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Project Runway Episode 3 Recap: Everybody Hates Gretchen

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So before I start this recap I want to briefly address the debate over whether or not I have started to suck at recapping (and also why I was so late with this one). To the first point: Plenty of you seem to still enjoy these nonsensical, snarky, rambling, musical interlude-filled follies, but some of you don't. Some of you think I'm bored and mean and doing a disservice to people who love the show.

I'm not going to argue with either group. Both have a point. Do I love the show? Yes. Is it hard to get it up for an eighth season of the same old format? Yes. Do I mock it mercilessly? Yes. Do the designers deserve better than my bitter jokes? Yes. Am I stuck in a recapping rut? Probably. Do I have the energy to get out of it? Not really. I wish I did, but in the time between last season and this season I got a new, more demanding job and took on additional outside projects. I thought about not recapping this season, since I was already so burned out, but I didn't want to disappoint anyone. It's possible that was the wrong choice, and that I should have quit while I was ahead. But I've recapped two episodes and, dammit, Kanye, I'ma let me finish what I started. If I'm going to suck, I will suck gloriously. True story: I went to a small-ish liberal arts college that put on many pretentious modern dance performances -- some of which I participated in -- and I always harbored a secret dream of staging my own guerilla routine to "Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)" by C & C Music Factory. In my fantasy, the choreography would begin with dancers rising out of flaming trash cans. And that, friends, is how I feel about these recaps right now. I am rising out of (or, maybe more accurately, sinking into) a flaming trash can, like some horrible genetic hybrid of Oscar the Grouch and a phoenix dressed like a poor man's New Kid on the Block. Forget everything you know about failing, because I am going to make the worst fail you've ever seen look like an epic fail at failing. Let's do this!

The good news is that if you hate these recaps or don't wish to join me on my Project Runway swan song (because one thing I know for sure is that this will be my last season recapping the show, at least in such a formal way -- eight, it turns out, really IS enough*), there are plenty of other options. Holly Cara Price is another HuffPo blogger who's been diligently recapping ProjRun since before I came on the scene. Television Without Pity is the original snarky recapping site. Tom and Lorenzo offer hilarious takes on each designer's runway looks in a series of easy-to-digest blog posts. And just google "Project Runway recap" to find at least 25 other sites. Bon voyage, haters.

As for why this recap took so long and made you think I'd abandoned you, or had been trapped under something heavy, I blame my friend Kabir, who decided to get married in the bucolic mountains of Portland, OR this weekend. I was out of town from Friday to Tuesday morning at 6 am, after which I worked a twelve-hour day. I could have tried to recap over the weekend, but as much as I love you guys I was not about to miss out on quality time with my best friends in a city I'd never explored just to get the recap up fast. I hope you understand. I'm going to aim all season to have recaps up on Monday nights, but if I falter please know that I haven't given up, and that I'm just trying -- oh, forgive me, I have to -- to make it work.

*Please ignore the fact that I've only been recapping for three seasons. Eight sounds far more impressive.

Okay, for the six or so of you who are left -- onto the recap.

Previously on: The gang tried both to define the Marie Claire woman and to turn Joanna Coles' frown upside-down. They learned by process of elimination: the Marie Claire woman was not, apparently, an infinity symbol held together with safety pins or a backless Little Red Riding Hood costume. In the end it turned out she was a janitor-chic jumpsuit -- who knew? Gretchen got a billboard and a sense of entitlement and Jason's bowler hat finally left the building, without even saying goodbye to Tim! Also, Nicholas sobbed. It was sad.

It's clear from the outset that this (read: last week's) episode is the Official Gretchen Backlash Episode, brought to you by Brother Sewing Machines and HP Intel.

At Atlas, Ivy congratulates Gretchen on her second consecutive win."This group is very caring and loving," Gretchen tells us in a talking head interview.

Cut to:

Michael D.: "I hate that bitch Gretchen and I can't believe she won again."

Hahaha! I'm pretty sure that Michael D. is speaking for the editors, because undercutting Gretchen's beatific musings on her own awesomeness ("It seems like everyone knew why I won... before they knew I was going to win? And that they're really rooting for me.") with the other designers bitching about her behind her back is kind of manipulative.

The only person who seems to still like Gretchen is her BFF (and Marie Claire challenge win runner up) Val, who interviews that Gretchen "is my friend. However, comma," -- you-apostrophe-ve gotta love a girl who articulates punctuation -- "it's a little bit of a bummer. Always a bridesmaid, never a bride." Not only is Valerie a great designer, she's a character -- I think she'll stick around for the long haul barring a Christopher Straub-like meltdown.

