Thursday, September 12, 2013

REALITY TV AS ART: CONSIDERING AND DEFENDING REALITY TELEVISION AS A LEGITIMATE ART FORM; A CONSIDERATION AND ANALYSIS OF "PROJECT RUNWAY SEASON 8" AS ART : (PART 1 of 2)



The infamous moment has been called, "Gretchengate", by fans. It's hard to put it into a context the landmark piece of television, but you gotta understand, when it comes to reality show judges, they never had, so much as had a disagreement, on anything major. Minor taste disagreements that were often laughed off over obvious determinations about craft, skill, point of view, and the execution of such skills thereof. You see, the reason why "Project Runway" was (and still is) the best reality show of all-time is because for the seven previous seasons, they showed that there was a clear distinction between, not only good design and bad design, talent vs technique, and an understanding that talent itself can trump one's taste, but also determine the distinctions between good design and great designs. It's the reasons why certain artists are regarded as better than their counterparts, and these experts, not an audience, qualified, legitimate experts could easily recognize the differences, and they always did, and even if we may have disagreed with their choices from time-to-time, it was damn-near impossible to argue their logic in any consistent manner, especially when nobody could argue the credentials and legitimacy of the experts. So when suddenly, there's a full-fledge fight between judges, at the finale of a season that had already emotionally captivated, shocked and exhausted us. Well, not a fight, but pretty-damn close by these standards

You see, the way "Project Runway" has revealed the art of fashion design, there is an art to good reality television. A lot of people will surely deny it, and sure, they can easily put up artificial examples that enhance their argument, but they're wrong. Yes, luck can be involved, but when done well, there is an art to reality TV; as the people behind them can tell a story almost literally out of thin air, that at its best, can easily rank as some of the most compelling television, ever. One of my very first blogs was on "Project Runway", and how I dissected to explain why it's the best reality show of all-time, something I still believe. You can read that very early post below:

http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2011/07/confessions-from-project-runway-addict.html

Now, I'm gonna use what I claim to be the greatest reality show season of all-time, the memorable and controversial season 8 of the series, and put it up there, as a piece of art. A piece of storytelling through film that at its best, is on par with the best of even scripted television, finding character arcs and plots in real life people and events, even ones out of a given contrivance.

Due to the extreme length and elaborate detailed-nature of this article, I've chosen to post it in two separate blogposts. This is Part 1; Part 2 will be posted in the near future, at which time a link to Part 2, will be added to the end of this post.

(The entire season currently is available to all on hulu.com, if one wants to compare and watch directly what I may be describing, interpreting, analyzing what I'm describing.) 

The art of reality television is in the editing, and it's hardly a new style; documentary filmmakers have been doing it since Lina Wertmuller. Film, film, film! Film as much of everything as you can, and then, get into the editing room, and begin cutting together a story. Sometimes, the story presents itself to you, but other times, they may need to be pulled out physically, and requiring every trick an editor and producer can use. Music, voiceover, cutaway shot, all of them are in play. Yes, reality, especially reality-competition shows are more planned out to some extent, and have fallen into what-are-now very traditional formulas. The gathering of the contestants together, where the rules and outlines of a new challenge are brought to their attention. The footage of them competing or talking during the competition, the interview segments, where they look directly into a camera and discuss their thoughts and frustrations.  There's a sociological experiment part of this and other shows, that is just as compelling to the audience as who wins, and who doesn't. This has become the language of reality television, reflecting in the always slight-altered opening credits of "Project Runway", where we get brief glimpses of the cast members and their personalities and styles, as well as a brief prologue that opens each season. There's no guarantee of course, that you're gonna have such a full season of unpredictable and random events between them, but the best of these shows have made a lack of drama as much of a story as actual drama. That said, a couple of different things happened that shot Season 8 of "Project Runway," into a truly unpredictable stratosphere. The details of a shot-by-shot analysis are simply too exhaustive especially for a blog, this could be a book in fact, but we are gonna to go episode-by-episode, as it is in these details that create stories, and transcend reality TV from being just documentary and turns it into actual art.

This season, started unusually with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn, our hosts, talking directly into the camera about some of the contestants, while we see each of them arriving and meeting each other along the way in groups of four or five, all through New York City, on their way to their first reported destination. Usually a season began with an opening montage, that included images and statements from the designers showcasing their personalities, skillsets, attitude, and oftentimes, aesthetics. Obviously this has been contrived and setup, but you get certain feelings for the designers. Some are obvious to show and tell, like Ivy Higa, telling us that this is the "Ivy Show" for her. You already know her conceded personality already. Or the sudden strange instant connection between Casanova and Kristin Simms when they meet at Times Central Station, and the exact opposite non-connection occurs between Gretchen Jones and Jason Troisi when they meet and have nothing to say. The cutting is crucial here. The way after A.J. Thouvenot mentions his fear of meeting an old lady first with Sarah Trost, do they immediately cut and change music to Peach Carr, the oldest in the group by a wide margin. They use whatever means necessary to introduce characters, 'cause this is the beginning. They cut with photos from their packet and earlier collections, and show footage of them arriving for tryouts and even their audition videos. That's another interesting development, Jason talking about being intimidating and the best, and then walks up to him Gretchen Jones, who's gonna prove to be tougher than everyone. This all is natural, just recording what's happening, but it's also a foreshadow to what's gonna happen later, whether they know it or not a the moment, but in the editing room, these are the tools of telling a story.

