Rubbernecking: Project Runway Episode 5, "There is an 'I' in Team"

As the curtain rises on this week's show, we find that most if not all of the remaining designers are still not feeling Michael Costello's win last week. Christopher states unequivocally that Michael C's skills are "not in line with the rest of us." Meanwhile April and Peach have formed a sort of Survivor-style alliance which, I have to admit, is touching since in real life, would these two even look at each other on the street? Ah, Reality TV: breaker-down of age and culture barriers!

It's a team challenge broken down into two teams which shake out predictably. Michael C, being last week's winner, gets to choose first and picks Gretchen for his team (I guess he did get a swelled head last week from the win; otherwise what in the Sam Hill was he thinking? Us winners have to stick together? But Michael C - it's Gretchen!!!). The rest of the team members are chosen schoolyard-style by each person picking the next. Michael C and Gretchen's team is rounded out by Christopher, Andy, Ivy, and A.J. The other team is April, Mondo, Michael D, Valerie, Casanova, and Peach. Michael C's feeling good about his team (who have 4 wins between them to the other team's zero wins) because they are "the best of the best." Yes, but you have Gretchen, you idiot - a sure sign that someone's going to be done very wrong - since her advice throughout the season thus far has dashed many a dream.

Back at the workroom, Uncle Tim explains that each team is to create a six-piece collection that follows the emerging trends of Fall 2010. They will each choose from two inspirations, one concept, and one textile. The budget for the collection will be a whopping $1K. Garnier's Peter Butler will consult with them on the hairstyles for their looks.

Tim encourages them to use their HP Touchsmart notebooks during their one-hour sketch period before going to shop at Mood. Gretchen immediately takes over what will become Team Luxe. She wants their menswear for women look to be tailored and clean because the other team has (her words) "koo-koo drama." She gushes, "you guys, I'm so proud of us, we're working so well together it's blowing my mind" (by which she really means they're all listening to her and doing what she says). "We don't have time for that right now," Ivy hits back, but she's actually fallen into line as Gretchen's aide-de-camp. I guess she's finally realized it's not The Ivy Show, but she could be a co-star on The Gretchen Show.

The other team huddles around a table and comes up with a military theme for their collection augmented by lace. Everyone plays well together. Casanova likes military and loves lace - he "feels like a fish in the water." There's a touchy moment when Peach feels like no one's listening to her but it's quickly repaired and they're all happy families. Their official name is Team Military & Lace.

Apropos of nothing: A brief cameo from Mood's store dog, Swatch.

Team Gretchen - I mean Luxe - is a complete disaster out of the gate and I start allowing myself to envision that these sanctimonious winner-types might find themselves actually losing for once. Gretchen's ideas are fueling their creative process (except for Michael C who has finally seen the handwriting on the wall - albeit too late): winter shorts, grandpa sweaters, leggings with camel panels. The whole thing will eventually look like a 1970's Ivy League fashion spread. Christopher's taken on the role of Gretchen's consigliere, advising her on what's going on with other team members. They all decide early on that Michael C is the weakest link and I so wish Anne Robinson would make an appearance to give him the news - and btw sorry, MC, but you deserve it because no one in their right mind would consciously pick Gretchen for their team. Ivy gets all schoolteacherish on him and he leaves in a huff. "Michael C is a total time suck, he doesn't know how to sew," says Gretchen.

The other team, let's call them the Underdogs since they are, are steamrolling along. Everyone has their assignment and they are working well together as a team. When it comes time for their Garnier hair consult with Peter Butler, April and Valerie advise the stylists to keep it simple, but messy, "because you always get messy in battle." This team's working hard and smart because they all know what failure is like whereas the other team is all we-have-it-in-the-bag. This is evidenced further by Gretchen and Andy's hair consult where they decide that they're going for a modern approach to Hollywood glam. The model looks like Lauren Bacall. "Wow," says Gretchen, "and....we're gonna win!" I just know I would've hated this beeyotch in high school.

Tim Time - he consults with each team as a group, starting with the Underdogs. He's a little cautionary over the use of lace, warning that it "can look old very easily." (Cut to Michael C sniping from across the room "I notice that they're going for some bordello trashy look") Casanova is scared because Tim always comes down on him with a rough critique and today's no exception: "I'm going to be blunt. Casanova, your look is looking like the mother of these women. It needs to be youthened up." Casanova's crushed and swans off to lie down on the couch and have a big old sulk. His fellow teamies Michael D, Ivy and Peach can't rouse him and finally Peach gets all mom-like telling him to have a good rest and "we love you."

Here's where I have to show you the shoes Casanova is wearing in the workroom.

Tim visits with Team Gretchen and Miss G explains that they're all doing about three pieces each but she feels like she is in every piece even though she's not the one sewing. (Remember this statement later, everyone.) Tim allows as how they are all ambitious about how much they're planning to do but he feels a responsibility to tell them that he met with the other team "and by comparison this is looking very ho-hum." From Tim this is the worst thing ever, it's up there with senior citizen garments.

The models enter the room for their fittings and Casanova is still out in the lounge on the couch feeling sorry for himself. He calls his Aunt Lucy and tells her in Spanish he's tired of this shit, which is helpfully translated in the lower third. It's only when his model comes out to give him a pep talk and tell him not to let what others say get to him that he realizes that perhaps he is being too sensitive and returns to the workroom. Meanwhile, it's clear on Team Gretchen that both A.J. and Michael C are dragging the team down. A.J. doesn't have anything ready for his model to try on. Michael C doesn't seem to have done anything but a cowl blouse that has to be completely re-styled by his teammates. The fact that he has immunity from winning last week's challenge has most of them apoplectic with rage as they feel - and have expressed to his face - that he's not going to even try to help the team win.

And the Brother Sewing clock ticks on.