As the boys leave their apartment pretending they're headed to the runway (as Mila, Seth Aaron and Emilio revealed to me in April, the runway scenes that start each episode are actually filmed in the wee hours of the morning after the previous day's aufing), someone says, "I hope the limo's ready," to which someone else quips, "The short bus is more like it." They said it, not me. (This is why I love this group -- they're snarky.)

Out on the runway, Heidi appears in camouflage and quickly dispenses with Jason's and Nicholas' models. That the designers have made it through two challenges, she coos, is "cause for a celebration!" She tells them that Tim will throw them a party and explain everything over poppers and pigs-in-blankets (I inferred the last part; a girl can dream.)

Tim is waiting for them at a store called PARTY GLITTERS. IT DEMANDS ALL CAPS! AND YES, GLITTERS IS PLURAL FOR NO REASON. IT IS A PARTY, PEOPLE -- SOMETIMES SHIT GETS PLURALIZED AND YOU DON'T EVEN KNOW WHY. But I digress. They are here to shop... for materials for their next challenge. Tim warns the contestants that the judges do not respond well to anything that corresponds to fabric.

Wait, time out!

You know what would be a great PR challenge? Toilet paper wedding gowns, like the kind you are forced to make at bridal showers after five glasses of champagne at 2 in the afternoon, and invariably one team turns out something that looks like a Monique Lhuillier original while your team drunkenly decides to make a bridal thong, complete with train. (Is that just me?) But listen, I am so serious. That would make an amazing challenge, from the material (toilet paper is funny AND plebian AND hard to work with) to the concept (everyone with a uterus has done this and can thus totally relate). Please make it happen, Lifetime.

Okay, time in.

The designers descend upon Party Glitters, with AJ in particular running like he is in Supermarket Sweeps (go for the hams, AJ! And the laundry detergent!!!) Tim tells AJ, "This is your challenge." That plus the fact that AJ looks to be wearing a bandana made out of caution tape makes me worried for him.

Stick-in-the-mud Gretchen interviews that the party store "is cheeseball city, and nothing about my design aesthetic is cheeseball." Oh, really, Gretchen? Then how do you explain THIS?

2010-08-19-gretchenjoneswinningdress.jpg

Mmmm, cheeseballs.

Casanova is confused by the challenge, and seems to be looking all over Party Glitters for the secret Mood annex. "I can't make a dress not from fabric," he says, finally settling on some stuffed animals and tablecloths (at this point the editors helpfully flash back to two minutes ago when Tim said no tablecloths). I don't think his confusion stems from a language barrier; I just think Casanova doesn't understand why he is being asked to make clothes out of bachelorette party penis tiaras and plastic horns. I can't blame him.

Back at Parsons, AJ and Mondo realize that they are both doing a birthday theme (well, technically Mondo is doing Quinceanera, which is basically Mexico's version of My Super Sweet Sixteen) as Christopher uneasily watches Casanova gut a litter of stuffed puppies. April opines that the unconventional challenges will make or break some people, and Andy is not so much sewing as he is painstakingly braiding hundreds of yards of ribbon, already worrying that he'll run out of time. Gretchen offers unsolicited advice to everyone in the manner of a self-righteous kindergarten teacher ("You have to prepare everything before you start working!"). No one can stop talking about how AJ must be so excited since all of his dresses look like they were made from trash bags and My Little Ponies anyway. AJ, as a result, is getting increasingly jittery.

Valerie is making a halter dress out of napkins and streamers, a design that seems to meet the bar Gretchen has so thoughtfully raised for her fellow designers. "I think Valerie will definitely be on top with me," Gretchen interviews. "But I'm a force to be reckoned with." Up until this point I held on to the possibility that Gretchen was the victim of a bad edit, but now I'm pretty sure she's just inherited the bowler hat of douchedom from Jason.

2010-08-19-PR8GretchenJonescopy.jpg

Meanwhile, Sarah is painting segments of a giant plastic palm tree in order to make a cocktail dress. Everyone warns Casanova that he's using materials that are too much like fabric, but he shrugs them off. "I don't care about what the other designers are doing, because they are into crazy things!" he says, immediately likening the work of the more adventurous designers to "circus stuff." Michael Drummond interviews that a lot of people like to throw their two cents in, trying to psych out the competition, and we are treated to a montage of Gretchen offering unsolicited advice. The show has only been on for twenty minutes but I think the editors have made their point.

Tim checks in with...