For starters, the first episode, like all episodes this season, were longer than ever before, as Lifetime gave "Project Runway" an hour and a half timeslot, instead of their usual hour-long episodes that had been the norm. This was after a cancellation of a spin-off models show, but what it did was give more time for storytelling, such as showing more of Tim Gunn's critiques as he went from contestant to contestant, sometimes seeming innocuous but almost always has something that has a deeper observation later on, like his blase remark about Mondo's outfit looking matronly, which later gets callback when Tim mentions how unbelievably successful he was the next episode at making something that looked matronly, look chic and youthful on the runway, and then foreshadowing Mondo's later successes on later episodes. The first challenge by the way, required taking an item of clothing from each of the 17 contestants bags, passing it to another designer, who then has to make a new outfit with that piece of clothing and supplemental fabrics, in a record, five hours! The shortest challenge in the show's history, by far. This was done, before the contestants even got to their famed Atlas apartment homes, and was technically a last tryout before officially being on the show. Already, the show's breaking many of it's traditions and throwing the contestants into a state of flux. A few more oddities, like Kristin running behind the scenes to hair and makeup, having completely forgotten that she sent her model there. This is something we haven't seen on the show before. Also, the results of the runway, ended with a unanimous winner, Gretchen, and six so-called losers, each of whom were up for elimination. Yet, the judge's decision was controversial when McKell, the new mother from Utah was eliminated for what was an adorable little dress made from a men's button-down shirt, being eliminated, despite memorably bad outfits from Casanova, Ivy and Jason, and a very boring one from Nicolas. Tim Gunn, openly disagreeing about the judges decision as he lead McKell to the workroom, also starts a precedent that would continue through the season.

The second episode is a major challenge, set by Marie Claire, where the winning outfit will be photographed and appear on a Times Square billboard. A major, high-profile challenge very early in the competition. This is the episode where Mondo's extreme loneliness gets revealed. As Nicolas points out, "I thought he'd be one of the chipper-chatter's and he's quiet and focused you barely realize he's in the room." We also learn that a morning photo shoot is also planned to showcase their outfits. Jason's had a second run of severe time issues, and has abandoned a zipper on his infamous "Infinity Dress", in favor of safety pins. Yet, the decision to purposefully pick a photo from his shoot that shows off his a hole in the dress, we recognize now, as self-sacrifice, and when judging on the runway comes, it becomes clear and obvious that he's out, and he's long left the competition, so much so that he becomes the first contestant to leave, even before Tim Gunn sends him home. This is also the first time everybody realizes Mondo's talents, making the Top 3, with a beautiful albeit strange combination of fabrics that no other person would put together, and here he makes a Mary Tyler Moore-inspired skirt and top that's fun and flouncy, and definitely all him. It's clear to know when a piece distinguishes itself by being from the person who created it, without having to ask who created it. It's an old story, when you realize someone's talented, people look at you different and accept you. This however, will become a different story, a few episodes later with Michael Costello. A second shocker to this episode, was the double-elimination, as Nicolas was also knocked out, for his circle-inspired outfit, that was very poorly, albeit not-as-poorly-designed-as-the-judges-claimed outfit. He's emotional exit was quickly reedited to images from the Marie Claire photoshoot, and Gretchen's dress, winning again, on the Times Square billboard. Her second win, with a blue jumper piece, in a close-call victory over Valerie's sharply-lined red dress, which Michael C. said, he thought should've won. Now, however, the already controlling and confident Gretchen Jones, has become the first contestant to win the first two challenges in a season on the show, and is clearly a dominant designer, and she knows it, and she's only gonna become more of an annoying presence in the immediate future.

You know it's gonna be a strange season, when a fairly mundane episode includes the unconventional challenge, with the contestants buying their materials from a party story and ends with a contestant going to the hospital. Gretchen's got a bigger head than ever, and has begin going from contestant to contestant giving her opinions, very similar to Tim Gunn, even using much of his vernacular like "Student work", while criticizing everyone else's work, and her controlling personality doesn't go away with another Top 3 finish here, but she also managed to gain Sarah's trust, and as their conversations continue, her palm tree outfit gets worse and worse, and pretty soon, the forgettable contestant is eliminated, almost forgotten completely if it wasn't for her being in the opening credits. A.J.'s unusual aesthetic which includes often using party store and toy store materials has put extra pressure on him than a normal challenge, and it eventually ends with him on the bottom, along with Casanova, who's couture outfit was beyond ridiculous and obnoxious, that frankly the last problem with it, was that he used fabric-like materials to make it. Andy's complains in the beginning that he's been ignored for two straight challenges, despite top-quality work, and when you go back and see, he's right, especially with the first challenge, where in five hours, he made pants, a shirt, a cape, and an interesting hat, and gave her model one of the most interesting looks of anybody, almost a guarantee that he would've been a Top 3 for that challenge, if they did one. That said, this time he goes after black and silver ribbon, and begins a massive undertaking, creating a dress that looks like leather and chains, using only ribbon. He gets help from Peach and April at the last second, just enough to actually finish the garment, which gets the young Hawaiian his first win over Valerie's black & white flirty napkin dress and now, everybody, including the judges this time, notice him, and Andy is awarded immunity, the first time that's been a prize this season. So, who's in the ambulance at the end of the show? Miss Full-of-Herself, Ivy, faints shortly after the runway show in the hallway at the Atlas apartments, and the episodes ends on a cliffhanger, as we're unsure of her condition. What happened to her? You can actually re-watch the episode and see that Tim warns her about being way behind on her design to begin with, and spends the next two days, constantly burning herself on a glue gun, that she's been accidentally inhaling. You can see that she's already looking half-way out of it, by the time we see them on the runway, and apparently, a lack of food other than cigarettes and soda already, have combined to end up exhausting herself, for ironically a dress that you've have to have pointed out to you to remember. Say this about her, as cocky and as much as a Leo she may be, she certainly doesn't lack for determination and struggle, and is willing to go to extreme lengths to win.

