It was the penultimate episode of Project Runway, and you know what that means: one last chance for the designers to convince the audience that, no, really, they are the underdog in this competition. Cue the stories of hardships, which touched on everything from catfish farming to broken hearts. Curiously absent? The most compelling personal disclosure of the season: Mondo’s HIV status. It wasn’t referenced even once.
Also, this being the final episode before Fashion Week, one of the four remaining designers had to get the boot despite having spent the previous six weeks slaving over a ten-piece collection to show at Lincoln Center as well as creating another outfit for this week’s challenge. Michael C.’s initial prediction (“I don’t wanna say that I’m gonna have the last laugh, but ”) was some pretty obvious foreshadowing, but before we rehash his peculiar behavior throughout the episode, let’s go over the reasons why Andy, Mondo, Gretchen, and Michael C. believe they could one-up each other in triumphing over adversity.
Andy: "I definitely didn’t have a normal childhood. I had chores that no one else had."
Andy explains that his parents were immigrants from Laos and, growing up in Oahu, he had to work the land and feed the fish. Our first thought: Fish are pretty low-maintenance pets, no? But he’s actually talking about a catfish farm, and Tim is as repulsed by the creatures as we are. (Fish with whiskers — ew.) Anyway, Andy’s mom, Nora, seems like a lovely and supportive woman, and it’s pretty touching when he notes, “Every immigrant family dreams of a better life for their child. For me, the toughest thing would be to not have my mom see that.” But it’s impossible to imagine that Andy has a chance of winning this competition. The most interesting aspect of his collection is that it’s made from material that was handwoven in Laos — while the sketches were promising, the clothes he sent down the runway were not.
Mondo: "The deal was I could play piano if I played baseball."
Considering that a lot of parents have to force their children to play the piano, the fact that Mondo pursued it independently at the cost of having to join a sports team (shudder) to please his jock dad shows some serious artistic integrity and discipline. His collection wasn’t as much of a wow as we had hoped — Tim was correct in calling that one shirt “jejune” (nice word of the day, Tim!) — but he remains the solid front-runner.
Gretchen: "I came home to a relationship that had failed. To an empty bank account. To an empty house. I am broke and busted."
All right, it’s not the most unique situation, and we’re still not quite sure if Gretchen is being evicted from her Portland, Oregon, home or what, but sometimes it’s the ordinary travails that feel the most relatable. Tim relates. Her situation prompts him to share the story of how he moved to New York after a devastating breakup. (Has there ever been a more consoling figure on television than Tim Gunn?) Anyway, so the girl is down on her luck — but we’re down on her collection. Her clothes this season have gone from darling to dowdy.
Michael C.: "For the past four years, [Michael C.’s parents] have been telling him that he’s not talented and that he should give it up."
That’s the bomb dropped by Michael C.’s boyfriend, Richard, who also let a cat out of a bag three years ago when he outed Michael C. to his parents. We’re pretty sure this is the first time Michael C.’s sexuality has been addressed — a previous episode randomly introduced his son — and it was sad to watch him talk about his family’s disapproval. To some extent, this answers a question that has been bugging us all season, which is: What’s the deal with Michael C.? But, of course, his being gay doesn’t explain why something about the guy just seems off. It’s unclear whether he’s just another misfit artiste or whether he’s genuinely a little simple-minded.
So, skipping ahead to the episode’s end, Michael C.’s reaction to being eliminated had to be the strangest in Runway history. His devastation was perfectly understandable; his regression to childhood (the crumpled face, the deliberately slow shuffling of his feet) was not. How awkward did we feel when it almost looked like he wasn’t going to get off the runway? Then, the hysteria backstage! We felt truly bad for him, but we can only hope that this tragedy-scale meltdown is owed more to his flair for the melodramatic than to some other, more disturbing cause.