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Project Runway Finale: Part One Recap

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It's the 13th episode, y'all, and almost Halloween. And things are getting scary up in this competition.

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But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Previously on: Mayor Bloomberg emerged from his gilded Hobbit Hole long enough to introduce a challenge about New York City. The designers were tasked with creating a look inspired by a landmark, and Michael C. decided to literally reinterpret the Statue of Liberty's robe, which somehow did not backfire and in fact got him a spot in the final four. Andy made a Chinese-inspired dominatrix cocktail dress that was supposed to evoke Central Park. (It didn't, but he was in.) Mondo, who is the best person in the world, was obviously in. Gretchen struggled with sad separates inspired by The Commodore's classic 1977 funk track "Brick House" the Lower East Side, but ultimately April's same old take on asymmetrical black got her sent home.

We begin on the runway at Parsons, since no one wants to see Gretchen flat-ironing her hair alone as she gives herself Stuart Smalley affirmations. Heidi congratulates the final four, but reminds them that only three will show at Fashion Week. In the meantime, they'll have $9,000 and six weeks to create collections back at home.

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The wad of cash makes Gretchen verklempt, but Andy shrugs it off, because he is a secret baller.

Tim tells them that before long they'll hear a knock, knock, knock on their door and it will be him, ready to critique their work and maybe also jump on their trampolines. (P.S. How excited would you be to open your door and see Tim Gunn there? Now that Ed McMahon's dead, he should totally take over for Publisher's Clearinghouse.)

Then we have the traditional "Goodbye, Atlas" montage in which the contestants say poignant things while dragging rolling suitcases out a revolving door.

Mondo says that he felt like the odd man out at the beginning, but now knows there is a bigger plan for him. "This is my dream," he says, "And it's gonna come true one way or another."

Gretchen says that she knows in her heart that she has the talent to be at Fashion Week. Michael interviews that he doesn't want to say that he has the last laugh, but then busts out a really unnerving serial killer cackle (see screen grab above).

Andy says, "I have a lot of beaches to go to!" Oh, Andy. You're lucky this isn't ANTM, or you would have been out on a personality clause weeks ago. (Sorry, that was mean. Andy has personality, he just doesn't show it as... aggressively as the others. Andy is like one of those Zen rock gardens coworkers give you when you're stressed out, or when they don't know what to get you for Christmas because they can't even really remember your name).

But perhaps Andy is so placid because he lives amidst the stunning vistas of Waianae, Hawaii, to which we are magically transported for the first home visit. Tim's fancy shoes sit on a bench, as Andy lives on some kind of fish farm that necessitates Wellies. Andy interviews that his family are first-generation immigrants from Laos, and that growing up he had to work the land and feed the fish. And not rich people fish in tanks with tiny treasure chests -- we're talking mean-looking catfish, in fresh water with long, razor-like fins and faces like "old Chinese men," as Andy says. Tim's reaction to the catfish is priceless:

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"I've never seen a Chinese man look that unattractive! Except maybe for Carrot Top."

P.S. Andy's mom is the cutest thing ever. Andy gets all weepy talking about how much she's sacrificed.

Tim and Andy then retreat to Andy's basement-like workspace, complete with creepy decapitated mannequins:

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Andy's nervous because even though he has only two weeks left before Fashion Week, he's just starting his collection -- mostly because he was waiting for custom-woven fabrics from Laos. He was inspired by a place called Buddha Park, and also his elephant-herder grandfather.

Since he had no fabric, he focused his energies on making a series of metal headpieces with lofty symbolism ("This one I wanted to look as if her tears were floating away from her.") They are incredibly twee, and Tim seems unimpressed. "You better have apparel," he warns.

What Andy has are sketches of rompers galore. Which reminds me:

Dear rompers,

You've had your fun. For over two years, you've tricked grown women into dressing like turn-of-the-century toddlers. You've convinced the populace that somehow it is OK to have to get fully naked in order to urinate. It is time for you to die now. I'm sure Satan will take good care of you.

Love,
Una

P.S. Please take jumpsuits and harem pants with you.

Good luck with your Laotian devil clothes, Andy! Now we're off to... Palm Desert, CA, to visit Michael Costello.

