Project Runway: Season Six

When the Project Runway Season Six DVD arrived in the mail I couldn’t help but think back on all the stand-out moments of the latest installment of the reality show. Remember how much everyone hated Kenley? Or the amazing designs Christian sent down the runway? What about Santino’s hilarious impersonations of Tim Gunn?

The only problem is none of those characters appeared in Season Six. As hardcore fans know, Kenley Collins was the designated villainess of Season Five, Christian Siriano the attention-grabbing winner of Season Four and Santino Rice the biggest personality of Season Two.

Season Six represented a watershed moment in the life of Project Runway. The season was the first to be filmed in the Los Angeles, instead of New York. It was the first to air on Lifetime, after a headline-making struggle between the show’s producers and former network Bravo.

The second phase of Project Runway, however, began with a whimper. The sixth season was a perfect storm of all that can go wrong on a reality show. The contestants weren’t memorable, the challenges weren’t dynamic and behind-the-scenes drama created problems that had dire consequences for what the audience saw on screen.

The premiere of Season Six was delayed for months while the show was trapped in network limbo. The finale runway shows at Fashion Week typically occur a few weeks before viewers see them on screen, but in this case it was months — long enough for even the most casual viewer to check out each contender’s collection on the Internet.

As fans waited, their anticipation built, and so did the fear that Project Runway might be shelved for good. The bar for Season Six was set incredibly high, which made it that much more disappointing when the contestants, the judges and the challenges themselves failed to bring the drama.

The legal battle and the move to Los Angeles proved to be disastrous. Project Runway mentor Tim Gunn was quoted in the media that design challenges had to be scrapped at the last-minute due to the battle between Bravo and Lifetime. The logistical nightmare of moving about Southern California also proved difficult.

Most problematic, the move to California made it impossible for judges Nina Garcia and Michael Kors to appear in every episode. While host/judge Heidi Klum is wonderfully snarky, she, Garcia and Kors have established a rapport over six seasons that can’t be replicated by a rotating cast of guest stars. The lack of consistency in judging also meant that Klum was often the only one who had seen each designer’s full body of work to date.

During the first five seasons, the contestants moved freely about New York City and its environs. The different neighborhoods, people and places inspired ‘How will they do that?’ challenges such as creating clothing inspired by photos taken on the streets and building dresses out of flowers and items from a grocery store.

By contrast, Season Six had the claustrophobic feeling of being stuck in a traffic jam on a SoCal freeway. It was fun to see the designers rework wedding dresses for a passel of divorced women. But what could be more boring than asking the contestants to create a design for sponsor Macy’s based on the color blue? Another ho-hum challenge asked the group to rework a previous design from earlier in the competition. All the boring challenges in the world could have been saved by contestants with plenty of personality — and the talent to back it up. Ra’mon Lawrence Coleman and Shirin Askari, two contestants who seemed to have both, were eliminated before their time.

Meanwhile, questionably talented, but unquestionably annoying, contestants like Nicolas Putvinksi and Christopher Straub lingered far past their time. Winner Irina Shabayeva was given the Season Six “villain edit”. Irina had none of the venom of a Wendy Pepper or a Jeffrey Sebelia, nothing that made the audience love to hate her. Irina was merely dour and unpleasant and her win gave fans no reason to cheer – but no reason to “boo” either.

The DVD set removes all doubt that any memorable moments from Season Six ended up on the cutting room floor. There are no deleted scenes and not a single backstage featurette. It’s as if the producers, like the audience, couldn’t wait to bid this installment of Project Runway a hearty auf Wiedersehen.

RATING 3 / 10