We were glued to the set as twelve hopeful designers were whittled down to three over nine weeks. Our avid interest did not go unnoticed. As a reward for making the show a hit, Bravo threw in an extra week of Project Runway to whet our appetite for the grand finale. What’s a quick and easy way to extend the series by a week? It’s simple: get the eliminated designers to return to New York to discuss their experiences. Let’s watch as the booze flows and the claws come out. What fun!
Prelude to a Hiss
The designers return to Manhattan from whatever corner of the world they had crawled to after their cruel judgment and dismissal on the catwalk. The first to arrive at Club Crobar is Daniel Franco, who regrettably cut Tim Gunn off as he tried to advise him in the first challenge. Next we see Mario Cadenas, known for throwing fabric up on a mannequin and declaring “There! Done!” Here comes Starr Ilzhoefer, whose vulnerably sweet face belied enough angst to put up a pulpy red tumor on a model’s shoulder for the “envy” competition. There is Nora Caliguri, who wowed us with her plastic chair dress but sank into doldrums to please her bridal client. And who can forget Alexandra Vidal, who looks and sounds like a mixture of Paris and Nicole but at odd times speaks like a Russian princess? Kevin Johnn arrives, buttoned up to his nose in a winter coat and taking his place as the quietest one in the room. Vanessa Riley appears, long-haired and loud-mouthed just as we remember her on the show. She arrives with the ever-charming Robert Plotkin, who gets a hug from everybody. Last to sweep in the doorway (and I’m sure he sweeps into every doorway, even when he’s returning a book to the library) is Austin Scarlett in full colonial regalia, hair coiffed and curled, lipstick in just the right shade of burgundy. Now we’re set!
The designers mingle over cocktails, and everyone’s eager to talk about the same thing - Wendy Pepper, and her unexpected cruise to the final showdown. Austin says that he’s not sure what he will say to her if they meet face-to-face. Sweet little Alexandra doesn’t even want to say hi to her (ooh, that burns). Vanessa looks into a camera and addresses Wendy directly: “Wendy...you don’t deserve to be there.” Surprise! Who’s that getting out of the cab at that very moment in her boxy cherry-red sneakers? Get ready, we’re headed for some verbal fireworks. Along the way we’ll watch as the designers squirm in the hot seat and turn on each viciously. One designer storms out angrily, leaving a large red stain on the floor to mark her passing. Many questions will be asked, but will they be answered?
First, the Losers
Austin made it the farthest, so he fields the first question about his reaction to being eliminated instead of *coughevilcough* Wendy. Austin feels that being on the show makes him feel like a winner already, as they all should since being on the show is a prize in itself. It’s a diplomatic answer, so Tim Gunn cuts to the chase: did Austin think he should have been eliminated? No, Austin replies that although he may not have been what the show was looking for in the final winner, he felt he was talented enough to be in the final three. And yes, he names Wendy as the designer who doesn’t deserve to be in the finals; Kevin and Starr both speak in Austin’s favor over Wendy.
The show makes a stab at acknowledging Austin’s popularity by showing us a “tribute” to Austin. We see many shots of Austin pirouetting his way through the day, jumping and squealing like a schoolgirl for reasons that aren’t explained. The camera catches him in the bathroom plucking his eyebrows, checking his makeup on the subway, reapplying lip gloss on the living room couch. Kara Saun tells us that she thinks Austin is a vampire from the 18th century who has survived the ages only to become a fashion designer in the present. He makes for one fabulous vamp, that’s for sure, as evidenced by clips of his walk on the runway in Jay’s postal uniform. No wonder Austin was a natural choice to replace Julia; we see clips of Austin pretending to model his postal cape (looking magnificent, of course) before the Julia crisis ever came up. Everyone claps as the clips end.
Vanessa thinks the three finalists should have been her, Alexandria and Kevin; I can’t help but notice that the other two designers don’t smile at the compliment. On the heels of that awkward moment, Heidi announces that they are ready for the finalists to join them, and out come Kara Saun and Jay McCarroll. The two are greeted enthusiastically, and Jay takes a moment to tell Austin that he looks like a doily.