Tim meets Michael's boyfriend (well, I guess that clears that up) Richard and heads off to MC's design space to find no fewer than 18 completed looks, all inspired by sunsets and feathers (and, based on the palette, either caramel or newborn feces). As if he is reading my mind, Tim cries, "It's like design diarrhea!", his hands fluttering about his face, possibly in an attempt to shield his eyes from the glare coming off of the satin. He tells Michael to stop making new looks and to focus his attention on perfecting what he's got.

Then there is a confessional meal with a few gays and MC's son, Giovanni, in which MC reveals that his parents don't support him because he's not married to a woman (apparently Richard outed him in 2007). Sad! But I still want Michael to go home.

Next, Tim is off to Denver to visit Mondo, who in less than 48 hours will be crowned our winner if Santa got my letter.

Mondo lives in a colorful little Pee-Wee's Playhouse of an apartment, the kind of place that always stocks Afro wigs, just in case.

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Because you never know when you might need to impersonate Foxy Brown... or Mr. Kotter.

"One day you're in, and probably for the next few years you're out," Mondo interviews (which is a much truer, but more depressing, take on Heidi's catchphrase), so he has to make the most of this opportunity.

Mondo shows Tim his inspiration board, which is half creepy vintage Mexican circuses and half Day of the Dead. While he's using plenty of prints, Mondo is erring on the side of neutral colors, with the exception of a pink shirt with shoulder pom-poms that Tim likens to "teen pajamas." Ruh-roh! The rest of Mondo's collection is awesome, though, so we can all unclench.

Tim dines with Mondo, his boyfriend, his mom, his sister, and the secret Mexican love child of Wilford Brimley and Jerry Garcia, aka Mondo's adorable dad.

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They talk about how un-macho Mondo was as a child despite their best efforts, and Mondo reveals that they forced him to play baseball in order to take piano lessons. "I was a terrible shortstop," he interviews, in a totally un-saccharine "It Gets Better" moment. "But I was really good at playing piano. You might doubt that you're cool because you draw or you paint and you're not out playing baseball. You are cool... it just might take a little while."

Mondo
Myspace Glitter Graphics

TEAM MONDO 4EVA.

Tim's final stop is in Portland, OR, to see Gretchen. Before Tim arrives, we see Gretchen and her mom moving boxes in what looks like a pretty spare, makeshift apartment, and Gretchen interviews that when she came home her relationship failed. "I'm broke, busted, and have put everything into my dreams," she says. I'm starting to feel sorry for her, you guys. I really hope this isn't the producers trying to turn her into a dark horse.

As soon as Tim shows up Gretchen tells him that everything has crumbled around her, and he tells her that heartbreak was what led him to New York; otherwise he might never have left Washington. On the one hand I feel for Gretchen, but the last thing she needs is another excuse to compare herself to a phoenix rising from the ash. Anyway.

Gretchen's collection is inspired by rural cultures around the world, or, in her words, "tribal in a sophisticated way." (Not like those actual tribespeople, who wouldn't know handwoven chevron if it bit them in the ass.) She says she's taking risks, like doing leather and knitwear for spring. Tim holds up a pair of knit shorts resembling a reusable diaper. "You know what I'm going to say about these," he sighs wearily, but Gretchen protests, "It's purely because it's natural." She's made a bunch of chevron-shaped jewelry to go with her safari-esque clothes. Tim seems impressed, and G interviews that while she doesn't know what the other designers are making, she thinks her work is "worthy of a win."

Then Tim, Gretchen, and her mom get drunk on mimosas and make fun of Gretchen's borderline personality disorder. Good times!

Flash forward two weeks, and we're back in NYC at the Hilton. Mondo arrives first, and tries to scare Michael Costello by jumping up from behind a bed. "Your pants scare me," MC quips. They hug.

Andy is next, sporting a long, horse-like ponytail that MC compares to The Last of the Mohicans, or Pocahontas meets Naomi Campbell: "Unbeweavable!"

When Gretchen shows up, the boys seem genuinely thrilled to see her and vice versa -- call me sappy, but I'm actually genuinely touched by how much the contestants this season have bonded, especially considering the fact that for a big chunk of the season most of them didn't like each other. Either that or they're all exceptionally fake, which is almost just as impressive.