Ivy's still in the hospital but returns in the middle of the night and heads straight to bed after being hospitalized for dehydration. She immediately starts discussing taking care of the body, which was what her roommates were talking about. As a strange small twist in the last challenge, the losing designer's model, was also immediately eliminated, which is different from a normal process of winning designers choosing whether to keep their models (A segment that was once a prominent part of the show, that's since been practically cut from the editing altogether.) This time, the models come out on the runway, wearing beautiful Philip Tracy hats, and suddenly the reason for the immediate elimination becomes clear, as through the help of the show's notorious velvet bag, the designers get to chose their models, and they pick the hats, and the hats come with the models that are wearing them. Although, everyone ends up picking their own models, some of the designer's decisions were mixed. April loved Iffy's hat, Peach's model, but she's been a pain in the ass, as shown in earlier episodes, particularly the fashion shoot, where Peach couldn't get any emotion out of her for the cover photo, nearly costing her an elimination. April, chose to stay away. Valerie Mayen's had two Top 3's, with her model, but she's baffled by a coquettish mask/hat that her model's wearing. She decides to take on the challenge with the mask, and Kristin, is left with the orchid hat. Now, this was the episode where Michael Costello finally came to the forefront. First off, at the time of the taping, it's Father's Day, and he's excited to call his young son Giovanni, a sweet moment. Now, in previous episodes, we were seeing Tim Gunn's critiques of his work, most of which were lukewarm, although the party challenge was a stunner that just barely missed the Top 3, which Michael said he was pissed at, especially when Gretchen made it to the top again. He'd been a fun and emotional personality, crying even when Sarah got kicked off in the last episode, but here, he's having trouble with his design, and it's suddenly becoming clear that the other designers don't understand his aesthetic, nor do they particularly like him, or think he's in the same league as most of the rest of them. Michael Drummond informs us, that he didn't bring a ruler with him to the show, saying "There's a lot of ways to skin a cat, but you'd probably oughta bring a knife." This, as Michael has discarded the dress he's making and started over, midway through the day, and begins a new one. Now, something new to this season, was a glimpse into the conversations in the waiting room, where the contestants now on the runway for critique hang out, and here, you see them often discussing others looks, particularly the ones on the runway, and trying to determine which three are on the top and the bottom, and everyone agreed that Christopher Collins's dress, was on the top, and that Michael Costello, who everybody has basically been waiting to go home for a supposed lack of ability, was on the bottom. To everyone's shock, the exact opposite thing happened, and the iridescent red, flowy skirt dress of Michael's, that Casanova said "Every girl in Puerto Rico has that dress in her closet", won the challenge, confusing, and shocking the hell out of everybody. Dumbfounding them, in fact. April Johnston was on the bottom a second time also, for her notorious triple-panty resort-wear shorts, and kooky Kristen, who likes keeping her mistakes in the final design, was knocked out on the black satin and pink dress/orchid hat catastrophe, which in of itself surprised no one, but everyone was so caught offguard by them not liking Christopher's outfit, who everyone had pegged as someone who was just about to breakout for the judges, and now Michael's gotten what everyone thinks is an undeserved immunity for the next challenge. Now, the asides to Michael in the previous episodes, which were mostly, almost exclusively outside of the overall group, make sense now, and there's still foreshadowing for what happens next episode. Michael Drummond, the eccentric knit-wear designer, who's been in the middle for the entire time, also got a Top 3, with an architectural top that perfectly match his Philip Tracey hat, along with an unusually-crinkled and pleaded skirt that was surprisingly unique.  The episode ends, unusually, not with the loser's exit, but with chatterings in all the Atlas apartments, everyone pissed and complaining about Michael Costello's win, including his own roommates Andy and A.J. This marked another difference about Season 8, typically, only rarely did an episode not close on the leaving of the eliminated designer, but so far, every episode has ended on something else, either the contestants entering their new apartments, a photo shoot footage, the ambulance taking Ivy to the hospital, and now, all the contestants post-Runway.

After a volatile night, the next day, there still more confusion on Michael Costello's win, all having to do with sewing abilities or lack thereof, when he gets first pick in a brutal 6 on 6 team challenge, and despite his earlier trash talking about her, he selects Gretchen, a mistake he will soon regret. That team is joined by Christopher, Andy, Ivy and A.J., dubbed Team Luxe, while April, Mondo, Michael Drummond, Valerie, Casanova and finally Peach, round up the other team, Military & Lace, noticing that the three challenge winners all ended up on the same team. The Garnier challenge is to come up with a 6-piece collection online for the upcoming year. Casanova would pull out the victory, despite him nearly quitting after another bad critique from Tim, as him and the judges constants complaints about his work either being too matronly or too whorish continue. His model convinces him not to quit the show altogether and his story has gone from, crazy eccentric who to legitimate competitor on the show. That said, this episode wasn't the story of Casnova's triumph. Michael immediately gets on everyone's nerves by bringing in the easel to show the board of styles and stories they have to chose from, and Gretchen immediately overpowers the group, who selects a combination of Menswear for Women and Camel, and everybody begins railroading and downright ignoring all of Michael C.'s ideas as Gretchen begins delegating the numerous parts of the collection to everybody, only Ivy has an entire look going on the runway herself, everyone else is doing part(s) of everyone else's looks, and everyone's concerned about whether Michael Costello's gonna keep up and sew what they need them too, so they soon begin trying to micro-manage him, especially when he does have trouble making and sewing a pattern for a cowl. They talk about coddling him, when he's pissed at Ivy for her frustration over his difficulties, and treat him as the kid in the class who may have been held back a year and is still struggling to learn. (They also, led by Gretchen and Christopher, do this with A.J. as well, but not to the degree with do with Michael).