Heidi announces the arrival of Wendy Pepper, and she walks in to a distinct lack of applause. Vanessa even cuts her to the quick by telling her to stop pretending she’s glad to see her and sit down already. Oh, so it’s going to be one of those reunion shows. I might point out that not only did Bravo stack the deck by having an impromptu cocktail party as the designers arrived, but some of the designers are still visibly guzzling them down. Mostly it’s Vanessa we see gulping down the red wine like she just came from the local salt lick.
Wendy has finally dunked her head in a vat of color so that she doesn’t have the never-was-attractive skunk stripe anymore. She’s also graduated from her angry librarian glasses to *gasp* contacts. Now that’s an updated look. Did she dare to pierce her ears, too? She tells us she’s shaved a few pounds since the finale as well. Good for her. Too bad she still has that grating whine of a voice that we’ve been forced to listen to as she schemed her way through the show.
Wendy says that she used a strategic approach because she wants to win. “Based on what?” a voice from the back row calls out. It’s Mario, and he wants to know if she wanted to win on her talent or “malicious trickery.”
Wendy believes that the judges “saw” her talent (there were some “obviously”s thrown in there about three times) and that she treated her “fellow designers” (said with a sneer) like they were out to eliminate her. So, duh! At least that’s what her tone implies she’s thinking. “You look evil to all of everyone,” pipes up Alexandra. Woah, the designers are more ticked than I expected, especially the ones who were knocked out before the halfway point.
Vanessa contributes that she is mad at Wendy because they all treated her nicely since she was a housewife from nowhere with awful designs. Ouch! I can’t help but feel a twinge of sympathy for Wendy; these guys are definitely in gang-up mode, and Vanessa couldn’t find an ounce of tact even if it meant free booze for a year. “You stepped on all of us,” she accuses. Wendy is stone-faced by this point, and Kara Saun sums it up, saying that if you played the game in a cutthroat manner, you’re a cutthroat person in real life. Kara Saun says that’s she’s worked hard to get where she is, but she’s never done anything to compromise her integrity. “And you can see the difference between Kara Saun and Wendy,” Mario points out.
Wendy waves her hand and interrupts, and this time, she’s got her bitch on. She says her fellow designers misunderstand her motives. She didn’t go on the show to interact (sneer) with a group of designers (sneer), she went on the show to win, and she did whatever she could to get to the end. Jay and Kara Saun both argue against this philosphy, saying that they wanted to get to the end through their work, not through scheming machinations.
Bravo website viewers want to know if Wendy felt uncomfortable with her portrayal on the show, and she says that yes, she is. She feels that people don’t understand how difficult it was to just get through the day on Project Runway, and says it led to her “engaging in certain behaviors” just to cope. She has an odd, legalistic turn of phrase tonight; she is watching every word carefully.
Daniel asks her if she was happiest creating her work, or when she was winning? Wendy thanks him for the question, saying that she has been waiting to bring this up. She is the only honest one in the room because she owns up to her strategic motives, she says; the rest of the group aren’t being honest with all this hi-falutin’ talk of being true to their vision instead of wanting to win. The designers erupt in a furor; over the hubbub we can hear Jay shouting, “Wendy, this isn’t Survivor! I don’t get it!”
When the shouting subsides, Kara Saun is once again the calm voice summing up the situation. “Don’t sell your soul, because you might need it one day.” Some day soon.
Tim reads another viewer question, but it’s really an awkward segue into a montage of scenes of drunken revelry. Heidi enunciates the title of the mini-masterpiece: “Project Drunkway.”
We learn that once the pressure of a deadline had passed, the designers liked to unwind with a little booze. Many a beer is shown being chugged; many apple martinis are consumed at a trendy bar. Austin slugs from a dark bottle several times, and on closer inspection, we realize that he’s swigging champagne - Cristal, no less.
