. Nina starts out with something that I initially took to be a compliment when she says she couldn't tell which of the two were unconventional. But then she goes on to point out that the unconventional look isn't fun enough to signal it's unconventionality, and the conventional look is boring and distressed in a manner that makes it seem poorly made. The dog leashes on the bust of the dress are pointed out as being one element too many. Rik's in trouble.
So is Cornelius, but for the opposite reason. His unconventional look is the one that's lacking while his conventional look is the one that wows. They certainly make mention of the fact that his unconventional look is nothing more than shapes glued onto a muslin base and Zac points out that we've seen that many times before. The compliments for his jumpsuit are mostly along the lines of us not having seen anything like this from him before. Which is certainly a compliment but in my opinion not enough of one to warrant the amount of praise they level on it.
In the end, Roberi wins the challenge and Cornelius goes home (instead of Rik). Like I said, nothing too surprising. The winning of the challenge doesn't matter much. Roberi does get 50 nights free at any Best Western in the world, but I'm not sure if that's a prize or a punishment. The winning doesn't matter so much as the moving on to NYFW. I figured either Roberi or Cornelius would move on but not both of them, and that's what happened. Rik being seconds away from heading home might be the kick in the ass he needs to really jump into gear and produce a great collection. Either way, between Rik, Laurence, Erin, and Roberi, I can't help but to be excited for the show they'll all put on.
--Swatch wishing the designers good luck was just everything! It also might have been manipulated audio, but I'm choosing to believe he really did bark in that moment.
--The trips this year were to Orlando and Austin. Neither served much of a purpose as far as the episode was concerned, but either way I can't help but to think PR needs to increase its travel budget and actually take the designers somewhere nice.
--Am I the only person who got a bit excited over the prospect of Tim Gunn skinny dipping?
--Speaking of excited, if Gregory from Sally Beauty utters that fucking slogan one more time, I'm sticking something in his mouth to shut him up.
--After Cornelius was Auf'd, I would have liked Tim to make mention of the fact that he saved him. Unless I'm mistaken, everyone he's used the save on thus far at least made it to the finale except Cornelius. This would have been a good time to acknowledge why he used the save on him in the first place and just how much he stands by that decision.