Raise your hand if following the logic of crisscrossing teams and designs Thursday night made your head spin like a Tilt-A-Whirl at Ping's potato party county fair. Here's this team creating a second look, inspired by that team's first look! One's high-end and the other's mass-market! And together, they have not a thing in common!
Pathetically, I had to make a diagram to keep track of who was designing what with whom. More on that sad fact in a moment. For now, let's start with the first half of the show, in which the designers ogled classic gowns from YSL, Dior, and friends at the Met; greeted Tim's announcement that this would be a team challenge (hello? It's episode three, folks!) with the requisite UH-OH! (bonus points for histrionic groans and exaggerated bug-eyes); and finally crossed the Mood threshold, where they blew their $500 budget with glee. The biggest wad of cash in Runway history. Let's hear it for the deep pockets of Lifetime.
Of course Jesse was going to get stuck with Ping. At the top of the hour, he expressed dismay that the Kooky One survived the last challenge. And of course the two of them were going to get along about as well as my cat Miko did with the mouse that appeared in our kitchen while I was on vacation. (Sorry, Aly.) All Ping had to do to bring out Jesse's inner scary man, it seemed, was lay out some fabric at Mood while asking about pattern-cutting, and before you could say ''anger management,'' he punched the palm of his own hand with startling force. And this was before we saw Ping flitting about the store like a lost toddler, calling out ''Jesse! Jesse!'', searching for her sketch pad, and almost losing the $500 in cash. I don't doubt that working with someone as bonkers as Ping would be frustrating, but next time, Jesse, let's take a deep breath and count to 10, shall we? Serenity now!
On day two, Tim appeared in the workroom to share with the designers what I can only hope they were savvy enough to have guessed: Yep, they'd have to crank out a second look, this one inspired by an opposing team's design. It would be a ''look for less'' (ahhhh! unwanted Elisabeth Hasselbeck flashbacks!), made for just $50. Here's how it shook out:
Ping & Jesse --> had to find inspiration chez Emilio & Anna
Janeane & Ben --> Mila & Jonathan
Jay & Maya --> Janeane & Ben
Mila & Jonathan --> Anthony & Seth ''Where's my brown sugar?'' Aaron (ick)
Anthony & Seth --> Jesus & Amy
Jesus & Amy --> Ping & Jesse
Emilio & Anna --> Maya & Jay
Got that? This particular twist added an extra dimension of difficulty to the challenge, since whipping together a mass-market look inspired by your own high-flyin' design is (to throw in a Randy Jackson attempt at mathematics) a billion and a half percent simpler than trying to plumb your opponents' garments for ideas. I felt particular sympathy for Amy, since the highly talented gal not only got stuck with two-time bottom-dweller Jesus, but with him, she also had to work off of Ping and Jesse's creation. And we all knew how Ping's was gonna look: like her model threw on some Special Grecian Edition drapes from Linens N' Things. Doubly foiled, Amy was.
Mila wins on her mod separatesSave for a dash of tension here and there, all the teams not comprised of Ping and Jesse seemed to get along decently enough. Mila freaked out that she had only sewn one piece in the two ensembles (a jacket), but by runway time she seemed to have worked through it. (And what a coat!) Anna admitted she was intimidated by Emilio because, she said, he was so experienced, but I wonder if it had more to do with her partner not being the warmest and fuzziest of guys. Wither your smile, Oh Winner of the Very First Challenge? Then again, meek little Anna seems like someone who would get tongue-tied in front of her dress form.
Now, I can imagine it's easy to lose track of time when you're pedal-to-the-medal-ing on your Brother and suddenly Tim calls you for the Runway show. But Ping… Oh dear, strange, bizarro Ping. I don't think she's capable of losing track of time since she never had any grasp of it — along with myriad other humanoid concepts — in the first place. With each challenge, it's more likely she simply flits off to her home planet of hand-knit sock-washcloths and bare-assed burlap frocks. When someone yanks her back down to Earth, her reentry is not always complete. ''We're leaving to where?'' she asked Jesse, who gamely responded they were heading downstairs to face the judges. Her reply? ''Are you sure?'' Yes, Nutterbutter, as sure as we are that you are now going to force Tim Gunn to stand at the workroom door and call your name — twice — with mild impatience. Check and check!