The stars of the drunken parties seem to be Vanessa and Austin. We see Vanessa (wearing an odd wig of blonde ringlets) so drunk she falls off her chair; then Austin sweeps her into a dramatic dip for a big ole’ fake kiss. Robert tells us they are performing a scene from Gone With the Wind. On another night, Jay is urging a few designers to join him in “drunk yoga,” which fits in with the cigarette dangling from his mouth as he gets into a downward dog position. Thankfully, we don’t see any more of that scene.
We see Wendy in the middle of a producer interview in the hallway outside the designers’ apartment when a very drunk Vanessa pops out to make a statement from the doorway. She delivers a drunken Miss Scarlet speech and leaves. The producer turns to Wendy, asking her what she thinks of Vanessa. Wendy goes right into on-camera mode without missing a beat. “I love Vanessa,” she beams.
We’re back with the designers, and Tim Gunn points out an odd-looking puddle of red on the ground in front of Vanessa. Yup, she spilled her wine. It’s an odd moment, to say the least; but is it some macabre piece of foreshadowing? *evil laugh*
The designers agree that Nina Garcia was the hardest judge of the lot. Her criticisms were harsh and she was near impossible to please. Surprisingly, Michael Kors is termed “fair” by the designers. He seemed fairly critical on the show, so I suspect he had positive things to say that were left on the cutting room floor.
A viewer asks if Vanessa regrets telling the judges that she was the weakest part of her team because she couldn’t sew as well as the others. Her response is that she does sew well, but that at the time, she was fed up from working on Austin’s “Bo Peep” outfit. I’m not sure how that applies, but she is adamant that she can and does sew. Austin defends his own comments from that time (he also fingered Vanessa for not being a seamstress) as being completely honest from his point of view. Vanessa puts an end to the talk of her elimination by getting angry, telling everyone that people around the country have sent her sewing kits and manuals and she doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment. Every time her sewing skills are denigrated, she says, her sales drop by the hundreds of thousands. Tim (gotta love him) asks if it was an error, then, for her to have “self-eviscerated” on the runway? Vanessa says that in the fantasy land of Project Runway, it “probably” was. Oh, good grief, she can’t even admit it was a mistake even now after watching the show unfold?
Tim turns the conversation back to the runway judging. Does Wendy regret her actions in front of the judges? Specifically, criticizing Austin and Kevin both for their leadership skills? Like Wendy would admit to regretting anything. She’s the one wearing the cherry-red sneakers with a black pantsuit, you know. “In terms of Kevin, I felt his leadership was lacking and I said it,” she avers firmly. Rock solid.
The producers of Project Runway struck gold with Nora, who, it turns out, is a master at impersonating her fellow designers. From the footage we’re shown, it’s apparent that everyone was asked to impersonate the others, but Nora has the mannerisms, voice, and verbiage of her colleagues down pat. But there’s one person on the show that everyone can imitate, so they share a good old-fashioned belly laugh at the scenes of everyone in the group doing their spot-on imitation of Heidi Klum’s “either you’re EEN or you’re OUT.” Oh, for fun!
We also watch a tribute to Tim Gunn. We learn that he has two catch phrases: “make it work” and “carry on.” Through the magic of editing, we see him repeat these phrases about a dozen times, and each time, he sounds like Jean-Luc Picard commanding the starship Enterprise. Mario shares his first impression of Tim:
We all went to the steps of Parsons, and there next to you, Heidi, was this, like, nicely dressed articulate man, and I just looked at him, like, “What a hot bitch!”
Truly, Tim seems to be appreciated by all the designers, and he look gratified at their praise. The designers recount how his discerning eye picked out flaws that were later echoed by the judges; the savvy ones learned to listen to his advice and follow it closely.
Wendy brings up that Tim called her work “dowdy,” and we relive the moment through flashbacks. Tim says that he wanted to wake Wendy up, and she agrees that it did, and is grateful that it came at just the right time.
Since the conversation has turned once again to Wendy, Heidi brings up the defaced photo incident. Will we finally find out who drew on the picture? Let me just burst that bubble of hope right now - no, we won’t.
