For the rare (only?) couples runway, the designers must create looks for Match.com users on their first dates.

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Sponsored challenges are a mixed bag: They can lead to awful designs and awkward runways or they can help force great work (such as the Samsung-powered “rainway” in PR season 13). And then there’s sponsored challenges like tonight’s. Match.com references were kept to a minimum, the winning designer snagged a cool prize, and the couples runway concept was fun—but the challenge also produced a lot of lackluster designs.

This was a challenge where I had absolutely no clue who would be the winner or who would be out because I felt pretty uninspired by everything. Inherently, this always seems to be a problem with non-model model challenges. But at least we had Laverne Cox and some adorable new couples to make up for the lack of wowing designs.

Let’s take it from the top: Alyssa tells the designers they will be working in pairs, and Sonjia gets to play matchmaker. She chooses Dimtry, then pairs Fabio and Jay; Sam and Michelle; and Justin and Helen. Only after the teams are set does Alyssa tell them what they are doing: The designer pairs will create looks for a Match.com couple on their first date. Instantly Michelle has flashbacks to the male stripper challenge from season 11. (In case you forgot—but how could you??—here’s a reminder.)

She shouldn’t be concerned about strippable clothing (well maybe depending on how these dates go), but she should be worried about time. The dates are THAT NIGHT. So immediately the designers get to work. They meet with their people separately, so it will still be a blind date that evening.

Sam and Michelle meet first with Racquel, who is sexy, chic, and classy. She likes pencil skirts and crop tops—which is exactly what Samantha gets to work on. For Arvind, the man going on a date with Racquel, Michelle envisions cool trousers and a cashmere sweater.

Helen and Justin meet Becca, who likes to be comfortable, yet sexy (if this exists, someone please tell me what it is), and John, who dresses like the mannequins in a J.Crew window. Helen is a gown designer, but she’s bullish about wanting to do the men’s look—apparently she’s looking for a real challenge… or something. Justin fights her on it, saying he has more experience; it’s a testament to how well these designers all get along because she doesn’t even put up a fight.

A different Helen, a Match.com user, wants to be sexy. Which Sonjia and Dmitry say they do very well. But wait, Helen’s not done describing her aesthetic: She wants a look that’s Kim Kardashian Kanye-era, not the Ray J. version. Kim K. 2.0 2.0 will be going on a date with Craig, who wears lots of blues and grays. Dmitry is going to put him into a tight sweater and slacks.

Finally, Fabio and Jay get matched with the gay couple, naturally. And they pick an interesting technique that none of the other designers seemed to do: They asked each guy what they want their date to be wearing. Smart!

The workroom time of this episode can be summed up as follows:

• Michelle is sick. Sick, sick, sick. She does not look good. And I felt incredibly pained watching her, but not Sam! Sam is on a crashing airplane and she’s got her mask on and f— all the rest of you. I mean, I do get it. It’s a competition and helping Michelle would be lessening Sam’s own chances of winning, but it was still painful to watch Michelle flailing and Sam just watching with disinterest.

• Jay picks a “sophisticated,” “bright,” “gaaaaaay” pink fabric for his men’s jacket. Zanna is not a fan when she comes to do critiques. He then adjusts it from “girl” (all pink) to “giiiiiiiirl” (still a lot of pink, but with gray sleeves).

• BioSilk took over the Chi hair studio for the episode. They have the world’s sauciest on-camera promotor: “This is our Rock Hard….. gel so that should be good with a first date?”

The couples then go on their dates. Two dates are held on the TKTS steps in Times Square—just where every New Yorker wants to go on their first date—and two are held at a rooftop bar with Empire State views (yet another tourist trap). When Becca, wearing Helen’s blue “dress,” walked up the red staircase, I honestly forgot she had forgot to put pants on. Aside from that, the dates were pretty uneventful.

NEXT: The morning after

The next morning the couples have to come back and model their clothes in a joint runway. This would have been incredibly awkward if any of the dates went poorly, but everyone seems to be in a good mood, so … you know what that means.

Alyssa, Georgina, and Isaac are joined by the fabulous Laverne Cox (from Orange Is the New Black—if you don’t know her, fix that stat). They watched as the couples took turns on the catwalk. It’s always a little painful seeing people do this when it’s not what they do for a living, but the “models” seemed to be having fun.

Following the show, I couldn’t tell who was top and who was bottom designers, so let’s just go through all the designs by couple.

Helen and Craig

Sonjia’s bright dress sure makes a statement, but it’s a mixed statement to the judges. Georgina and Laverne hate the cutout; Isaac is glad it’s there otherwise Helen would look like a lady who lunched. As for Dmitry’s look, the designers are happy with it, but wish he had pushed it more.

Racquel and Arvind

Racquel said she liked a pencil skirt and a crop top, and that’s exactly what Sam gave her. The problem is this is a runway challenge, and although flirty and fun for a first date, this design was more of an off-the-rack look. Michelle’s look is impressive simply for the fact that she completed it while it looked like her head might float away. Isaac thinks it looks a little junior, and Laverne points out that the fit isn’t great, but the judges don’t hate it too much.

Becca and John

Helen is a gown designer; she’s made beautiful dresses as recent as the last episode. But here she made the world’s most obvious mistake: She listened to her client too much and didn’t inject her own style. The result is a weird pajama dress/shirt getup that Michelle pointed out was in the unfortunate “Monica Lewinsky blue.” Justin has the same problem. John asked for a J.Crew window treatment, and he got that with his trousers and button-down. It wasn’t a bad look, but it wasn’t anything to write home (or here) about.

Bryce and Taker

Fabio and Jay asked their men what they wanted to see in the other men’s wardrobe. I said it earlier: It was a genius plan. The clients loved it—and so did the judges. Yes, the judges got some weird vibes from both—”scrubs,” “gay priest on a yacht,” etc.—but that ultimately didn’t matter as ….

Winner: Fabio

I won’t lie: This wasn’t my favorite look of the night, but none of the others really stood out to me either. So I guess he’s the best, but that’s not saying a lot.

Out: No one! It was down to Helen and Justin, but they both get to stay. Alyssa tears up as she tells them: Don’t get too comfortable. They still have to prove themselves next week, but the judges have faith they can do better.

What do you think? Should someone have gotten the boot? Should Fabio have gotten the win? And which do you prefer?

1. “I don’t design around a penis every day.” —Michelle

2. “Hey, I’m fun, but I’m really fun in the back.” —Helen, about her dress

Follow me on Twitter: @realdalener

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