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July 30, 2010 at 06:00 AM EDT

Image Credit: Michael Yarish/Lifetime TelevisionAustin and Santino may have built their names and reputations designing glamorous gowns in the concrete jungle on Project Runway, but it was their time in backcountry of Texas that made me remember why I fell in love with the former contestants in the first place.

In the first episode of the pair’s new series, the designers went to my motherland to make over a rodeo trick rider named Sadie in time for her to attend an annual Cowgirl Ball in style. Those last four words were not meant to be sarcastic. They wanted to bring couture to the country.

Of course, they were faced with the typical makeover show challenges: Sadie liked tank tops, cut-off shorts, t-shirts, and jeans. Oh, and she wore heels once, saying “it was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” This came from a girl who does gymnastics-like moves while riding a horse.

That’s about where the typical ended. I love makeover shows and have willingly become accustomed to plastic-y hosts who furrow a brow in pity as their subjects tell their woeful stories about life as an outcast. Santino and Austin are admirably above that. Sadie’s passion for horse-riding had made her an outcast in school, and the designing duo could relate. I got the sense that they didn’t pity her; they admired her. The refreshing earnestness was, I think, due to the fact that they’re not television hosts; they’re designers.

All that aside, the hook of the show was Austin and Santino’s lack of access to the cushy amenities of New York, like proper fabric and supply stores. There was no trip to Mood, no Bluefly accessory wall. There was a Gibsons’ general store. Wah-wah.

What the setting lacked in thrill, the pair made up for in quip, which is the entire reason we tuned in to begin with. Right? Below are a few of last night’s stand out quotes/exchanges.

“There’s something mythological about it: a woman and her beast.” — Austin, re: Sadie and her horse

“I always wanted to live in a castle; I just never thought it’d be in Texas.” — Austin

“The last time I was in a castle? I don’t know, White Castle?” — Santino

Sadie’s dad Donnie (a rodeo clown): I wear makeup, tights and work at night.

Austin: Me, too, sometimes.

Santino: Do you think we’ll still be friends after this adventure?

Austin: I certainly hope so…

Santino: Because I wish I could quit you.

Did you watch, PopWatchers? Did you enjoy the fact that they were out of New York and in the real world? Were you a little sad Santino didn’t do his Tim Gunn impression? And did you like Sadie’s dress? I liked Austin’s idea better….

Karlie Kloss and Christian Siriano guide undiscovered designers through the harrowing rites of fashion.
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Eli Holzman
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