Now, before I continue,- well, I'm not gonna pretend to be an expert on fashion design or sewing or anything in fact, regarding clothes making/designing, but I'm gonna try to explain they're issue with Michael best I can. Michael is a draper, meaning that, the way he designs clothes is by taking the fabric, and manipulating it to flow over a body, that's his technique, and being mainly an evening-wear designer, it works for him, but it is a rather beginners technique. April once said, outside of the series, that he just flows the thing around and puts in a #5 stitch. Most of the rest of the designer, use patterns to make their clothes, which involves more elaborate designer and sewing skills/techniques. So, in this aspect, there is a reasoning as to why they consider him, second-tier to the rest, but that said, he won a challenge doing it. So either, they didn't see the so-called sewing issues, or they liked his dress last challenge enough that they didn't care, and it's confusing them. (It's confusing Tim Gunn, by the way too, but which isn't completely brought up here, but the technique level is noticeable to him as well)

So, that's their issue, now back to the episode, and Tim Gunn's visits, with the teams, where he responds well to most of Team Military and Lace's collection, but informs Casanova to youth-en his look up, again Casanova running into his too-matronly problem. This causes his minor hissy-fit, laying on the couch in a designer's lounge, and even threatens to quit the show at one point, until his model Sarae, convinces him to come back and finish the garment. Over at Team Luxe's side, he likes the ambition, but warns about the outfits being ho-hum, but they're not deterred, as Ivy says, "We can change Tim's opinion". Meanwhile, Gretchen mentions again, just how much of her is in the collection. She has a piece in most of the looks it seems, even. There also seems to be a lot of her, in how she purposefully gives Michael and possibly A.J., who is only doing a shirtdress while most of the group is designing multiple pieces, stuff that she isn't sure they're capable of doing, or at least don't believe he's capable of doing, starting with a badly-fitted top that Michael needs to recut. The next day, Team Luxe is behind, and while Gretchen does make a list, the models start helping out sewing in between fittings, and make-up and especially hair, as this is a Garnier challenge. During the runway, and another new show aspect that's gotten exemplified this season, hearing random whispers, mumbles and quiet comments from the designers during the runway show, and even occasionally while they're being judged on stage that the judges might not hear, are made note of, especially Gretchen, who continually makes many comments on seemingly everyone, including herself. This is on top of the designer's voiceover which always goes along with their look walking on the runway, and up until the last second, Team Luxe seemed to think they were gonna win, but the Bad News Bears of Team Military and Lace are announced as the winners and celebrate. This time, Team Luxe is sent to the waiting area, while the judges go over Team Military and Lace. Now they're basically intercutting the conversation in the back, with the judging on the runway, and while little happens on the runway, other than Casanova winning, Peach finally getting praise from the judges, and so on, in the back, they're still in denial about the collection, and Gretchen leads the trash talking about Team Military and Lace's collection and praising herself. Then, Gretchen instigates a discussion of strategy on the runway, and they basically seem to decide to go in as a group, and not throw anybody under the bus. This is what makes the events of their runway critique, especially atrocious. Gretchen's continuous double talk, finally gets her in trouble with the judges. First, talking about, hiding weaknesses, then backpedaling on who was weak. Then getting emotional about how hard they worked and not wanting to say who was doing what. Then, after Heidi reiterates about Michael's immunity, Gretchen speaks out about, again about the team effort. When they finally discuss the design-less, mis-proportioned clothes, they first go after Ivy's outfit, the only person who did her complete look, declaring it the worst. Then they go after A.J.'s shirt dress, which is when Gretchen, finally talks about the clothes seeming old, completely contradicting herself before. Even going so far to say that the collection she so championed, that she was styling poorly, was a bad collection to begin with. This is when they go after Michael's blouses, both of which, the judges like, again! This time, Gretchen's determined to make the point of him not being technically proficient. Ivy's jumps in too, slamming Michael, and when each one of them are asked who's the weakest, they go after Michael. All except A.J., who also doesn't name a weakest, but confesses his own lack of himself in the collection and essentially, the shirtdress that was his only item. The judge's frustrations reaches a boiling point, as clearly they're annoyed at the wasting of time, picking on the person with immunity. Gretchen mumbles that "She's going home", in the middle of the exchange, unheard by everybody else. Finally, the designers just discuss what they designed and make them go. Back in the waiting room, Valerie starts inquiziting on what happened, and how they threw Michael under the bus. Michael's hovering above the group, lonely and emotionally distraught. We recall, last episode, Valerie was in the top with Michael, and heard how the judges critiqued his outfit, 'cause they showed cutaways to her looking almost confused but trying to understand what the judge's were saying. Was she agreeing with the judges before though, or was she just as baffled? As the judge's announce Casanova as the winner, they say Michael's got immunity, and despite everything, he still tells the others "Good luck", as he leaves, before finally breaking down in the waiting room, with the other team, the first time he's broken down and cried. A.J.'s out, with Gretchen barely saved. (The last two foreshadowed earlier by them dancing and having fun at mood, earlier in the episode), and still, everyone's in denial except Michael of what just happened. Just as we thought that this emotionally-draining episode is finally over, one last unprecedented incident occurs. Tim Gunn, quieter than normal sneaks into the waiting area to take A.J. to clean up his space, but before that, he tells A.J. to sit down and calls out Team Luxe, and Gretchen in particular for being a manipulative bully, and condemns everyone's atrocious behavior on the runway! Tim taking such a stand, on another contestant, in front of the other contestants, shook everyone. Even a little light went off in Ivy's head about what had just happened.  Although Gretchen's still double-talk herself into convincing herself that it wasn't entirely her fault.

