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Out of the original sixteen, only Chloe, Daniel and Santino have survived weeks of abuse at the hands of Führer Heidi Klum and the rest of the followers of her fashionazi regime. This week, the final three are finally released from the confines of Camp Auf-schwitz, but does this mean the reign of terror is over? Far from it. In fact Heidi & Co. have even more torture in store, with a fashion week twist so unnecessarily cruel, it will make you want to eat a crueller. Or maybe it’s just me, because the words “twist” and “cruel” sound so much like the delicious doughnut-type confection (I’m sorry, I digress).

Montage à Trois

As the finale opens, we are at Parsons, where the still-pregnant Heidi congratulates the final three. There is only so much time to pat the finalists on the back, however, as there remains one last challenge for our stalwart designers, the hallmark of the Project Runway competition: the 12 piece collection for Olympus Fashion Week. They will each get $8000 and a little over half a year to execute the collection.

Heidi reminds them what’s at stake: the prize package including a spread in Elle magazine, a mentorship with the Banana Republic design team, a year of representation from Designer’s Management Agency, a new car from Saturn, and $100,000 seed money for their very own line.

It’s model selection time. Daniel, the winner of the last challenge, stays true to his girl, Rebecca. On that note, Heidi bids another model not important enough to even warrant a caption for her name the big Auf Wiedersehen.

Heidi and Tim meet the finalists at the Atlas apartments for a toast/farewell party. While the rest of the group drinks champagne, Heidi insists that she’s drinking apple cider (or is it tannis root?). She and Tim agree that season two has yielded a good group. From the rooftop, they clink their glasses with all of New York (literally) at their feet.

The designers pack up and ship out. Santino, thrilled to have made final three, is ready to run out screaming like a spastic child. Just as maturely, he holds up three fingers to count down each of the finalists’ names, pulling the ring finger down for Chloe and the index finger for Daniel, leaving his middle finger up to represent himself. Yes, he’s flipping us the big bad bird. Sigh. You have to not be shocked about behavior like this from a guy who publicly confessed to eating his own poo.

Proving that this season is “The Santino Show” after all, Daniel’s little segment is all about Santino. As he packs, Daniel talks about how much Santino pisses him off, calls him an “arrogant prick” but concedes he is “extremely talented” and is excited to see what he produces come fashion week. If there is one thing Santino can never be accused of, it’s being boring.

For Chloe, being in final three seems to have dawned on her slowly. “Wow,” she says, “this is really cool.” Swell! Neato! Rad! She hugs Daniel goodbye outside before hopping off into a yellow cab for home.

Like White (and Black) on Rice

Cut to 5 months later. Tim Gunn drives a sporty red product placement up to what looks like a hell of a nice house for someone who claims to be broke in Los Angeles (don’t even try to tell me otherwise, I know the real estate around here). It’s 7 weeks until fashion week, and The Gunn is traveling from coast to coast to visit with our designers and get a sneak peek on the progress they’ve made with their collections.

When Santino answers the door, he and Tim exchange a warm hug. Tim seems genuinely happy to see Santino again. Santino, at home, is a different, humbler creature. Underneath an olive newsboy cap, his whole posture and bearing are different, like he’s created a new character to play, “Santi: the humble Dickensian street urchin.” Santino mentions he’s renting this house in Hollywood where he’s set up a studio to work on his collection.

When Tim asks what his theme is, Santino answers, “40’s, glamour, Hollywood, boudoir, publicity stills…” He shows off a slip dress in rich, earthy mineral with soft, flowing pleats and fur embellishment that impresses Tim. He applauds Santino for taking risks and not playing it safe; but even more than that, Tim says that the work shows a level of refinement that he hadn’t expected from Santino, while still reflecting his distinct aesthetic. Even though Santino feels behind in his work, Tim is pleased with his progress, mostly because he has a clear direction.

Santino talks about being so “broke” that it’s “scary.” He then takes Tim out for an oceanside stroll along the sand in Venice Beach, California, a place where he spent a lot of time when he first moved out from Missouri. He almost makes Venice sound like some rough and tumble slum, when in fact, they’re walking by million dollar beach homes and the neighborhood is filled with art galleries, tony boutiques, and hipster hangouts.

In brown and green, the tall and lanky Santino resembles the palm trees which line the walkway along the beach. This quintessential Californian setting is the perfect backdrop for us to learn some of the backstory (and are even see some baby pictures—awww) of this season’s most talked about designer.

Contrary to popular belief, he is not the son of Satan. In fact, he is the biracial son of a white disabled war veteran and a black schoolteacher, from a small town in Missouri. He struggled his first few years in L.A., creating his own line which tanked and left him “pretty much homeless” and embarrassed.