1. AJ, who has some pink wrapping paper and some vinyl slapped onto his mannequin. "This is your challenge," Tim says for the second time (and the hundredth time, if we're counting all the times other people have said it). No pressure or anything, AJ.

2. VALERIE, who is making a gorgeous garment out of black and white napkins that reminds both her and Tim of the Ascot Gavotte number from My Fair Lady. She's in like Flynn.

3. ANDY, who worries that he doesn't have enough ribbon to finish his pile of ribbon dress.

4. KRISTIN, who is totally still on the show but who I had forgotten about. Kristin is making a bohemian dress that utilizes little toys called "Animal Wooly Balls" for the waistband. The dress looks a hot mess, but we not only get to hear Tim say "I prefer the wooly balls," we also get to see him crack up over it -- Tim likes ball jokes! -- so all in all it's a win.

2010-08-19-Woolyballs.JPG

5. IVY, who is using balloons to create an intricate flower design which Tim loves but worries will take far too much time. (Michael D. observes that Ivy's dress is "like 0.5% done.")

6. CHRISTOPHER, who is making a brown paper bag-looking dress with 80s-style laser stripes that give Tim chills (the good kind, which normally come from a nice set of wooly balls. Oh, what? You know I would go there.)

7. PEACH, who is making a zebra-print skirt that Tim deems "so uptight, it's like you have a piece of coal up your rear end." His one piece of advice? "Make it into a diamond and then pull it out." OH YES HE DID.

8. MICHAEL C., who is expecting a shitty critique but whose va-va-voom gown made of red streamers earns him raves from Tim.

9. SARAH, who is trying to put together her palm tree dress. Tim loves the material, and thinks the shapes are playful, comparing it to Schiaparelli.

10. SAINT GRETCHEN, who says, when Tim congratulates her on her double win, "I'm really proud of myself." And, I mean, yes, she deserves to be. But don't say that shit out loud, girl. That's how you get a piece of coal shoved up your ass. She is making a pencil skirt out of two garlands that she hand-cut in a chevron pattern, and a faux-leather jacket made of crumpled black paper bags. It's going to be awesome, you can tell.

11. CASANOVA, who must wow the judges using only tablecloths. We don't get to see what he is actually making, and the skinned Pound Puppies are nowhere in sight.

Tim tells the designers that he is blown away by all of their work, teases that the models will be coming "with a surprise" later, and leaves to go play Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas with Nina Garcia (again, inferred.)

Sarah is really struggling with her palm tree dress. Gretchen advises her to scrap the pink pieces and focus on teal. Sarah decides that she's going to be safe and see what happens, and the background music confirms that this is a bad idea.

The models arrive, bearing gift bags full of anthrax. Kidding! They're full of ribbons and more Party Glitters crap and the "surprise" is to make a fashionable accessory. Most of the designers take this added task in stride, but Casanova once again has no clue what to do with non-fabric materials. I would say that this will bite him in the ass, but sadly these days there tends to be only one unconventional challenge per season. As we end the night, Ivy is burning her hands with a glue gun, Sarah doesn't like her dress, and Valerie worries that her skirt, which resembles a giant inverted coffee filter, is too heavy and will tear. "It is what it is what it isn't... but it is," laughs Andy, sitting amidst his sea of braided ribbons. Um... yeah.

The next morning back at Atlas we are treated to a repeat of the opening cross-cutting. "What if you win again?" Sarah asks Gretchen. "Everybody's going to hate me," she smiles, adding, "I think it'll affect the dynamic."

Meanwhile... "It's not gonna happen three times in a row!" Peach snaps in the other apartment. "It just can't."

"I can't worry about it too much," Gretchen says. "But I do think I'm going to be in the top three." Valerie, to her credit, is in good spirits, joking that if she's in the top again with Gretchen that she will be like the Susan Lucci of Project Runway.

Also: Michael D., AJ, and Andy have adorned their chalkboard with the words "TUCK IT IN, PULL IT OUT, MAKE IT WORK" and the following art:

2010-08-19-Blackboard.JPG

When AJ's nickname is "Butchie," you know you've got a room full of queens.

At Parsons, Gretchen has absolutely no self-awareness about how patronizing she can be, announcing, "Everybody, remember you have to make sure that your station is all clean today!" The editors, tired of nuance and subtlety, pan to a tiara that spells out "Bitch."

Andy is struggling to finish his dress, so Peach and April, who are finished with their looks, offer to help him. This, of course, does not escape Gretchen's watchful eye. "It's hard for me," she admits, "Because I feel like it's a time management issue." (Of course, she's right. It wouldn't come off as catty if she weren't the clear frontrunner.) Ivy is also having time management issues, and enlists her own model to cut and fold the final petals for her dress.