A quick note on the next episode, which begins with the team's name changed in the "Last time on..." opening to "The Superstars" and "The Underdogs", presumably for simplicity reasons. It's a tough morning and still, Michael is basically looking around, not finding any friends, and strangely, no one, especially Ivy likes Michael C, for his lack of skills. Although April, who wasn't on Michael C.'s team, is also frustrated with his remaining on the show. Meanwhile, Gretchen having finally been humbled, if not by the challenge, but by Tim Gunn himself, finally confronting her about her dominant and bullying behavior towards her teammates, and even her roommates are happy someone chopped her down to size. On the runway, an announcement of new models has been issued, and now the contestants must work with a regular person, who's brought an old bridesmaid dress that their challenge is to redesign into something fashionable. A few interesting moments as models are chosen, like Mondo's girl in the pink that he likes, turning to reveal comically a giant vertical white stripe in the back of her ugly dress. Michael Drummond gets picked last, and has the worst dress with a heavyset girl and not a whole lot of strawberry polyester. An interesting twist to the Mood trip is mentioned as a $50 budget is limiting in of itself, but also the a new rule that one can only buy up to 2 yards of additional fabric, making sure that the dresses themselves are the primary garment. (This is probably a change coming after a famous season four incident with a similar weight loss challenge) Almost as soon as sketching time starts, Christopher Collins gets told by Tim, that his girl, who he purposefully selected because the skintone kinda matched her marine blue dress, bolted the show, and is given an even uglier grayish-brown dress and a new model. (The other model, apparently left the friggin' dress btw, which is still in the designers' work area next to Christopher.) April's model, who had nice pleating on her dress, is overly-picky and frustrating for her. (She wanted to iron out the pleats, which quite frankly, were the best part of the dress.) Michael Drummond, is late out of the workroom for Mood, as he's got less fabric, and a volumptuous girl, and the knitwear designer is frankly stumped on what to do with it. Other than that, most of the clients and designers seem to be getting along. Peach consults Tim, about matching something with her vomit green dress that she's worked on. Drummond, in a somewhat strange move, decides more fabric is what's most important, so he's buying upholstry fabric, to make sure he has enough to redesign the dress, and get it on his model.  Valerie and Andy talk about Michael C. in the sewing room, as now it's Valerie's turn to vent her frustration, with how they've yet to see anything from him, and there's some odd talk about him not being as good as he says it is. This is particularly odd, as there's not been a moment where we recall him boasting about his skills so much. We can recall him in the opening, talking about the store he opened when he was 17, and that he makes couture dresses in Palm Springs, but, there's been very little talk from him about his skills at least on camera. Gretchen calls her mother via Skype, who she says is also one of her best friends, to regain her sense of self and work. Christopher stands up to Gretchen regarding Tim's critique, about her so-called maliciousness, but the jury's still out. Her critique with Tim, while troubling for her, goes rather uneventful. Michael Costello's complaining about his client's request for lace on the top of a short dress, which is already looking busy. He wants to get rid of it, Tim's thinks he should talk her out of it, but Michael goes with it when he sees it on his model later. Michael Drummond's upholstery lace, is looking like a bra, and the dress itself seem oddly unchanged. Mondo's somehow created a mod-inspired black and pink geometric dress that's stunning, and startling, and everyone's noticed. Tim warns Valerie not to go home on a boring outfit that's beginning to look like 'clothes', and not fashion. A last-second announcement from Tim, changes the game a bit as tomorrow's not a runway day, but rather, a "Designer's Showcase" where an audience will see and vote on the designer's looks. Valerie is already nervous as all hell and begins biting her thumbnail is in a state of worried panic at the news. April's still arguing with her model. Peach made a drastic cutting error, and her skirt's practically ruined, 'cause of it. Valerie's becoming more and more unnerved by the competition, and she's starting to lose it a bit. At the showcase, Mondo's the clear winner getting the most buttons, but Michael C.'s gotten good reviews, especially after the lace, turned out to help the dress, and improve a neckline that was too short before, and he's showing off a lot. Michael Drummond only got one button, total, and Peach was just struggling in general. Suddenly, Ivy tells Valerie that Michael C.'s been telling guests not to vote for her outfit, and two-piece yellow-pleated top with white pants outfit that was in the middle and didn't even make the runway, a rumor confirmed by Valerie, and then later, a conspiracy theory starts as the rumor begins to spread. Strangely, there were cameras everywhere, but there's no evidence of Michael Costello said anything. Frankly, and this kinda gets into where you have to understand how editing works, if an accusation like that is made on a reality show, then they've probably searched everywhere for the footage to prove it, especially after Michael said earlier that Ivy's "gonna get it." But, why there? It makes some sense, but his reaction afterwords, where he confronts Ivy about it, seems to counter her claim. Why not say it, if he's gonna get her? And besides that, it made no real sense, why there of all places? Ivy doesn't believe his claim, but it's clearer now more than ever that either Michael's being sneaky and playing a game, or Ivy's overly-obsessing over Michael, for seemingly no reason. When Michael is confronted with the claim by Andy, he confronts Ivy, and she informs us that she doesn't believe him, because of his charcter, strangely enough. This is very confusing, because frankly, we've seen no evidence of Michael's lack of character in any way. Once again, in the waiting room, Michael C.'s dress is presumed to be on the bottom, as the discussion turns to him, and the designer's frustration over him still being there, Gretchen again, leading the complaints. Christopher's last-second replacement dress gets mostly positive reviews, and he's finally on the top, especially after having to, without warning suddenly deal with a drab-as-hell curtain fabric. Peach ends up going out after her shiny vomit green disaster became the avocado goiter top, with the ruffles above her skirt. Valerie's top looks too much like a nursing chest, and even the interesting back becomes Frederick's of Hollywood-y. Michael C.'s is the last one judged, and sure enough they like his outfit, which is sharply cut sharply, a short black cocktail dress that's intricately-designed, and once again, when the results are revealed in the waiting room, they designers are flabbergasted. "What show am I on?!" Gretchen screeches the second the contestants leave the room and go back to judging. This time however, is seems even stranger since Michael's outfit, had many sewing techniques and designs in it. Interesting to see Michael hug Valerie after winning, after she's been Ivy's cohort for most of the show, she seems to be able to separate Ivy's ego with Michael's behavior, or at least pretends to. Casanova makes it a point to note that Gretchen and Michael, now both have two wins. Everyone's sad that Peach is going home, especially April as Peach was her last remaining roommate left.