What is this afterschool special we’re watching? Santino confesses that underneath the bluster of his arrogant exterior lies a ton of insecurities. He says any insult you could possibly throw at him, he has already thought of himself “ten times more in depth than you have.” Sounds sympathetic until you consider that if he’s thinking of himself that much he is still self-centered, if not exactly arrogant.

What does garner real sympathy is the fact that Santino had friends who loved him enough to open up their home to him so he could have a place to stay while he got back on his feet again. Tim says this act is a testament not only to Santino’s character, but also his good friends. Santino brings Tim to meet his “family”: Tony (who looks like a shorter, hatless Santino), his Asian-Am wife, and their adorable hapa/multiracial children.

There is something disarming about seeing a little kid cuddling with Santino, but even more endearing is the sight of proper Tim Gunn sitting on the floor eating Chinese takeout like he’s one of the family. Santino tells everyone that he’s made the final three (do they have to sign confidentiality agreements with Bravo now?) before thanking his friends for their help and hospitality and vowing to keep “living [his] dream” for all of them.

V is for Vosovic

The next week, Tim heads back to the east coast to NYC where Daniel has been working on his line. Tim tells Daniel he looks “terrific” and Daniel fluffs his newly shorn Beatle bob hair before ushering Tim into his apartment to look at his work so far.

Daniel shows Tim a lovely brocade jacket, explaining that his collection is a “fusion of military influence and Japanese culture.” Tim compliments the pieces he’s seen but warns Daniel that the hardest part of a collection is the final steps—the devil is in the details, like buttons. Damn you, you satanic snap closure!!!

Ultimately, Tim encourages Daniel to “push the risk factor,” however, as he doesn’t want Daniel to play it safe. Daniel concurs, then asks Tim if he’d come shopping for a new jacket with him. Daniel says that because designers put all their effort into making other people look good, they don’t always look their best and he’d like something new to wear to the finale. They head to the stores downtown, and Daniel says he’d like a slim, fitted blazer to which Tim cracks, “You don’t want to call Nick?” Wokka wokka.

To a montage of adorable flashback pics of Daniel as a child and a teenager, he talks about what it’s like growing up in a small town in Michigan, where it’s hard to be different, to be an individual—particularly a gay individual. Just being a designer, Daniel says, instantly earns you the F-label (and I don’t mean “fabulous,” Sweetie). Fortunately, Daniel had wonderful, supportive parents and he learned to forge ahead on his own without worrying about things outside of his control. Also, I’m sure it helped that he got the hell outta Podunk and moved to NYC.

This small town boy is now loving life and making it big—and he says this is only the beginning. He settles on a black tuxedo jacket that gets the Gunn Seal o’ Approval, and even looks great over the casual print tee he’s wearing.

The Dao of Chloe

Another day, another Saturn car. It is now 5 weeks until fashion week, and Tim zooms up the driveway of a house in Houston, Texas that looks just like the house of my aunt and uncle in Houston. In fact, the cul de sac looks exactly like their neighborhood, and I wonder if it’s the same neighborhood, or if every house in Houston just looks the same.

Chloe bursts out of the door like a little bundle of energy, hugs Tim and introduces him to her mom. She gives him a tour of the house, starting with a portrait of her and her seven—yes, I said seven sisters. Chloe explains that that’s why her store is called Lot 8. Eight girls in one family? I’m guessing the bathroom was never free in that household.

Chloe proudly displays a photo they all had taken in their 30s, and Tim says they all look “gorgeous.” Their family story, however, is one of adversity and survival. Originally from Laos, they tried to escape during the Vietnam War, but were caught by police and put into a “family prison” for several years. It is no small miracle that eventually they were all able to make it to America together safely.

They eventually head down to her workroom, where Tim asks Chloe the usual questions. She makes the shocking admission that she has no theme or concept, and is just winging it. She shows Tim a dress that looks to me like another Chloe Christmas Tree, and this one, Tim opines, is dominated by the print. When he asks to see sketches of her other designs, she freaks him out completely by saying she doesn’t do sketches.

Tim admits he’s very concerned about where Chloe’s work is headed, and she tries to reassure him that the collection is developing “organically” in her head “piece by piece.” She seems oddly unprepared in a way I would not have expected, which even makes me nervous…Chloe, however, says that if she has to she will hide away and work until the very last minute. Also, may I point out that with her seven sisters living in Houston, she has her very own Southeast Asian sweatshop at her disposal, should she need it. Hey, I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just saying it’s an option.

Tim’s visit concludes with a picture of him flanked on both sides by all the women of Chloe’s family. I’m seeing a possible new series here: “Gunn & the Girls.” Standing over a foot taller than all of them, Tim looks like he could be the head of an organization of hot she-spies. No? Think over it, call my agent later.

