Last night we watched Project Runway's finale and were mightily upset by the result. Fans across the nation are furious. I wanted to go on record about it.
If you watch the show, you surely know what happened, or what was likely to happen. But, in case you don't, the setup was basically between three people:
One contestant, Andy, sometimes did interesting work but not often enough that he was the likely champion. He'll do fine in the industry, but it wasn't a surprise or concern he didn't win. I'll say no more about him.
One contestant, Gretchen, makes boring clothes. She's a controller and a manipulator, and you don't just have to take my word for it. There was one episode where she so manipulated the other players that Tim Gunn, probably the world's most reserved and pleasant guy, came and lectured the others about having let her roll over them. It wouldn't have mattered if she had something spectacular to offer. But she doesn't. Her pieces are often well-made but almost always boring. And sometimes hideous, sometimes reasonable. I saw almost nothing striking from her. It was a sea of ordinary. As with Andy, she will do fine in the industry, but people didn't tune in week after week after week to see someone with this little to offer win.
The last contestant, a guy named Mondo, had amazing charm. His pieces were sometimes just good but more often quite beautiful pieces. He had won decisively week after week in a number of difficult challenges. They were consistently well-made, but the ones that were beautiful were so well done that my wife and I would have forgiven him for some real travesties in the mix. Becoming a great designer means taking risks. He took some and they were generally successful, but if they had not been, it would still have been a fine price to pay.
I don't have the time or patience to go back and get the exact quotes, so bear with me for paraphrasing here. I won't be going back to this show at all. It's not worth it. I just want to make some remarks in solidarity with a chorus of offended fans.
In case you can't tell from the above, Gretchen won. She should not have. Mondo was the clear winner. There have been bad choices on this and other “reality shows” before but what is offensive is not the choice, it's the rationale.
These judges are regularly billed as the tops in their field. They have the power to eliminate contestants week after week. But this week, it was some of them that showed a need to be leaving the show.
The judges acknowledged being deadlocked. Heidi Klum and Jessica Simpson were on one side of the vote, representing rationality. I don't always agree with Heidi's judgment, but I think she was spot on for this one. Both she and Jessica were all set to buy the pieces Mondo was showing. But that wasn't enough.
What won the day were arguments by Michael Kors and Nina Garcia. They basically said that the drek that Gretchen was offering had the pulse of the market and that they thought they could sell it. The thing was, the instructions to the designers were not “come up with something that we could run off in mass quantity.” The instructions were to design something that really wowed people. Yet in the end, they didn't give the award on that basis.
It's worth noting that they had a preview of this communciation error the week before, when they allowed people to pick three pieces from the bigger collection they were preparing for a mini-showing. The contestants were very confused about what to present. Some didn't want to spoil the big event so didn't pick their best pieces. Some chose the three based on coherence, some on drama, and some on wow factor. The judges beat up anyone who chose their weaker pieces saying after the fact that the purpose was to show the best of what was coming. That the judging criterion was not offered in advance should have been a cue that the show is pure contrived theatre and not about legitimate competition.
Even in the real world, which is notoriously fickle, you do know when you do a show whether you're going for “something to sell” or “something to wow.” These are utterly different. On this show, you don't know. It's all about the judges. It's a chance to tune in and see what the judges have to offer. And they offered us nothing. They basically declared the show to be an assembly line for them to crank out product to sell, and they shirked their responsibility to an audience who had bought into it to see art in the making.
They called Mondo's designs childish, which they were not. Two grown women among the judges were anxious to wear the pieces. My wife was also clamoring. That shows poor judgment right there. The judges who prevailed made repeated references to what they could sell.
The truth is that I could easily believe Mondo can dumb down his design to make it possible to sell, while I can't believe Gretchen will ever come up with a design worthy of Mondo's art.
The decision speaks volumes about the way we as a society are dumbed down and molded by commercialism. It might be we could live in a society filled with a great deal more pleasure and art, but for the fact that some judge here or there, one who doesn't have a TV show so we don't see their actions, but nevertheless a judge with this same degree of control, thinks it's better to just go for what's easy or lucrative than what's right or interesting or fun. This was almost surely a window into a routine practice it might be worth a few minutes to stop and contemplate.
And, finally, what really put me off was that we learned during the show that Mondo is HIV positive. Maybe with drugs he'll live a long time, but maybe not. Life is fragile and sometimes people are only with us for the moment. I wouldn't say he should win on that basis. But I do think it's worth the judges taking into consideration things like this at least in their words if not in their actions.
What really upset me was when one of them, I think it was Michael Kors, said that he was immature and needed time to grow. Maybe so. But life may not give it to him. The utter insensitivity of that remark was breathtaking.
If Gretchen and Mondo had been tied, and they were just not, she would have time to grow, and to recover. He probably will not.
Almost everything that's wrong about business these days can be reduced to such reasoning—go for the money, ignore the impact on society and on the individual. It's not always necessary and even where it's necessary it's not something to celebrate.
Fortunately, Mondo made it to the final stage. His wares got shown to the world, and the world, not just these judges, will also get to make a judgment. I'll be pleased if these two small judges, with their petty and short-sighted decision, are hastily swept into the metaphorical wastebin along with yesterday's design scraps.
Project Runway made a Mondo mistake last night. As my wife observed, quoting a popular phrase from the show, “one day you're in, the next day you're out.” It's the next day, and they are out.
If you got value from this post, please "rate" it.