April moves in to the room with Gretchen, Ivy and Valerie, the last remaining girls to start the show. Meanwhile Andy, Michael's roommate, seems to be friendly with him, but finally confronts Michael on his aesthetic and lack of skills. He mentions his evening wear aesthetic, his sewing technique which does work for him, and basically stands up for himself. Andy still doesn't completely understand but, if you go back through the challenges up until now, his aesthetic does speak clearly. Always evening, usually dresses, loves beautiful things, cool back, playing with length....  Anyway, the designers get sent by Heidi Klum, to the marina where Michael Kors joins Tim Gunn, to announce that this challenge involves designer resort wear, and they're get a mimosa brunch boat ride around Manhattan for inspiration. A few designers, like Michael C., who's from Palm Springs and Michael D. are excited, although Mondo's disappointed in the challenge. Strangely, Casanova, who's from Puerto Rico seems miffed. April recalls the Philip Tracy hat challenge, wear her diaper-ish triple panty shorts almost knocked her out of the competition, which coincidentally marked her only endroad in designing/making resort wear. Michael Drummond and Ivy, both get guidance from Tim at Mood regarding their looks. Michael D., because of his contention that he really isn't a resort-wear designer; with Ivy, it's not clear, but her pant, vest and top silhouette, while holding a bedspread-like fabric she's draping around her legs, is confident in her design. As the designer head back to Parsons, Tim has the notorious velvet bag, scaring and confusing everybody. Tim announces, to everyone's horror that everybody will be put in teams of two, and will be executing each other's design work, essentially working as sample rooms today, but they will be judged on their own design, not the design they execute. Out of the velvet bag, teams are picked. Valerie gets teamed with Andy first; and when Michael C.'s name comes out, nobody wants their name selected, Mondo, being the "unlucky" one, already not liking the challenge, begins throwing a hissyfit, first in his mind, and then later when they have to team up. April and Christopher get paired next, Casanova and Gretchen afterwards, reuniting their bosom buddy connection they made in the 2nd episode, leaving Ivy with Michael D, which Ivy's a little worried about, as Michael D.'s construction has been recognized, quietly from the group, as weak as well, although design-wise this has not been as much a complaint as Michael C. strangely enough, especially considering that Michael D. came from a knitwear background so he is presumed to have other skills to make up for it. Still, Ivy immediately changes up her design from pants, to a skirt, because of Michael D. un-sureness on pants. April and Christopher are already pairing up famously as, despite different aesthetics they share a skill level and style of working. Michael and Mondo start off with each other, explaining their issues. Michael warns that he doesn't make patterns and isn't the fastest sewer, while Mondo is already annoyed at his construction skills, or lack thereof, telling him so. Also, Mondo strangely is not a sketcher generally. He mostly makes very detailed but strained notes, often with measurements, which there's a recall, from Michael Drummond strangely enough a few episodes back, mentioning the fact that Michael C. didn't bring, nor does he use a ruler. Casanova, has a funny issue with Gretchen, who makes up for his lack of grasp on the English language by drawing extra-large sketches, as though he can't see. "Oh my god, she thinks I'm a retard," he muses in a very Charlie Brown way of realization. Mondo's just planning and praying that Michael C.'s work is gonna not suck, and he discusses his frustration with Valerie and Andy in the break room, even expressing a feeling of leaving the show entirely. Valerie points out, how she's wondering when Michael's gonna run out of tricks in his bag, and whether he is untapped potential or just an evening-wear draper. After a few hours though, Mondo begins coming around to Michael C. His work is good, even if it takes a little longer, and he's more than willing to learn a new way of working and sewing. This is when, at least in Mondo's eyes, Michael C. finally gains some acceptance into the group. It's interesting that Mondo reacted so negatively at first though, we recall from the second episode, that it was Mondo who was lonely and not making any connections with anybody, being the quietest guy in the room, if he was in the room, until of course, he proved himself through his work, which has made two Top 3's at this point, while Michael, who's won two challenges, has gotten a completely different reaction from everybody else. Mondo seemed to had just as quietly joined the crowd as he had separated from it and now, he apologizes and realizes he was "being a dick" to Michael, and Michael's work, now speaks for him. Michael Kors, makes a rare surprise appearance to guest-critique the designer's work today, the first time he's ever been in the workroom, as Tim takes a rare backseat to the critiquing. He warns about Casanova's matronly aesthetic, which Gretchen already went over with him. He warns Gretchen about her color palette too, which Casanova points out, is the same as the disastrous team challenge, so more evidence of her handiwork and influence over that. He encourages April, to go with an original design of a boy