There were tears and giggles on the runway after the first team challenge of the season.

By Stephan Lee
Updated August 03, 2012 at 05:30 AM EDT
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Nothing strikes fear into a Project Runway designer’s heart like the words “TEAM CHALLENGE.” Tim delivered the terrifying news at the South Street Seaport amid a fleet of brand new Lexuses. After an especially blatant sales pitch from a Lexus exec — the cars were barely folded into the challenge in some oblique way that’s not even worth describing — the designers drew car keys to see who they’d be paired with.

Some of the teams were hilariously mismatched, like Elena and Buffi. Those two being on the same team is like a stringray mating with a peacock — the combo goes against nature, and it’s morally and spiritually wrong. I was also thrilled by the pairing of Gunnar with Kooan, the most motor-mouthed contestant working with the hardest one to understand. “When it comes to fashion, I’m a controlling bitch,” Gunnar proclaimed. Nooooo, really? The way Chris, one of the youngest designers, jumped at the chance to work with Andrea, the oldest, was sort of sweet at first. Chris displayed some heartening respect for his elders. We all know how terribly wrong that went.

So the designers had to create a red carpet Emmy look for a “special client.” Raoul and Alicia were instantly nervous, because as Raoul reminded us every three seconds, they’re both into designing menswear. Kooan was nervous for an altogether different reason: “This elegantness is the part that makes me feel like ARRRRRRRRitsgonnabedifficult.” The special clients, as it turned out, were designers of seasons past, probably chosen for being potentially difficult to please. I was displeased to see the awful Mean-a Irina and “Bad Mommy” Laura Bennett, happy to see Anya and I guess Kenley, and “blah” on Mila and April, who was sporting some half-assed metallic purple hair. Kenley, with her ludicrous Peter Pan collar, looked like a cross between Gilly and Little Orphan Annie.

Some of the teams immediately started butting heads in the workroom. Elena kept insisting, in the drippiest, drawlingest voice possible, that Buffi wasn’t at the same skill level as she was — that may have been true, but Elena was a walking example of the fact that most of the time, people defeat themselves with their own stanky attitude and demeanor. She exerted her hammer-and-sickle work ethic on the spacier and more lackadaisical Buffi, depriving her of a dinner break so they could work. Save Buffi, the downtrodden laborer! As Chris explained it, “Elena’s personality sometimes seems like she escaped from the woods and she’s ravenous and she will bite your head off until she gets what she wants.”

NEXT: Generations collide in ugly ways when Chris and Andrea fail to play nice.

Chris started out excited about all the things he could learn from the elder stateswoman of the season, but those warm fuzzies went away when Andrea allegedly took 10 hours to cut the pattern for Anya’s dress. I’m a little torn about this feud. On the one hand, Chris bugged me with his belief that his desire to win the competition was greater than anyone else’s. On the flip side, I could totally see how Andrea’s slow laugh could drive someone nuts when it’s crunch time. But I went thoroughly to Chris’ corner after this funny exchange about how he could tell Andrea to hurry her ass up:

Elena: Crack the whip. You can say it in a nice way.

Chris: Like you?

Meanwhile, the “elegantness” of the challenge sapped all the life force out of the usually giddy Kooan. When you take away his ability to embroider monster faces on alien ponchos, you take away Kooan’s reason for living. Toward the end of the day, he said, “For some reason I just feel sad, not happy. If I’m happy, I can just work forever, but if I’m sad, I can’t do things. I can’t create things.” No joke, the simplicity and the trueness of this very honest statement caught me off guard. He eloquently articulated the inner torment of every artist. I always talk about Kooan as a cartoon. If he were a cartoon right now, he’d be the sad Zoloft egg. I wanted to clap my hands at the TV screen to bring him back to life, like Tinkerbell.

Meanwhile, the evil snow queen Irina stomped all over an already fragile Kooan. The white gown Kooan and Gunnar made for her had some puckering going on in the back, and she snapped at Kooan, “Do you not want to fix this?” As someone who grew up in an East Asian household, I can tell you that that kind of combative tone won’t get her very far with Kooan, who probably doesn’t know how to respond to that type of aggression. Luckily Gunnar, an American through and through, snapped right back at Irina, the most difficult client of the night.