Tim breaks up the lovefest when he barges in holding the velvet bag, which turns out to be a total decoy. Instead of portending pain and suffering and random chance, it's filled with free-vacation vouchers from various Hilton franchises. The designers all look like they've just won the Showcase Showdown on The Price is Right, which, bt-dubs, is another hosting job Tim should consider once this cash cow keels over.

The next morning, everyone assembles at "the Piperlime workspace," a new location, to unpack their work. Watching MC unfurl some kind of silk petticoat, Mondo snarks, "The judges love Michael Costello and his "effortless dress," but how effortless can a gown be when you put 20,000 ruffles on it?"

Tim comes in to announce that the designers will be presenting three looks to the judges. "Two of the looks will come from your collection," Tim says, "and one you will design over the next two days." No one looks shocked, to their collective credit; they've clearly seen this show before.

Gretchen decides she wants to add a casual piece "as opposed to how sophisticated the other works are." (Aaaaaaaaaaand this is why I can't not stay mad at Gretchen.) Andy needs a "wow" look. Mondo can't really think of what else he wants to show, but settles on a funky, geometric colorblock jersey dress.

Andy painstakingly pleats yards of green fabric as Gretchen wonders aloud if it's "fall-apart hour yet." Meanwhile, Mondo hates his jersey dress and decides at the last minute to scrap it and start over on Day 2. "Let's head back to the Hilton," he calls to the others. "Last one there is a lousy designer!"

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I'll let the photo finish speak for itself.

The next morning, Tim comes to check in. He asks Michael which two looks he's showing, and Michael says he can't decide. "Extracting two looks shouldn't be that big a challenge," Tim scolds gently. "I'm worried about you." He's not at all worried about Gretchen, however, telling her that she could probably pick any two looks and have continuity. Tim also loves Mondo's new design and Andy's pleats. As he leaves he tells Gretchen, Andy, and Mondo to "carry on and finish your fabulous trajectories." As for Michael C.? "Don't choke!" Tim cries.

Understandably, Michael C. is stressed out that Tim specifically told him not to choke. Because the reflex of a choker when told not to choke is to (first probably vomit on his or her own legs but then) choke. So, really, Tim is entirely to blame for what happens next if you think about it. Well, either Tim or the horrible designs.

There's no guest judge this week, just a very tired-looking Michael Kors and a smug, Restylane- and/or pregnancy-plumped Nina Garcia. And just as I was getting used to popping some acetaminophen and phoning this part in, I have to break down nine looks. Damn. Here goes.

_________

ANDY

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(New look)

I do not like the pixie antennae, and I say that first because I honestly think the head pieces take away from the clothes. I get that there's an element of showmanship necessary in a presentation of Fashion Week proportions, and I appreciate that Andy tried, but pairing such simple looks with the headwear equivalent of furious jazz hands makes it hard to see the clothes for what they are. In my finale show teaser I wrote that the head pieces looked like reindeer antlers or one of those cheap earring trees you can sometimes find at Claire's Accessories, and I stand by that. Except now I also think they look like they're made out of those cheap Christmas garlands you can sometimes find on sale at Walgreen's.

Anyway. Here's what I think of Andy's outfits, from top to bottom:

I have been vocal about my hatred of rompers, and I still hate them, but some I can live with. An unflattering, ruffled silver romper, however, I cannot abide. It makes her look thick and boxy, and kind of like the Tin Man's slutty cousin.

The bikini just worries me. I've never seen something so skin-baring look less sexy (oh, wait...) Also, is that little gauze cape thing detachable? If not, the wearer runs the risk of accidentally anchoring herself to a coral reef and drowning a fabulous death. And why is there what looks like a tiny picket sign rising from the model's pubic mound? Is her hoo-ha protesting? Because if so, I'm with the vagina on this one.

The newest look is my favorite, but is granted no favors by the tinsel swirlie. It's interesting and beautiful and I will forgive the mother-of-the-bride effect of the silk dupioni. It's still not enough to make me root for Andy, though.

GRETCHEN

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(New look)

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The casual look she made in two days could look like a cigarette ash-colored potato sack but Gretchen makes it fun, I think, even though it comes equipped with a little vestigial tail that reconnects to the base of the spine in back.

The second look, or, as I like to call it, Seizure Safari, is kind of charming in an (Urban) Out(fitters) of Africa way, but lo! What is that strange pink rope belt? Oh, sorry, that's just the model's muffin top. The model's. Muffin top. Case closed.