The morning of the runway show, Gretchen wakes up at 4am and makes a to-do list for their team (oh, how I wish we had been able to see said list!). Their team is so far behind the eight ball it's frightening. Some of their models actually help pitch in to them finish sewing the garments. As the group heads off to the runway, their team feels quite confident of the win. (One of the show's best lines must go to Michael D, who is on the competing team: "They have a sweater called the Grandpa Sweater! What the f---!")

The guest judge today is Georgina Chapman, actress and fashion designer/co-founder of Marchesa. The first team up is the Underdogs. Gretchen thinks her team has it because she doesn't think the Underdogs' work holds together as a collection though she likes them individually. It's an unfortunate choice to have Team G's show begin with A.J.'s weird shirtdress with the two tone leggings. The best thing on these models is their hairstyles, which are the only luxe thing about the collection. The winning team turns out to be Military & Lace (the Underdogs). Group hug!

The losing team heads backstage into the dishing area in total shock. Ivy says their collection was a lot more cohesive and it told a story (and the story was 1976 Ivy League Co-Eds). Gretchen opines that the collection doesn't look like any of their work, and that's a Project Runway first, as if that's a good thing. They decide as a group to stand together and not blame any one person. A.J. presciently says he hopes G won't flip a switch to which G responds, "that's not my style." Vraiment?

And just so you see wazzup...





Michael D









Michael C


The judges are oohing and aahing over the Underdogs. Young, fun, hip, modern, edgy - says La Klum. She absolutely loves Casanova's outfit - "it's super-chic, it's hot, I want to be that girl!" MK singles Casanova and Peach out for special praise. When asked who they think should be the winner, the team members pick Casanova, and Casanova nobly picks Peach because the top of her outfit is so well made. (Let's look in our crystal ball ahead to the future where Casanova and Peach join forces and start a clothing design company on the Lower East Side called Casa Peach and Peach gets a buzz cut and tatts and stops wearing black capris. Hey, it could happen!)

Team G heads out for the losing team critique. G is the spokesperson and starts out by saying that they all collaborated, "we worked really hard" (sniff sniff). When she starts to cry the others start too, even Michael C. She declines to name names: "We worked really hard and I don't think there was a weak link." Ivy chimes in: "It's like having a baby and someone says it's ugly. I think it's beautiful." G makes an impassioned plea that the judges please be mindful of who they want to see more from because we think that's the fairest way for you to choose "because we're not going to choose. We stand united." At this point Michael C takes her hand, Christopher and A.J. stand arm in arm, and Gretchen puts her arm around Ivy.

MK says the team effort is commendable but it probably took some of them down a notch and raised others up a notch, ending up with "vanilla boring." Nina points out that almost every outfit in the collection has a proportion problem, plus no sex appeal and no design. "The colors are," she pauses to look for the right word, "ghastly." The judges are honestly appalled at the name Team Luxe since it's the furthest thing from luxe they can imagine. Ivy's look is singled out as the worst. MK gasps: "The Golden Girl vest!" Nina chimes in, "The vest with those granny shorts!" Next worst is A.J., whose outfit Heidi says is "a little bit air hostess" with "horseback riding pants." A.J. defends himself weakly by saying he wanted to show he could do a more tailored piece, not like his crazy outfits in the past.

And then, in perhaps the quickest turnaround ever seen on Project Runway, Gretchen completely backpedals from her earlier staunch belief in the collection and the team and goes all Judas Iscariot on everyone, saying, "We very late in the game realized that Grandma had arrived." She admits that she styled everything, "I also feel like I had to style maybe a crappy collection - I was trying to save it." Heidi is confused, "What do you mean you're trying to save it? Before you loved it!" And then the fun really begins as it dawns on Gretchen that by taking responsibility for everything, she could very well go home ("I don't want to go home, it's not my time") and she throws Michael C squarely under the bus. She whines that she had to spend so much time helping him since his technical skills were the weakest and therefore she had no time to focus on what makes her strong. She says now that everyone sucked, no one was on their game - including her. Her lapdogs Ivy and Christopher agree that Michael C is the weakest link. None of them will name another team member since Michael C has immunity. Off they go to await their fate.

The judges decide to give the win to Casanova, who's pleasantly surprised and delighted. As for Team G, they're frankly astounded by Gretchen's about-face. Heidi says it seems like Gretchen was the leader even though there was no leader. "She had the whip in her hand, she was driving that bus, everyone was too afraid to open their mouth." G and A.J. end up in the bottom two. Even though the judges say they are only judging on this challenge and not past history, a statement I find very hard to believe, they send A.J. home instead of Gretchen who clearly was responsible for the direction the entire collection took (and admitted it). A.J. did what Gretchen told him to do - and he's not the first to go home for that mistake. A.J. to camera, "It's really hard to know that you're going home for something that doesn't have a trace of you in it."

Tim Gunn is incensed and comes in not just to tell A.J. goodbye and to clean up his space, but also to give Team G a piece of his mind - he doesn't get it. "I fundamentally do not understand your behavior and demeanor and affect on the runway...I don't know why you allow Gretchen to manipulate, control, and bully you." He says A.J. took the bullet. They're all in total shock since this is by no means part of the script. Ivy confides to camera that Tim is "kind of right" and it made them all have "an A-ha moment." All I can say is, Tim's my dream man for calling Gretchen out like this. He was before, but doubly so now.

Here is Tim not getting it.

Gretchen tells the camera that her feelings are hurt, claiming she's not manipulative, she "just wanted to help." It will be very interesting to see how this all plays out in weeks to come. We've clearly turned a corner now on the contestants' dynamic.

And sew it goes!

Project Runway airs Thursday nights on Lifetime TV at 9pm ET.

See my recap of Episode 4 here

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