It’s time for the runway show, and you could already tell it wasn’t going to be a good one. But actress Krysten Ritter came to the rescue — not so much with her tremendous insights on fashion but by having a sick sense of humor in the face of a runway meltdown.

NEXT: Some surprises in judging!

SAFE

Buffi/Elena

After their hunger strike and all their bickering, Buffi and Elena ended up happy with their look. I thought it had all the color of an oil spill.

Melissa/Dmitry

The prince and princess of darkness thought they’d placed in the top with this silvery body-condom/ninja robe. Even though it was ill-fitting above the waist, I thought the back was really quite lovely, and at least the look had plenty of design in it. With Melissa and Dmitry designing for April, I’m just shocked it wasn’t black.

Sonjia/Nathan

Did anyone else notice that the gold-embroidered fabric Sonjia and Nathan chose resembled the dress Heidi was wearing at the very beginning of the episode? This group also expected to be in the top, but I thought that the look relied too much on the fabric and not enough on what the designers did to it. Also, it was rather unflattering on Valerie in the bust area.

NEXT: Did Kenley basically crown the winners with her enthusiasm?

TOP

Gunnar/Kooan

Upon seeing the dress walk down the runway, Kooan murmured, “I want to eliminate myself.” It gets better, Kooan! Gunnar said, “It’s actually not awful.” The other groups were shocked that these guys weren’t on the bottom. I was, too. The judges gave it faint praise, calling it “dramatic.” Instead of talking up her designers, Irina sniped that their “sewing skills could be improved upon.” It didn’t make sense for Irina to be critical, since she’d benefit if Gunnar and Kooan won. But I guess her natural impulse to be terrible and spiteful won over.

Ven/Fabio

I can’t believe this boring little office dress won a red carpet challenge, but I think Kenley’s clear love for it helped put it over the top. Nina liked that it was short. Krysten thought it was boring. Michael noted it wouldn’t be the dress anyone raved about after the Emmys. Yet it won anyway. Clearly, it was a weak night. The judges liked that they could see Ven Budhu all over the dress, mostly in the form of the tasteful pleating in the front. It’s official: The judges are drinking the Ven Budhu Kool Aid.

NEXT: Finger pointing, tears, and barely stifled laughter.

BOTTOM

Chris/Andrea

Anya would never wear something like this greenish brown number in real life. Krysten called it a “Halloween costume you can get a drugstore.” Nina called it “cheesy,” “dated,” and “cliche.” Chris was incredibly upset and broke into tears. He said he didn’t want to point fingers, but he pointed a finger at Andrea for taking so long to cut the pattern. Andrea pointed a finger right back, saying Chris screwed up the bodice and the cowl neckline. As Chris pleaded for his spot rather shamelessly, tearfully claiming he wanted to win more than anyone else there, it was hilarious watching Krysten trying not to laugh. I don’t think it was malicious. I think she was just getting the church giggles, and I can’t blame her. If I’d been in the room for Andre’s over-the-top dramatic breakdown of season 2, I most definitely would have been laughing.

In the stew room right before the final judgment, Andrea did say something to the effect of being okay with leaving that night. I think Chris was wrong to jump on that statement and use it against her, but I can understand how frustrating it would be to want something so bad and for your partner to seem indifferent about it.

Raoul/Alicia

Mila was completely stiff walking down the runway. I’m not sure if that’s just how Mila walks or if she was just struggling to stay upright despite the massive clump of hair that was weighing down the right side of her head. Basically, everyone thought it was boring, unflattering, and poorly made. It deserves no more of our attention. Raoul, who’s been very unlikable all season, talking smack about other designers who are clearly more talented, got eliminated.

So that was one of the worst runway shows in recent memory. I’m surprised the judges weren’t a bit harsher in general. The episode ended with an intriguing epilogue — Andrea apparently ran away in the middle of the night after that contentious judging where she felt “demeaned.” I bet Raoul is furious that Andrea didn’t just volunteer to go home before anyone got cut.

Did you think Dmitry and Melissa belonged in the top group? Whose side are you on, Andrea’s or Chris’? Do you think Andrea will be back? Do you even care?

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