It's runway time! Heidi introduces MK and Nina, and then brings out special guest judge Betsey Johnson, to everyone's visible delight. (And really, it's impossible not to grin when you see Betsey Johnson. She's like your grandma dressed up for Halloween like Pizzazz from the Misfits.)

To bring us full circle back to what's really important -- i.e. C & C Music Factory -- You all want this party started, right? You all want this party started... quickly. Here we go:

__________________

AJ

2010-08-19-AJrunway.JPG

This dress pretty much perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the challenge, or, at least, the spirit of PARTY GLITTERS. In fact, this model looks like she could be a down-market 99 cent-store Brazt doll knock-off named Party Glitters. But once you look past the bright color and busy details, it's obvious that the craftsmanship of AJ's other designs is not really there. Plus, I think she has Mardi Gras beads for pubic hair.

ANDY

2010-08-19-Andyrunway.JPG

Those ribbons are fierce. I am kicking myself now for all of the Christmas wrappings I callously threw away when they could have been used to make S&M cocktail attire for needy children. But in all seriousness, this kills it.

APRIL

2010-08-19-Aprilrunway.JPG

First of all, I know the model is just supposed to be a glorified clothes hanger, but April's model has captivated me for weeks and I think I finally know what it is: she's the black Shelley Duvall. Anyway, more importantly, this dress looks like Tinker Bell covered in stalactites. I'm not a fan.

CASANOVA

2010-08-19-Casanovarunway.JPG

Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?

Loyal readers may recall a memorable garment in season 6 that led me to envision a hooker with a heart of gold (and butter) named Jiffy Pop.

Well, now I think we know what Jiffy Pop would wear to the Ascot Gravotte.

CHRISTOPHER

2010-08-19-Christopherrunway.JPG

This is the color of yeast. It looks like it got hit with shrapnel from a 1980s laser show. It is accessorized with a studded Western belt...

And yet I like it.

GRETCHEN

2010-08-19-Gretchenrunway.JPG

I acknowledge that I am predisposed to find fault with Gretchen's garment, and this is admittedly an unflattering photo. However, comma, that skirt is pure pom-pom. I'm not getting what's going on with the shirt -- it looks like the top of my 8th grade locker. And the boots are a bad choice. But I will cop to coveting the jacket. And I still think Gretchen is one of the strongest designers this season.

IVY

2010-08-19-Ivyrunway.JPG

Sigh. I love the idea behind this. The execution is impressive. The design is elegant. But... it just does not fit. It looks huge! It makes the poor model look twice as thick as she actually is, so I must deduct points.

KRISTIN

2010-08-19-Kristinrunway.JPG

This looks like wooly balls.

That was too easy. I'm sorry. How about "this puts the 'ass' in grass skirt"? No? It just looks like a child's craft project. I get that it's supposed to be messy, but damn.

MICHAEL C.

2010-08-19-MichaelCrunway.JPG

Don't cry for me, Office Depot.
The truth is I stole some Post-Its.

Dammit! That would totally work if Post-Its were red, because the top looks like a patchwork of them. I also think Elmo may have died for the skirt. But overall this gown is not only glam but really interesting. Well done, Michael C.

MICHAEL D.

2010-08-19-MichaelDrunway.JPG

Hmmmm. This is very Derelicte -- the skirt is made from those giant foil pans that can hold, like, 100 enchiladas! -- but it's not sloppy. Michael obviously had a vision. The question is, do we like the vision?

MONDO

2010-08-19-Mondorunway.JPG

I cannot resist such a peppy pink confection as this -- sure, the bodice looks a little bit like the underlying musculature from that Bodies exhibit that made the rounds last year, or maybe one of those creepy hairless cats. But it also looks like Bubble Tape. And because I am basically Homer Simpson, all I can think is, Mmmm, Bubble Tape. Don't even get me started on the cotton candy skirt.

PEACH

2010-08-19-Peachrunway.JPG

This is actually my least favorite look. What the hell is that top? It's a sheet of white paper! It looks like a placeholder for something more interesting. And the skirt is not adventurous enough -- it ends up just looking like a cheap teddy from Frederick's of Hollywood.

SARAH

2010-08-19-Sarahrunway.JPG

Oy. Somehow this entire dress looks like it's made of duct tape, which would be fine if this were the hardware store challenge. Except it still wouldn't be fine because it's ill-fitting and boring. This fact is just now dawning on the model -- look at her face. It looks like she just caught a whiff of Peach's butt diamond.

