Early in Thursday night's episode, after all 14 designers had paired off into teams, a distressed Ra'mon told the cameras: ''Being with Mitchell, I feel like I have this giant bullseye painted directly in the middle of my face.''
No one can blame Ra'mon for feeling like he had a price on his head. Who wouldn't when forced to work with the guy who ''squeaked by'' two weeks in a row and has had no qualms about flaunting his lack of seriousness? In the end, though, the target emblazoned on Ra'mon's mug was an auspicious one — the very opposite of what the poor chap feared.
As I randomly guessed in a PopWatch post three days ago, this week's challenge was indeed a beach-oriented one. The designers sped off to the nearest sandy shores, where Tim Gunn greeted them as he has never greeted anyone on Project Runway: in flip-flops and shades. (We interrupt this TV Watch to inform you that the Tim Gunn adorability factor is now officially off the charts. Also: Anyone else notice that Heidi pronounces ''California'' just like the Governator does?)
After explaining that they were to create a surf wear look that was ''fun and fashionable,'' Tim divided the designers into teams. Oh, how the fates must have laughed when Mitchell's name popped up as a leader! They likely giggled even harder when Mitchell chose Ra'mon to be his partner. I didn't think Mr. Squeak By was capable of topping (or is it bottoming?) his declaration of underachievement from last week, but he did, explaining, ''I wanted to work with someone who could carry me on this challenge.'' Hey man, points for owning your incompetence.
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When it came time for the designers to ''caucus'' with the surfer girls, everyone seemed to be grooving on the Hang-Ten vibe except for Nicolas, who apparently felt that the entire theme was beneath him: ''Hoodies and sweatshirts are not for the runway.'' Uh, hate to break it to you, Nicky, but there's this thing called sportswear — a multi-billion-dollar branch of the fashion industry that sees more than its fair share of runways.
It wasn't until the designers returned to FIDM that the real fun began. Team challenges are always the most rife with drama, and last night played like an episode of The Young and the Feckless. In one corner, you had Team Capital WTF?, which saw poor Ra'mon juggling the majority of the sewing and designing, as well as the unenviable task of trying to keep Mitchell focused. What if they had used sequins or sparkles in their garments? Ra'mon would have had to lock Mitchell in some sort of neck brace to prevent him from going completely gaga over the galaxy of shiny things before him.
In the other corner, we had Team Bad Marriage, in which Qristyl complained that Epperson was too bossy, Epperson spoke of needing a Tylenol (''Yeah, I just took some too,'' Qristyl shot back), and eye-rolling was the currency of choice. Their power struggle was in full force even before Tim, the self-described ''Prophet of Doom,'' informed all 7 groups that, in addition to the surf-inspired look, they'd have to come up with a corresponding avant-garde number as well. (Cause, you know, nothing evokes avant-garde more than Jeff Spicoli.) Of their many tense exchanges, this handsome one stood out:
Qristyl: I don't know what kind of woman you're used to, but I'm not going to let you speak to me that way.
Epperson: No, no, no. Let's not talk about what type of woman I'm used to talking to.
Qristyl: I'm done. I'm trying to finish. And that's it. I said I was done and I mean I'm done.
Avant-garde or just out there?I, for one, am thankful for the two troubled teams, because the other five got along sickeningly well. Even Gordana, who doesn't strike me as the meek sort, quashed her misgivings about Nicolas' lacy homage to the Mary Jane Girls (or was it Vanity 6? Apollonia 6?), musing, ''Maybe I'm not as adventurous as he is.'' No, honey. You just have a modicum of taste. Most of the contestants seemed to be in such creative harmony that when Tim made his rounds to assess everyone's progress, his only real concern was with Team Capital WTF's avant-garde piece. ''I feel like I'm in a cartoon with a superhero and a Greek goddess,'' he said, sizing up their multi-colored diaphanous dress and in-progress wetsuit. The critique inspired Ra'mon to ditch the freaky SCUBA gear (smart move), which he speedily replaced with a fluorescent green neoprene mini-dress at the very last minute. There he was, frantically splashing a hint of blue dye onto the garment with just 35 minutes to spare, while Mitchell…uh…what was it that Mitchell was doing again? Sitting around? Playing it safe? Letting himself be carried? I'll give the guy this much: He was astonishingly good-natured about Nicolas' numerous (and prophetic) taunts about him winding up in the circle of hell for a third time.
