Has Project Runway Jumped the Shark?

Project Runway Season 3 has in many ways markedly departed from the things that made us love the first two seasons – largely by turning into a more garden variety reality TV show. While there still aren’t stupid fashion-irrelevant challenges, suddenly drama and humiliation are a big part of each and every Project Runway episode, and the judge have crossed a line, going from harsh critics to fickle and arbitrary ones who expect the Project Runway contestants to mind read. Even Project Runway’s host, Tim Gunn, seems baffled in his blog (which is why we still love Tim, even if the contests and judges are starting to drive the Project Runway viewing audience insane.

The first sign of trouble on Project Runway may have been the episode with the tiny dogs. As utterly amusing as that was, and this moment in American culture aside, dogs are not, in fact accessories. It was an odd challenge, designed in many ways to bring out the worst in people – only it largely didn’t. Sure, Laura clearly is not an animal-lover, but her outfit for the challenge was still impeccable.

Things really started to get out of hand with the recycled materials challenge, when suddenly a good designer gets kicked off of Project Runway for having a model bigger than the other girls and not being able to make her look thinner through the strategic use of cardboard and plastic. Vincent, who the audience has largely loathed from the beginning, remains on Project Runway and everyone flips out about what is and isn’t plus-sized and whether or not it’s a dirty word.

Then we get the challenge in which the Project Runway contestants have to design outfits for each other’s moms. This, of course, is where everything goes right off the deep end. The moms (and a few sisters) are obviously out of their element, both on a reality TV show like Project Runway and in the world of fashion in general. Many of them are large women, often lacking defined waistlines. The Project Runway designers panic in the face of actual American women, sometimes insensitively. Angela and Jeffrey’s mom don’t get along – Angela’s mom is passive-aggressive while Jeffrey is rude.

While I think it would have been easy for anyone to be frustrated with Angela’s mom in this challenge, due to her attitude and lack of communication, Jeffrey was incapable of comprehending that she was out of her element and embarrassed, instead deciding that she and Angela had some sort of nefarious plan to sabotage him (Angela is too obsessed with her hideous granny circles to hatch some Machiavellian Project Runway coup).

Up until this moment, the worst humiliation any Project Runway designer had faced was being torn apart by the judges for bad design or a bad attitude. Suddenly though, it was clear this challenge was about putting everyone in a bad position in front of their families and seeing what the pressure would do. This is not the real world of design, and it didn’t even make for a compelling Project Runway episode. Instead, it just reminded all of us why up until recently Project Runway was the only reality TV show we approved of.

Then, the jet setter challenge arrives, and it’s here that my irritation with the judges kicks in. While the judges are largely the same people from the previous two seasons, suddenly, it seems the standards have changed. While in the past they were looking for the great American designer with a singular voice, suddenly, they’re trashing on Uli for making a beautiful dress in her signature style. Isn’t Project Runway about finding someone with a signature style? I’m confused.

Then, the Project Runway designers get flown to

to see how their outfits will fare on a train trip (does a jet setter really dress up for the flight? Were the designers really supposed to guess at this definition of jet setter?) When Angela loses (finally!) she has to turn right around and go back to NYC, a mere few hours after she’s arrived in

. Was this really necessary Project Runway?

I don’t watch this show to see ordinary people humbled and humiliated because I resent them for being on television. I watch this show to see talented people creature unique items under intense, but relevant pressure.

Project Runway needs to pull itself together and make it work. Or it’s jumped the shark even more than Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (which now has to focus on theme episodes and weight loss challenges to get anyone to care anymore.

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