short, under her shear goth black beach-inspired outfit. Ivy's in trouble as her look is looking more and more career-ish with the palette and her continuous dumbing down of her look for Michael's skill-set has cost her much of her original design. Her also warns Valerie of her work, which has constantly made the top 3, but no wins, and Michael explains her lacking color choices, the cadet blue, and Gretchen's bordeaux, encouraging them to "move on". This is when Valerie starts having her homesick panic attack, wondering why she hasn't won a challenge yet, despite some outstanding pieces. She calls her mom during the model fittings for a recharge and has a mini-breakdown. Meanwhile, Ivy's garment is a disaster, and Michael D. admits that he just can't sew it, and they're restarting the garment, just trying desperately to get something finished. Conversations that night and the early morning, are mild, basically only Michael Drummond's seems to be truly regretting his partner Ivy, and vice-versa, as she's peering over him at every step of the way, and the craziness of Ivy takes over, legitimately so, but still, she's especially nervous once the ten-minute-to-Runway mark arrive, which is when the designer can take back control of their work. Valerie's changed the color of her top, per Michael Kors advice, a risky move late, but given Andy's sewing skills, her confidence was only mildly shaken. There's also been some mocking of Heidi and the judges amongst the group, particularly with Michael Drummond and Casanova, figuring out scenarios of the judges' reaction to their garments. Christopher needs to add panels to April's boy-shorts after, literally, her model's ass is hanging out of them, a definite no-no, to say the least, and somewhat funny. Ivy's done on Michael Drummond's outfit, which is a sharp black floor-length dress that's surprisingly light with interesting necklines and armholes on top, but she's correcting and leaning over his shoulder on the sewing machine, every second, and runs like a roadrunner throughout everything as she rushes to fix and correct everything.  On the runway, there's lot of talk and notice at April's non-traditional but gorgeous sheer black black baby toll top, which looks exquisite. Michael Kors gives a major nod of approval to Andy's gorgeous silver and purple silk chiffon one-piece bathing suit-to-nightwear outfit, which has a brilliant adjustable robe-skirt that flows gorgeously even when taken off to reveal the swimsuit. The reveal of the top and bottom scores, really makes it looks like Ivy's last stand, with a fadeout on her. The top scores are Michael Drummond, Andy and April, and they get talked to first, along with their samplemaker, while Ivy, Casanova and  Mondo are on the bottom. More talk in the back, showcases the fireworks as Ivy and Michael Drummond, who are the only pair to be on the top and bottom of their designs. Despite Mondo having Michael C., nobody seems to think he'll be going home interestingly enough, and despite being on the bottom, it clearly wasn't Michael C.'s fault either as the green and white print short-sleeved jacket, with the teal blue, white and junior pink two-piece, were clearly not working, and Mondo was too far out of his comfort zone, but they both made sure to mention that working together was a blast. Ivy and Michael D.'s critique of what really became a very nondescript, boring two-piece top and skirt, gets exciting as Ivy's technical savvy is examined counter to her taste. Michael C. gets thrown into the conversation after continuous eye-rolling gets Heidi's attention, and he brings up Ivy's bossy attitude that can make her troublesome to work with, especially with people of a different technical skill as her. This leads to a discussion about whether or not Ivy's throwing Michael under the bus or not, but either way, it's her third time on the bottom 3. In the back, Ivy's trying to defend her throwing-under-the-bus, or defend that she didn't do that with Michael D., although Michael even admits that she should've, although now he thinks the bad sewing was Ivy's lack of trust in him. Mondo and Michael are sitting next to each other with their arm around each shoulder's during this exchange, this is officially the beginning of a beautiful friendship, but as one friendship blooms, another ends, as Casanova's matronly old lady, has come out, one-too-many times for the judges. A brief remembrance package of the lovable, eccentric Carlos Casanova is shown, as one of the more memorable designers in the show's history, is knocked out early, and while we were worried about him in the beginning, we've grown to enjoy him and his company, and feel sad for his exit, as he mockingly tries to hang himself with his scarf on the waiting room door. Ivy is barely safe, but given a stern warning from Heidi, that she needs to wowed next time on the runway or else. Michael Drummond's admittedly relieved that he didn't 'cause a designer to leave the competition. It's the first time a designer who won a challenge gets knocked out in the season. Also, notice that if you count giving advice to Sarah, the team challenge from Hell, and now sewing Casanova's matronly outfit, Gretchen's been responsible for three designers personally getting knocked out of the competition. April's very close win over Andy finally sparks a smile out of the 21-year-old. Her first win, since a sullen start of moving into a new apartment, to finally being recognized as a force to be reckoned with.