Many people suspect Kevin (including Tim Gunn) because it was discovered the day after he was eliminated. He seems surprised to be under suspicion. He’s one cool cucumber - either he’s genuinely a mild-mannered guy bewildered by the accusations or he’s the slyest little fox in the room. The designers are silent, but Kevin doesn’t budge. Vanessa ventures in a small voice that she thinks Wendy did it to herself. Wendy doesn’t so much as blink; she has turned to stone throughout this whole segment. Vanessa repeats her accusation in a louder voice, trying to get any kind of reaction out of Wendy. Surprisingly, Jay comes to Wendy’s defense, calling Vanessa “cold” for even suggesting it and asking if she has a soul. “Take a yoga class, my god!” he emotes. Again, throughout the drama, Wendy looks at no one. Austin says that he doesn’t think it’s worth discussing, and we’re left in the dark. I really wanted someone to cave...couldn’t Starr have confessed to hiding out in a cabinet for weeks waiting for the perfect moment?
Workin’ It...or Losin’ It?
Heidi talks about how hard it was on the designers to go from the intense challenges to interviews upon interviews. The contestants were stressed, tired, and as we saw earlier, often drunk. The result? A nicely padded blooper reel.
We watch as Vanessa endures the humiliation of a makeup man blotting sweat off her brow; Robert misspeaks and comments on a fellow designer’s genitals; Jay is blearily recounting the day and repeatedly calls Heidi “Hodi”; Robert can’t pronounce sado-masochism. To be fair, how many times does that come up in conversation? On second thought, don’t answer that question. Starr, who is a lawyer, if you remember, shows that her analytical mind is always clicking away when she sits, blank-faced, for nearly thirty seconds before responding to a producer’s question in clear, articulate tones. She might be slow, but she delivers (eventually).
Other bloopers: Robert saying “falafel” for “philosophize”, “hippo” for “hippie”. The group chuckle madly, and everyone looks a lot more relaxed.
Heidi calls for some models, and Melissa, Julia, Jenny and Martinique join the group on stage. The talker in the group is Melissa, who answers most of the questions. They now enjoy being recognized on the street for their work on the show. Tim asked the designers how they chose their models. Wendy answers first, saying that she had relationships with the models because she wasn’t in competition with them. Which only brings to mind her befriending Morgan, telling Morgan that they would always have a bond while in the same breath eliminating her from the competition. After an awkward pause, Jay puts in a good word for Julia, saying she studies graphic design and he chose her because they had so much in common. Now from Jay, the moment seems sincere. Morgan doesn’t have the chance to smile at her cheerleader, since she was cut from the show weeks ago. Jay also offers the tidbit that Olga did not know her role as a model, and he would never work with her.
Now we see behind-the-scenes clips of the models, interacting and being playful in their *gasp* lingerie. They look like they had fun pulling up each other’s slips to reveal the silk thongs underneath. The funniest moment is when Jay imitates Olga’s boyfriend, nailing his hulk-like Russian-accented voice perfectly: “Olga. I have traveled the oceans for you.” The rest of the room is paralyzed in laughter; I guess you had to be there. Melissa get a special mention for being an irresistible, vivacious minx whom Robert calls “a 36-year-old woman in a 16-year-old’s body.” She’s shown working her stuff on the runway one moment, charming party guests the next. The models all agree that they’ve had a lot of fun.
But there’s one model who didn’t think the show was all sunshine and kittens - the infamously dramatic Morgan. We learn that Morgan told the show she would only appear if they would agree to only portray her in a positive way. Tim Gunn has a word for that wish: impossible.
We see clips from the show featuring Morgan at her zaniest, and a few that I missed the first time, like the time she burped loudly for the camera, or the time she told production to f*** off. Tim wants to know why Morgan was chosen after nearly ruining the chances of other designers, and Kevin (of all people) defends her, saying that once Morgan got into her “groove,” she was fantastic.
