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Double elimination on ‘Project Runway’

The final three find out they're going to Bryant Park after Christopher and Gordana are sent home.
/ Source: Entertainment Weekly

All season long, I, along with many of you faithful commenters, have wondered how this season's cast would fare against mighty Runway alumni like Christian Siriano, Jillian Lewis, or Chris March. We suspected it would not be pretty. Now, thanks to a challenge that echoed the visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in season 4, we got an approximation of what such a face-off would look like. Put it this way: Britney trying to out-sing Babs would be a less humiliating affair.

You could argue that the season 4 kids had a distinct advantage, since the Getty Center, breathtaking though it may be, is no Met. But that argument would only hold weight if the season sixers had performed on a level equal to, say, Korto — or hell, even cuckoo Kenley — all season. The fact is, this group went to a museum for inspiration for the final challenge of the season and the best they could come up with were garments that neither Tim nor any of the four judges could embrace without qualifications as enormous as guest judge Cindy Crawford's hair.

At the top of the hour, Heidi greeted the designers as she always does, doling out oblique clues to the challenge. Curiously, she failed to mention that it would be a double elimination this week. She'd only spill that rather crucial detail later, just before the runway show. In any case, the gang made its way to the Getty, where Tim, the models, and — random! — Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa were waiting. Then they shuffled off to Mood with $300. ''Qu'est-ce que c'est? What is this?'' a mildly repulsed Tim asked Christopher, two wary fingers picking up what looked like green vinyl/pleather/leather. A moment later, Tim gave Irina (i.e. PETA Public Enemy No. 1) a lesson in sizing up species. Of the giant pelts she'd guessed were the skins of a bunny, he said, ''It's too big to be a rabbit. It's a giant, giant Scandinavian rabbit.'' Or maybe it was this one!

Back in the workroom, the final five made like a rabid hares and scurried about, all while repeating far too many times some variation of: Holy crap! This is the last challenge before Bryant Park! I really want to go to Bryant Park! I'm stressed and excited! And overwhelmed! Because Ohmygod! Bryant Park! I want to go to there! Meanwhile, the temperature at FIDM had plunged into the sub-frosties. How chilly, you ask? First Irina complained that Althea was ''kind of like King Kong. She wants to grab everything.'' And, evidently, hog all the tables. ''Her Highness needs to iron,'' Irina grumbled. Next, Althea muttered to Carol Hannah that Mean-a Irina was ''just out for blood.'' (Points to Carol Hannah for trying to stay neutral at this point.) Then Gordana weighed in. ''The dogs that bark don't bite,'' mused Our Lady of Spoons, ostensibly in defense of blunter-than-a-ganja-stogie Irina. She agreed. As the camera shamelessly cut to Carol Hannah, Irina added: ''It's the quiet ones you have to be worried about. It's always the cute dogs that just bite your fingers off.'' The petty swatting at egos continued in the gals' apartment the following morning. Irina and Gordana fake-bickered. Carol Hannah said she didn't want to hear it. And Gordana snapped. ''Well too bad, Carol Hannah. I'm not here to serve you.'' Kinda makes you reconsider Gordana's ''I'll kick your ass'' joke from last week, doesn't it?

Even Tim's got nothing good to sayWhile the ladies shot verbal daggers at each other, last man standing Christopher forged ahead on his usual diet of delusional optimism. Unlike the gals, who found inspiration in more traditional objets d'art at the Getty, he went for a gurgling, algae-spotted fountain. To translate it sartorially, he bought gray fabric that he himself described as ''dull.'' Uh-oh. Not a great way to kick things off. His plan was to spruce up the muted gray with some of that Tim-offending green stuff. When Mr. Gunn dropped by Christopher's workstation and warned him against producing another head-scratcher, it was clear the king of the bottom two just doesn't get what he's doing wrong. ''I'm the odd duck of the group,'' he told his model later. ''I know my place in this competition. I'm the wacky, weird guy who doesn't listen and just does whatever the hell he wants to do.'' Well no, actually. I doubt many of us ever considered Christopher to be the ''wacky, weird'' maverick of the group. More like the well-intentioned chap who has been doggie-paddling in the kiddie pool and suddenly finds himself gasping for air as the deep end closes in on him. Or something. Anyway, as final proof of his severe lack of self-awareness, Christopher said: ''My dress encompasses who I am as a designer. It's pretty and it's kind of dirty. I think the judges are going to see my design esthetic on this piece and they're going to send me through to Bryant Park.'' Tell us, Christopher. In the fantasy world that you inhabit, does the air also smell like freshly baked cookies and Christmas trees?

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Earlier in the episode, Irina attempted to defend her outspokenness by arguing that she'd never say anything behind someone's back that she wouldn't also say to their face. But then, after we watched her politely nod along with Christopher's deluded speech about artistic integrity (''I have to do what's right for me...'' blah, blah, blah), she said this in the confessional: ''Christopher is very confident, but it's a false confidence because he's so in his head that he can't see anything outside of it.'' Now, I agree with her 100 percent. But I wonder, is this the kind of thing she also tells Christopher to his face?