At the runway show, Rachel Bilson was unveiled as the guest judge. And that's pretty much all I can say about her. Aside from the news that she's a designer herself (who knew? Not me!) and the fact that she has great taste in pantyhose, I don't remember much about her appearance. Michael Kors was absent yet again (boo!), and standing in for his quippy stabs at humor was the subdued and subtitled Max Azria.
As the designs paraded up and down the catwalk, it was clear that some honed more closely to the beach theme than others. Johnny and Irina's bronze T-shirt and white circle skirt (with pockets!) was certainly chic, but was there anything particularly surfer-y about it? Ditto Logan and Christopher's white-and-gold trousers. (And oof: their avant-garde design? Atrocious.) Others took the challenge a little too literally. Team Bad Marriage, for instance, managed to bust out a lovely green leaf-print dress that was perfectly suited for a day in the sun, but they totally whiffed the avant-garde element. ''The whole girl's butt is out,'' Qristyl noted as her model sashayed in front of the judges. While technically, that wasn't true — girl merely flashed most of her cheeks — a brown bathing suit with a pouffy, colorful train is, alas, still just a brown bathing suit. And what the hell is avant-garde about that? As always, no judge was more succinct in her critique than Nina: ''What is this?!'' she asked, flashing one of those deadly Señora Garcia stares. Not surprisingly, these crimes against fashion were grave enough to land Team Bad Marriage in the bottom, where they were joined by Nicolas and Gordana. Heidi was no fan of either one of their designs, but she saved her most scathing remarks for the aforementioned slutty whorehouse look: ''Now, here,'' she said. ''I don't know… It's not classy!'' That's certainly true. The Mary Jane Girls never did figure out that whole refined thing.
The judges had much kinder words to say about Johnny and Irina's work, particularly the macramé on the back of the (supposedly) beach-y dress. And Monsieur Bon Chic Bon Genre was a great admirer of the intricate details on their avant-garde frock — the very points about which Irina had been fretting. It seemed possible that these two garments would enter the winning spot. Heck, even Ra'mon probably thought his opponents had it in the bag, considering the holy-s*&%-no-way! look he wore when Heidi announced that Team Capital WTF? snagged some of the highest scores. And man, Ra'mon must have been positively beside himself when Heidi eventually crowned him the winner. It was a thrilling victory — a testament to his perseverance and talent. I'm psyched that he'll be around for at least two more episodes to show us what he's really capable of — even though I personally cannot imagine ever rolling out of bed and thinking to myself, ''You know what I'm in the mood for today? Day-glow neoprene!'' (And not only because fluorescents compliment my skin tone about as well as mullets flatter anyone. Random simile alert!) But hey, that's why it's avant-garde, right? The kind of stuff that lowly workin' stiffs like me never have occasion to wear.
But back to the circle of hell, which, in a Project Runway first, included a member of a team responsible for the winning design: Mitchell. And the guy didn't just earn a spot among the bottom three, he actually got the boot! ''Three strikes and you're out,'' said Heidi. Talk about failing on an epic scale. While his teammate sailed to glory, Mitchell sucked so hard he made “Project Runway” history in the most inglorious way imaginable. He did get his wish: Ra'mon carried Mitchell through this challenge — carried him right on out the door!
For all Mitchell's creative shortcomings, there's no denying he has a remarkably upbeat nature. As he pointed out in his final interview, ''I'm going home with a smile on my face.'' Which is to say: exactly the same way the beaming wonder arrived.