VALERIE

2010-08-19-Valerierunway.JPG

Much like Ivy's, I want to love this. I get the aesthetic, and I can see the tailoring. But the top is not flattering, at all. It widens the model's chest and shows too much skin. With that exposed side-boobage and the plunging neckline, the dress looks more slutty harlequin than Audrey Hepburn.

__________________

After the show, Heidi calls the following names: Peach, Michael C., Ivy, Kristin, Michael D., Mondo, Christopher, and April. They are all safe. (Kristin?! Judges -- are you blind?) Back in the green room, they accurately predict that Valerie, Gretchen, and Andy are the top three and the Sarah, AJ, and Casanova are in danger of being aufed. April and Christopher are rooting for Andy to win it.

The judges like Valerie's dress, citing its sophistication and beautiful cut. Betsey Johnson thinks that it's particularly useful at a dim sum party since it's, you know, made of napkins. ("I love things that do something like that!")

They adore Andy's ribbon creation (which really does look amazing from all angles). Nina calls it "remarkable," while MK says that Heidi and Rihanna would fight to wear it on the red carpet ("I saw it first!" says Heidi). Betsey has the only criticism, saying that she thinks it could use a bit more fun, and that it's too perfect.

Hey, did you know that Gretchen hand-cut her garlands into a chevron pattern? Well, she did! Nina wrote "fabulous" on her comment card and thinks it's "very now." Michael thinks Gretchen uses herself as a template and it shows (yup, that one's not gonna go to her head). Betsey says, hilariously, that it looks like Tina Turner in Dreamgirls on the bottom and Mel Gibson in Mad Max on the top. Betsey and Heidi do not love the boots.

As for the ones they didn't like...

Heidi thinks AJ's dress looks silly, and like he used everything he could find in the store. Nina calls it a "hot mess," to which AJ replies "Thank you," probably out of nervousness or just to get her to shut up. "That was not a compliment," Heidi clarifies. Project Runway: educational and entertaining.

Casanova's dress elicits the best Korsism of recent memory: "I mean, she looks like a transvestite Flamenco dancer at a funeral." They agree that the workmanship is there, but the taste level isn't. Heidi says there are just too many things going on.

Nina thinks that Sarah's dress looks like a paper cut-out, and seems too simple. Heidi wrote "sad" on her comment card. (Sad!) MK says that when a design isn't working, you have to be willing to scrap it and start over.

The designers go back into the green room while the judges deliberate and when someone asks Andy how his judging went, Gretchen starts to talk over him, giving her opinion on his dress. AJ kind of snaps at her for it, and she says "You're just being sensitive because you're on the bottom." Okay, A) that's what she said, and B) I'm pretty sure anyone who went into this episode liking Gretchen is, at this point, on the fence at best.

The remaining contestants are called back onto the runway. The first one safe is... Valerie. Always a bridesmaid, Val. Hang in there -- you'll make it! The winner is either Gretchen or Andy, which is the moment of tension that the editors have been building up to since the show's opening moments. Will Gretchen pull off an unprecedented third consecutive win? Luckily for all of us, no. Andy wins! There is much rejoicing. Gretchen is in, obviously, and they don't show her triumphant entrance backstage. Innnnnnteresting.

Of the bottom three, AJ is the first one spared, which leaves Sarah and Casanova on the chopping block. The judges thought that Casanova tried to do too much with his look and got derailed, while Sarah's was simply sad and boring. "Casanova," Heidi purrs, "You're in."

Which means Sarah is out. Aw, man, I really liked her. I like her even more for being such a classy dame when she leaves. After hugging AJ, she grins, "I just made out with your neck." Keep on keepin' on, Trost.

Next week--

Oh, hold up, yo. There are some ambulances at Parsons! WTF?

We learn from Gretchen and Valerie that Ivy passed out. She gets carted off the hospital, and that's when the episode ends. Daaaaamn, nice cliffhanger, Lifetime.

Okay, next week: Milliner Philip Treacy is a guest judge, and while I wish the designers were going to be making fabulous hats, I think they're just making dresses to go with the hats.

That recap will be up by Tuesday morning night, guys, I promise. Thanks for sticking with me.

As always, if you like these recaps, check out my blog or become a fan on Facebook (if you become a fan, you'll get instant updates as to when recaps will be posted, as well as links as soon as they are posted, so aside from shamelessly pimping myself out it really is helpful if you often have trouble finding them on HuffPo.)