Usually when Tim makes the rounds in the workroom, he utters at least one unqualified ''stunning'' or similarly laudatory adjective. Not last night. One by one, Tim assessed the designers' progress with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. Gordana's Rouen Cathedral-inspired gown was okay, but he was no fan of Carol Hannah's across-the-bodice action or Althea's puckered paneling, and he thought Irina was headed for a ''post-apocalyptic moment'' heavy on the ''road kill.'' (Me, I was thinking Tina Turner from Mad Max Beyond the Thunderdome.) ''In a way, you're all at risk,'' he told them solemnly before leaving for the evening. ''And I hate saying that, but it's simply a matter of fact.''

Tim was right, of course. Though he tried, adorably, the next day to drum up a modicum of enthusiasm for the lackluster looks, his efforts were in vain. ''I want Nina Garcia's stilettos to blow right off of her feet and shoot across the runway!'' A more likely scenario would have found Señora Don't Bore Me throwing her heels at the bunk creations that shambled down the runway — or maybe even pulling a Single White Female on their asses. Honestly, have we ever seen the judges strain so hard to find positive comments? Certainly not for the final show before Bryant Park.

First up on the runway were Althea's Goldmember separates. (''I love goooooooold!'') For at least the third time this season, Tanisha's ample chest did the tank top flippity-flop, while the skirt just plain flopped. According to the Cynthias (Rowley and Crawford), the outfit was an ambitious failure. For the most part Nina agreed, but she applauded the designer for going ''the extra step.'' Lesson learned? A is for Althea... and for effort.

Much to her surprise, Irina and her dentist's chair–green dress didn't fare much better. Girl must have known she was in trouble when the kindest words Nina had to offer were ''I like the back.'' Then came the next comment. ''I think the length is very old lady.'' The geriatric kiss of death! It stings! Oh, how it burns! What's more, it wasn't just the shapeless granny frock that irked all four judges. They pretty much hated the entire, over-accessorized look. So there went Kalyn, shedding jewelry, shoes, and headbands like she was about to step on a flimsy life raft in the middle of the Pacific. Think about it: This overkill outfit was what happened after Irina decided nix the fur. Blech.

Carol Hannah elicited slightly better feedback for her gilded champagne-hued gown, though I'm pretty sure Nina calling it ''safe perfection'' qualifies as dubious praise. Also, it reminded me of her very first gown. Kinda sad that she hasn't come farther all these weeks, no? For the umpteenth week, Gordana failed to wow the judges with her dress, even if she swore, all spiritual and teary-eyed, that she put her soul into it. Our Lady of Spoons should get points for correctly predicting that Heidi would appreciate how obviously she incorporated the colors of the Monet painting that inspired her — ''You know how she wants to be literally [sic]'' — but all I could think of when I gazed at those layers of chiffon were the vajayjay leitmotifs of Georgia O'Keeffe.

Of course, the only thing more predictable than Heidi's love of the literal was the complete and utter failure of Christopher. Well, that and the certainty that he'd spill tears. An amalgamation of failed looks past, his dopey dress repeated the gathered halter neck that he's shown at least twice before and boasted a skirt stiffer than a C.S.I. corpse. The judges agreed it was tragique, and by the time Heidi asked him if he was feeling confident, he probably knew it too. Cause that's when he started weeping, blubbering on about being the only one to see the beauty in rocks and algae.

At this point, I invite you to compare the season sixers' Getty designs with the Met-inspired creations of the season 4 gang. Go ahead, reminisce about Christian, Chris, Jillian and Rami. Oh OK, and even Sweet P.

Startling, isn't it?

Now back to season 6.

The, uh, hard decisionEven before the runway show began, it was painfully obvious who was getting the ax, yet the judges still insisted on torturing them (and us) by having them explain why they should go to Bryant Park and who should go with them. Their choices formed an imaginary Ven diagram of alliances and bad blood. Sweatergate notwithstanding, Irina and Althea both chose each other. (Huh.) Irina was the only one to choose Gordana, which is especially interesting considering that Mean-a has berated her talent a few times this season. Carol Hannah opted for Althea and Christopher. As for reasons why they should go to Fashion Week, Gordana and Irina both busted out the immigrant story, and Christopher sobbed about his lack of opportunity. But only Carol Hannah had a compelling argument: ''It doesn't matter how much you want it, it comes down to: I make beautiful garments that women want to wear.''

Up until now, the episode had been pretty wonky, but during the judges' deliberation, it ventured into full-on parallel universe territory. ''I think that they did really well this week,'' Heidi said, not facetiously. ''It is a very hard last challenge to do because normally I say, 'OK, this is your challenge, you all have the same thing.' And now the sky was the limit.'' Uh, come again, Frau Klum? They are designers. They are supposed to know how to find inspiration without having to color within the lines. Please, Runway fans, tell me I'm not the only one who could see the producers' puppet strings all the way from the couch. If not there, then when Heidi concluded the judging with this hilarious bit of fiction: ''I think this is one of the toughest decisions that we've had.''

Ah yes, I'm sure finally sending Christopher home over Irina or Carol Hannah was truly a Sophie's Choice moment for the Runway crew. And I shudder to imagine how much hand-wringing they all did while wondering, ''Althea or Gordana? Gordana or Althea?'' I mean, it's not like Althea's never been in the bottom two or anything. Oh wait...

So in what came as a shock to absolutely none of us (especially those of us who peeked at the photos of the finale from February), the Bryant Park bake-off will be an all ladies affair. And of the remaining contestants, the right people prevailed. Which doesn't mean I'm not still wondering how things might have played out differently had Nina and Michael not gone AWOL and saved Ra'mon and/or Epperson from the firing squad. Sigh.