Overall, I was pretty impressed by what (most of) the designers cranked out. Of the high-end looks, I was surprised by how much I liked Jesus' lacey black gown. I'd award him a shiny Most Improved plaque if I weren't almost positive it was actually Amy's savvy guidance that prevented him from producing another Hershey crocodile steamer trunk. I also enjoyed Emilio and Anna's 1940s-ish dress — especially its delicate beaded bodice — though I agree with Guy Unsmiley that it lacked that extra bit of innovation. (Which, of course, he blamed on Anna. Ha!) Like the judges, I adored Jay and Maya's futuristic black gown with daring fin thingies on the shoulder and hem, as well as Mila's mod black and white coat and trousers. It was just so… cool. All that was missing was Miss Emma Peel to slip into it and kick some bad guy's butt.
On the other hand, I wasn't wild about any of the ''looks for less.'' (Stop trying to get in my head, Hasselbot!) Jesus' harem pants complemented Ping's original perfectly — and no, that is not a compliment. (More on that in a sec.) Anthony's lace skirt looked every bit as cheap as the $50 they spent to make it. I liked Emilio and Anna's striped, off-shoulder dress okay, but I didn't really see how it related back to Jay and Maya's original. Speaking of J & M, they probably came the closest of any of the teams to sending two palatable garments down the runway. The judges preferred their mass-market take on Janeane's dress to her high-end original, but considering how very unspectacular Janeane's frock was, that's not exactly the be-all end-all of praise, is it?
No, it most definitely isn't, considering the win went to mod mama Mila, even though Nina, Michael, Heidi, and breathy, British guest judge Matthew ''I barely speak above a whisper'' Williamson faulted her and Jonathan's black and yellow mini dress. That's where this challenge gets a little wonky for me. The schizophrenic parameters made it sort of impossible for teams to hit on any sort of cohesion — usually criteria No. 1 in these multiple-garment challenges. I guess the judges' adoration for Mila's bold separates trumped any reservations they had about her bumblebee baby doll dress.
Ping's grand exit
As for the two lowest scoring teams, I was a little surprised by the judges’ vitriol for Anthony and Seth “say my second first name” Aaron’s evening gown. It wasn’t the most original design ever to walk in front of the Holy Trinity and I can't argue with the judges' assessment that it was a bit Scarlett O'Hara backward-looking. I dunno. Maybe I was too busy studying the Bluefly.com wall (thoughtfully!) to fully grasp the gown's awfulness, 'cause its costume-y quality didn't shock me. A & SA's lacy second look, on the other hand? Not good.
Anyway, this all turned out to be moot since it was Ping, not Anthony, who circled the drain with a double doozie of wretchedness. I suppose we should be grateful that Jesse (or Tim or some other kind soul) convinced her to ditch the tacky hooker fabric she'd originally envisioned for outfit No. 2, but it still looked cheap. Worse, it fit about as well as her potato sack from last week. On the runway, her model even bitched her out for not fitting her properly. And Ping's first design? Do. Not. Get. It. Without that cracked-out bunch of fabric stitched on to her model's bum (Ping's obviously into butts), it might have been a cute little number. But I'm not even sure I can stand behind that statement since we barely got to see the skirt half of the dress without all that Statue of Liberty nonsense covering it up.
Now, for the past three weeks, Ping's wackiness has tickled me like so many goofy feathers slapped on to Anthony's gown. But when it came down to her and said Southern Belle, my support was with the latter — if only because he believes that the vice-president of McDonald's deserves couture. (Do fries come with that drape?) It's obvious Ping struggles to translate the cacophony of her loopy ideas into Project Runway-ready terms. And as was abundantly clear this week, gal can barely sew. Good luck, Ping. May your future endeavors be creatively rewarding and free of run-ins with vengeful models' butt-ox.