Return to New York

Flash forward to fashion week. Yellow cabs pull up to the sidewalk, depositing our designers into the Westin hotel in Times Square. Daniel is the first to arrive, having only come from uptown. He marvels over how he used to have to sneak into fashion week, and now he will really be a part of it. He hopes someone will be sneaking into his show this time. He wouldn’t be saying that if he knew how many stalkers fans he had out there in reality TVland. He unpacks some of his stuff, and offers us a surreptitious peak at his handbags. “Didn’t know I designed bags too, did you?” he says, a wee bit cockily. He says he must keep them secret, as he knows Santino will be “all over” them.

Next to arrive is Chloe. Seeing the diminutive Miss Dao lug all her baggage around the airport herself reminds me of the way ants can carry 20 times their own body weight. She meets up with Daniel, who exclaims, “It’s our little Asian girl!” as she heads into the suite (wearing, what else, a jacket in Chloe blue).

Santino is the last to get to New York. He says that he is nervous about returning to New York, because since the show has started to air “Santino Rice is the man you love to hate.” He’s particularly leery of reuniting with Chloe, after having read a few interviews in which she has expressed herself as not being overly fond of the loveable Mr. Rice.

Well, the feeling is certianly mutual. Chloe, who has hopped into bed with Daniel for a slumber party heart-to-heart (in the way a girl only can with a gay guy), confesses that she is still stinging from the comment Santino made about her being more of a pattern-maker than a designer.

Santino finally enters the bedroom to a chilly reception, but soon enough everyone is talking again. Santino says he initially wasn’t going to watch the show when it came out, but of course he did, and he read “every [bleeping] blog”—perhaps a message board or too? He says he’s learned to think twice before he says something these days, because he doesn’t like the way he came out looking like a “crazy egomaniac.” Chloe points out that he was the one, on that very first day, to declare this “The Santino Show.” And it still is, because all we ever do is talk about him.

Chloe confronts Santino about the hurtful “pattern-maker” comment, and Santino tries to pass that off as sounding meaner than he intended. Daniel acknowledges Santino may have gotten a raw deal in how he was portrayed, but the truth is he did say all those things, so “You made your bed, lie in it.”

(Sun)Cat Got Gunn’s Tongue?

The designers head to their new Banana Republic workroom, and start unpacking their collections while pretending to not be checking out each others’ goods. Daniel says he wonders if Santino is unpacking a “dildo dress” and Santino describes Chloe’s collection looking like “a couch was coming at you.” Did you think twice before you made that comment, Kinder Gentler Santino?

The Gunn arrives and asks the designers to gather round him like the good old days. He asks if they’re ready for fashion week, adding that 1000 people will be at their tents. The excitement and anxiety is almost palpable at the mention.

Tim wants to have a look at their work, beginning with Santino. We see the dress that Santino had in LA, plus a few other pieces with simple silhouettes but intricate construction. Tim is all praise for Santino’s line, repeatedly calling it “beautiful” and “impressive” and telling Santino he should feel proud.

Tim moves on to Chloe’s. I myself am dubious over the “voluminous,” 80s puffballs that she is calling jackets (maybe they’ll look different on the models?), but Tim likens her pieces to Balenciaga and calls them “pretty,” “innovative,” and even “brilliant.” It is impressive that she was able to do so much work after Tim’s visit to Houston; she says she didn’t leave her garage for two months after he left.

Finally, Tim goes to Daniel’s rack. Daniel holds his work in high regard, calling it “[bleeping] hot” and expecting Tim to say “Ohmigosh, this is like the best collection ever.” Daniel is sorely mistaken; first of all, for giving his imaginary Tim the diction of a Valley Girl and, second of all, for assuming Tim would say anything. And you know what people say if you assume…[groan]

Tim says nothing. Nada. You can almost hear the crickets chirp outside, he is so quiet. “Why isn’t he piddling in his panties over excitement?” Daniel wonders. Oh so now his imaginary Tim wears ladies’ underwear and has an incontinence problem. Daniel’s starting to worry me with his odd hallucinations.

Tim finally does say something, but it’s only to tell Daniel that the handbags that he is so proud of look like something “your dad did in the garage…woodshop…it bothers me.” This is the least Tim has ever said to Daniel, and Daniel feels offended.

The designers move on to meet with Michael Kors for model selection. “Don’t settle, get it perfect,” Michael says, because with the runway he as a designer has 12 minutes to last six months, and for these three, this one moment on the runway has to last them their lives. I almost expect him to break into song, Some people wait a lifetiiime, for a moment, like thiiiiiiis! (I would pay to see Michael Kors belt that out!)