The next episode begins with an acknowledgement of Casanova's presence, before Michael C. discusses getting called out during Ivy's runway questioning. Ivy's reasserts herself again, but now Michael's finally jumping in, and saying that she needs to use different colors, and prove why she's here. The girls are also trying to psych themselves up into making sure more guys go home in future challenges, as they still take up two apartments compared to the girls' one. The challenge is announced with Tim Gunn providing photos of Jackie Kennedy behind him, to be use as inspiration as the designers create their own Kennedy-inspired takes on their perspective of American sportswear. Christopher's confident in his design, and wants to make a dress. Andy's a little worried given his Asian-inspired aesthetic, and Valerie is determined to do separates, as she's done too many dresses up 'til now. Ivy's lost for inspiration, so she picks white & black (or navy blue) as a color palette. Michael Drummond talks about confidence, while at Mood, but is full of worry and constant second-guessing once at the register. Mondo picked a strange purple and white print that's causing him trouble with draping a pattern. He tends to go to Mood and let the fabrics speak to him, but this is the first time, he's begun really struggling out of the gate on what to even make. Michael's using sportswear fabric to make a more dressier and upscale design, which is interesting, but worrisome considering the judges' negative response to Nicholas's sportswear-inspired evening wear dress in the first episode. He's very funny and makes the whole room laugh with his constant imitations of Heidi and the Judge's, but now his outfit is, even by his own admission, is looking strangely old and dowdy; saying it's "The Crucible" and puritan-inspired.  Valerie's still uninspired by being the show's "Susan Lucci" having been on the top 4 times, without a win, and now, with a Jackie Kennedy challenge, her stakes are raised, and especially with, for the first time, it's become clear that there's so few designers that, there's no room to even make one mistake anymore, and Valerie's constantly consulting the other designers over what to do. Some don't mind, throwing there two cents in, (Gretchen) while others like Mondo are starting to get tired of it a bit. Michael and Christopher, at least in Ivy's eyes, are not really sportswear. April thinks Christopher's drab clothes look grandmother, and Michael C.'s starts thinking his blue dress, looks too stewardess as well, and designs to start over. Andy's doing something just bizarre, regarding really oversized shorts.Valerie and Gretchen joke about wanting him to keep making them. When Tim comes in, he says that Valerie's pants might be vulgar, but her constant ideas, mixed with her non-committal tendencies are starting to take over her, constantly asking about the smallest details. The piping, the back pockets, the zippers, makes the pants loose of fitted.... This is when we recall her other meetings with Tim which also included many previous discussion about using a color or a style choice or not, and finally a clear flaw in Valerie's design approach is clear. Tim's meetings are fairly quick this time for some reason, although he worries about Michael Drummond's Crucible/Annie Oakley heavy skirt, which instead of backing out of he defends by talking about how old fashion looks can seem new again, quite often, even after a century or two. (He's not defending himself well, even to us with that skirt) Andy's cargo pants shorts however, are getting really problematic, as what was, and still is too tight at the moment, are too fitted for his model, especially, as April says, the cut, "It's going up her ass!" Michael C. made two dresses, but Valerie correctly points out that they both look very Donna Karen to her, but she also bring up that she still doesn't understand Michael C. as a designer either; yeah, that's still going on. Talk after the day at the apartments is mostly of each other's looks, Andy and Ivy's mainly, Andy for his pants, Ivy for needing to show the judge's something. The next day, they're back in the workroom, getting ready for the runway, when Tim announces it's not, a runway day, confusing everybody, before announcing that each piece will include an additional item and that they are to make, a piece of outerwear. Michael C. from Palm Springs, is worried about outerwear which he doesn't make a lot of, Michael D.'s, the knitwear expert, is excited, and considering his Little House of the Prairie skirt, he should be, but Valerie already made a heavy shirt-jacket with her look, and isn't allowed to use that as her outerwear. Most of the other designers seem to be happy with the challenge and throwing out ideas. Valerie's praying that a vest is gonna help her design. Christopher's taking a chance, making a shoal out of leather and animal fur, materials he's never even worked with before, and it's incredibly time-consuming. Michael C. had a moment with Gretchen at Mood, when he sees the camel stretch wool sticking out that he wants, when Gretchen comes up behind him, and buys five yards of it. He wants to be a bitch about it, but decides better to go elsewhere than have two designers using the same fabrics for outerwear. Mondo's beige cape-coat isn't working with his stripted-town and purple-print skirt, and thinks about recutting. Ivy needs to take time to get her silk organza jacket to finish perfectly, or it'll be too shear. Michael C., after his frustration with his new fabric, which looks like a terry-cloth towel, when designed into a mini-coat, begins working on a third dress. (3 dresses and a jacket, and he can't sew)? More talk about him, and now it's on his lack of conviction in his work, especially until Tim Gunn comes in. (Same thing they were talking about Valerie, earlier in the episode, who's switched her pant to a skirt, so as not to drown out what could be a heavy top and vest.) Tim, wants to be pitched Michael D.'s skirt again, and Michael goes over the numerous Tim Gunn's gazes, as he defends how great it looked on his model as he works on his jacket. With Andy, the blouse and chic scarf look good, although his pants, are still riding up, with Tim Gunn's funny musing/warning "Jackie Kennedy wouldn't wear camel toe." Michael C.'s worked now on multiple jackets, and almost none of them are working, and Tim tells him to shove them under the table and start again, which sounds funny, until we get a look at what already under Michael's table. Christopher's handwork is still time-consuming on the shoal, but now his form-fitting dress is starting to look light and anemic, even with the shoal, so he has to work longer at it then before. The girls are worried most about Andy's pants, which occupies the conversation at the Atlas apartments the next morning, although Michael D.'s really worried about going home as well. On a sidenote, Mondo's wearing a strange Cotton Club inspired shorts, suspenders and top look that's frankly just as interesting, funny and strange and cool as anything on the Runway. He even tap dances in the flamboyant outfit for everyone. Michael C.'s finally decided on the Donna Karen blue one shoulder dress, which they think is a knock-off, and finally somebody starts defending Michael C., and Michael Drummond starts to think the other designers are a little big-headed and elitist, and that's why they're not trusting Michael C.'s skills or aesthetic. (Notice he got that humbleness after working with Ivy last challenge.) Andy's cargo shorts are still having crouch problems. Christopher's worried about his shrug. Ivy's starting to get raves late for her full outfit after it's completed. Meanwhile, Mondo has to rework a zipper quickly. Gretchen's look, which has barely been mentioned until now, is looking slightly old to Andy, and notice she's been conspicuously absent from the runway, since the team challenge, top or bottom, except for sewing Casanova's look, which sent him home. Michael D.'s still in the sewing room with two minutes left in the challenge. Michael Drummond, even jokes that he's going home, after his work comes down the runway. Michael C.'s, April and Gretchen, are safe and in the waiting room, where Michael C.'s relieved that his cocktail dress with denom jacket didn't get on the bottom, and he praises Gretchen's pieces, which he admits is complete bullshit, and he can't imagine Jackie O wearing any of them. They also suspect, Ivy and Mondo on the top, and Valerie's reading too streetwear, not sportswear. Interesting disagreement as Michael C. likes Andy's pants, but the girls don't think Jackie O would wear them. Valerie is on the bottom, which is immediately called out for a jacket over a jacket (As that vest is busier than it first seemed described) and she finally gets called out for the pleating and zipper references that she keeps making as gimmicks. Christopher's in the top for the first time, not for his outerwear piece, as the shrug looks like a dirty rag to Heidi, but they're all in agreement that creating outerwear for the dress was a challenge enough, so they let it slide. Mondo gets his first win, with his outfit, which, while Mondo's mixing of prints and stripes made a beautiful chic, and expensive-looking outfit, that does read Jackie O. Ivy's finally in the top with her tuxedo pants with the geometrically inspired white top with the silk organza jacket, despite mixed reviews about the jacket being too small, and the top being overly-designed. It might not have been a wow, like the judges asked her too, but it was at least a nod of interest and not boring. Heidi's mentions trying to keep from laughing at Andy's entire look, which is clearly in the bottom, not liking the pants, nor the ill-fitting top, or the Aspen bolero. Yet, Michael Drummond's prophetic words come true, as he's soon kicked out for the skirt, as well as the double-tank unflattering top and the old lady deconstructed jacket that reads schizophrenic mall and not Jackie O, barely winning over Valerie on the bottom. Two of the funniest and most enjoyable in the group, gone the last two challenges, and as Tim Gunn says his skirt was his Waterloo, and as Michael says, he has to look up what that means now, as he exits. (He knows "The Crucible" but not Waterloo? Interesting) All in all, except for Mondo, this was a rather forgettable day on the runway, for everyone, or at least they wish it were.

END OF PART 1.

To view PART 2, go to the bloglink below:
http://davidbaruffi.blogspot.com/2013/10/reality-tv-as-art-considering-and.html

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