Austin praises Melissa, saying she took her job as a model seriously. He says she has professionalism, drive, and beauty; whereas Morgan lacked professionalism. Martinique thinks that any publicity is good publicity, but Melissa criticizes Morgan for toying with the designer’s dreams. Oh, that Melissa. She’s just so darned cute when she’s mad.
Enough with the viewer questions, it’s Jay’s turn. He wants to know why Vanessa gave a scathingly vicious interview with an internet site where she trashed both the show production and her fellow designers.
Nora speaks up, saying that she stopped reading the interview at the point where Vanessa accused the other designers as having “low talent” and only having made clothes for their grandmothers in the past. As a young designer only two years out of design school, she felt it was a slam on her, and was personally hurt.
Vanessa responds that she wasn’t expecting to go to New York and sit in a little room sewing things with other people. Jay counters that it’s unprofessional and unseemly to cut down the show in an interview, but Vanessa interrupts, saying that it wasn’t a professional interview. She was just talking on the phone, you know. With an ex-intern of hers. Which is funny, because the website that conducted the interview doesn’t have a single employee who ever worked for Vanessa. But hey, she was just gabbing, she didn’t know she was being interviewed.
The tide of disapproval has firmly shifted from the expected villain (Wendy) to who we thought was a fun-loving lush (Vanessa). The other designers weigh in with their opinions; Jay and Kara Saun do not like to hear the production criticized since it is benefitting them all; Vanessa counters that of course they feel protective because they made it to the finals. Not that she would feel any differently if she herself had made it to the end. Oh, puh-leez. The odor of sour grapes isn’t coming from that nasty stain on the floor, it’s coming from the foot that kicked over the glass.
Nora reflects on the unpleasant experience of having her mental stability questioned on the internet. But she concludes that it was her choice to put her emotions out there in front of the camera, and that the bottom line is, she signed up for the show, and she takes responsibility for what was shown on screen. Can I get a standing O for this rare moment in reality TV? A contestant who doesn’t whine about editing and admits to her shortcomings?
Jay asks Vanessa why she is so soured on the experience, including her sour attitude at this reunion show. “Because I don’t want to be here,” Vanessa hollers. And with that, she walks out of the room. Um, I don’t think she’s coming back, folks.
What’s Left to Talk About
After a crazy little clip featuring Jay with his “baby” made from panty hose and stuffing, we’re back with the group. Kara Saun, Jay and Wendy have been sent away, so now the designers can really dish the dirt. But first, we’re shown a video of everyone’s predictions. Nora thinks Jay will win, while Daniel and Alexandra think Kara Saun has it all sewed up. *rimshot* Robert can’t decide, and Austin thinks it will probably be Kara Saun. Jay and Wendy both predict themselves as the winner, and Kara Saun sweetly tells us she plans to win. Robert finally makes his pick - Jay. The only clear conclusion is that Wendy will only be a winner in her own mind.
Kara Saun’s strengths are that she has been designing for a long time, her clothes are consistently beautiful, and yet, there is variation in her collection. Jay’s style is also praised for being consistent, creative, and beautiful, which is only enhanced by his wild personality. Austin thinks that he and Jay are similar for being too insular; but Kevin thinks Austin and Kara Saun are similar for having many costume-like elements in their designs. Daniel calls someone’s work “Punky Brewster” but we stopped listening to him on the first week, didn’t we?
And then there’s Wendy - what if she wins, asks Robert? Amid the guffaws, the designers cannot fathom Wendy outshining Jay much less the sainted Kara Saun. “But she has a 33% chance,” argues Robert. The camera is on Austin as he says it, and Austin rolls his eyes in disbelief at Robert’s naivete. What’s the point, folks? We know it won’t be Wendy.
The Finale - It’s Almost Here!
Next week, Jay and Kara Saun get to bitch and moan at Wendy all they want. The fashion show is ready to crank away, and we see tantalizing glimpses of back-stage chaos, veeps in the audience, and nervous designers. Tune in for next week’s chunky two-hour finale to find out Who. Wins. It. All!
Forget Vanessa, send your virtual sewing kits to me at email@example.com.