“Time to go shopping for girls,” Michael hoots. And then they wonder why people criticize the fashion industry for objectifying women. As they watch the girls walk, each designer considers what they’re looking for: Chloe is looking for “girls with chests” (rowrrr), Daniel wants “fresh-faced” sexiness without vulgarity, Santino wants girls who exude “confidence.”

The next day, three days before their runway show, the designers head to the workroom to finish working on their collections and possibly do some fittings. Santino says things can “change drastically” depending on the models.

Their loyal muses from the show arrive at the workroom, and try on some of the outfits. Chloe is “so frickin’ happy” to see her girl in a gorgeous royal blue gown with elaborate cut outs in the back. Daniel hopes Tim will like his designs better once he sees it on a body. Tim is quiet again, and Daniel freaks out again. Is Tim really speechless or is this some dramatic reality TV ploy? Tim warns him that “details are what really hold it together and you have a lot of issues.” Tim departs, telling them they have until midnight tonight to “make it work.”

The designers take a field trip to work out things with the Tresemmé hairstylist, then rush back to the work room with only 8 hours left in the day. Daniel says he is daunted by all the work he has left to do, with a lot of raw edges and hemming to do. Chloe lucks out by being able to fit five her models before any of the other designers’ models have even shown up. Karma nips ever so slightly at Santino’s derriere, as he seems to have the worst luck with models showing up.

Pasties: So “In” This Season

48 hours till show time. Everyone’s feeling the crunch. Chloe has major alterations left to do, clearly exhausted, she says could not design another piece; Santino says he’ll be sewing until the models are out on the runway, and he can’t pull another Kara jumpsuit this time; Daniel says that for the first time he is feeling a “knot in [his] stomach,” mayhaps it’s a tummy ache from the humble pie he’s had to eat lately.

As they hunker down in the work room, Tim arrives accompanied by the no-longer-big-as-a-house Heidi. There are no happy hugs, no congrats on the baby, there are barely hellos. The designers don’t even get out of their seats to greet the slender Über-model. Is it because they all, rightfully, hate her for being such a fake ass bitch and torturing them at every turn with her cruel tricks? Or because they know some sucky reality TV twist is about to talk place? Or a mixture of both?

Robobitch Heidi coldly informs them that they have one more final look to create which must be shown on their final runway show. It is such superfluous drama that I actually yelled aloud, in my home, Why? Leave them alone! The designers are shocked; as the reality dawns on Chloe, she becomes visibly upset and starts to cry. Daniel comforts her.

But wait, there’s more! Tim says that in order to help complete their task, they will be given an “extra of hands” and in file all the old contestants, one by one. No one seems particularly pleased by this reunion, especially when Tim says that they must now pick one person from the reject pile to assist them with their additional look. Aaawkwaaaard! It’s like being picked for teams in P.E. but ten times worse.

Teutonic Tormentrix Heidi randomly selects the order in which the designers make their selections: not surprisingly, the first person picked is Nick, by Daniel; Santino calls on Andrae for help in his Gunn voice; Chloe goes for Dirty Diana. The rest of the designers have the worst sore loser faces plastered on their mugs before Heidi yells for them to follow her out of the room like she’s calling cattle. Outside, she is likely sending them out to assist her with personal chores, like having Emmett wash her car, Kara deposit some checks at the bank, Guadaloopy feed her baby, and Daniel Franco give Seal a sponge bath.

Tim gives everyone some time to caucus on their 13th design before they go fabric shopping again with $250 and only 42 hours to go before runway time. “I’ll be back in 30 minutes,” Tim says. I honestly can’t even get dressed in 30 minutes, much less design a completely original new look in that short a time.

This final challenge has all the finalists in the brink of a nervous breakdown. Daniel, Santino, and Chloe alike are all distraught and delirious. Chloe says, “I have been saying since day one that I could not design another piece if my life depended on it…and ironically, my life depends it.”

Daniel and Nick decide quickly on a dress that they hope will work seamlessly into the collection. Diana sketches some of Chloe’s ideas out quickly; Chloe thanks her for doing her thinking for her, as she has “no creative juice left.” At the fabric store, Andrae tries to be upbeat and supportive, but Santino says he is “spent” and seems incapable of making a decision.

Santino says he just doesn’t care anymore, “Even if you put pasties and a friggin’ maxi pad on the 13th model and send her down the runway, it’s like, who gives a [bleep] at this point.” Santino expresses his frustration with a long, excruciating shout to the heavens that asks, Why hast thou forsaken me?

More drama ensues, but you will have to tune into next week’s recap, when the scintillating Suncat will return to tell you what happens—and of course, most importantly, who wins—in the conclusion of PROJECT RUNWAY.

Send your comments and cruellers to: snowflakegirl@fansofrealitytv. com. Goddamn, I want a crueller!!!