As for the last look, well, at least we finally know where Carmen Sandiago is: dancing at the Bada Bing!

MICHAEL C.

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(New look)

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There is a process by which candy bars get their chocolate coating. It's called enrobing, and Steve Almond writes about it in almost pornographic detail in his excellent book Candyfreak. Anyway, what I'm saying is, I want to lick Michael's first model. I bet she tastes like Gloppy from Candy Land's molasses swamp.

I do not want to lick MC's second model, because her skirt reminds me of dog hair, or maybe the scalp of Ringo Starr circa 1967. I can take the silks and satins, or the beading, or the feathers, but when they all collide in one dress all I can think of is Nomi Malone mispronouncing "Versace" and then doing some horrific dance in which she displaces both hips and kicks another showgirl in the face.

The model in the third look is wearing a shirt made from what looks like Mr. Snuffleupagus' eyelashes, as if she is a Last of the Mohicans-style disco Muppet assassin. Needless to say, the vagina picket line on this one is out the door and around the corner.

MONDO

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(New look)

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As you all well know, I have an extreme bias in this competition. I've even printed up special papers for Friday morning:

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... so you'll understand why, even though Mondo's first look involves two-tone, tassled peep-toe booties (a crime against nature, and logic, in my opinion), high-waisted shorts, a mix of graphic prints that would make M.C. Escher stroke out, and a twee headpiece, I can't help but love it. It's just so... polished. Mondo's is the only collection that looks like it's Fashion Week as opposed to amateur hour. And even though it's kooky and over-the-top, the individual pieces are wearable. (Okay, not the peep-toe booties. Or the head bow. But the rest of it.)

I love the second look, too, although I will say that not everyone looks good in a boat neck and that I defy anyone to find a bra that would work with that shirt. Don't wear it anywhere cold, is all I'm saying -- if not for the sake of your nipples, then for your toes (if it's cold enough for boots, it is too cold for bare toes! Oh, fashion, sometimes you are so crazy-making!)

I'm not feeling the third look, mostly because to pull it off in real life you'd have to be impossibly tall and thin, and even then you'd run the risk of looking like a black and white lava lamp. But there's still something fierce about it. Oh, Mondo. You complete me.

_________

One by one, the judges bring out the designers' models and critique the looks. Mondo is first. MK loves the skirt from the new outfit and the top from the first outfit. Heidi also loves the skirt from the new look, as well as the polka dot dress. Nina praises Mondo's "boldness and theatricality" but doesn't love the dress as much. She worries that if the clothes are too wacky people won't take him seriously. MK kind of agrees, referencing the models' "cupcake hats."

Andy is up next. All of the judges are surprised that the pleated green look is the new look; they had assumed it was the bizarre bikini. MK thinks the green dress sings, and is sharp but romantic. Nina, however, is concerned that the trio looks "bare" and questions whether Andy has range. Andy admits that he didn't show a ton of range, but that he didn't want to give the judges "all the goodies" up front. They all throw their hands up and basically say, yes, of course you should have, moron, but I see Andy's point. If you show your most dramatic, showstopping dress before the Fashion Week show, there's not much left to look forward to. Heidi thinks the bikini is a "throwaway piece" and also isn't sure how she feels about the headpieces -- does she like them or not? (Nina shakes her head no.) MK tells Andy that styling is crucial, and that what you leave out (cough -- headpieces! -- cough) is as important as what you leave in.

Now for Michael C. MK likes the new gown because it looks effortless, while Heidi's favorite piece is the Snuffy eyelash vest. Nina is amazed that Michael used the same color palette for everything, to which he responds, "I wanted it to look like a collection." Oh, man. Poor little guy. MK is admirably non-mocking as he explains that a collection needs to tell a story, not just contain pieces that look similar. In the same vein, Nina has to explain that a "wow" dress need not be covered in sequins and feathers -- the point is to create something breathtaking, not heavy-handed.

Gretchen kind of sets herself up when she ends her opening spiel with "I wanted to pique your interest." Nina flat out says, "My interest was not piqued," calling the clothes "crunchy granola" and wondering where the Birkenstocks are. Heidi disagrees; she likes the clothes but thinks the models need to be in high heels so that they're "sassier." MK says that the problem is it doesn't look expensive. When Gretchen protests that she does have some evening wear in her line, MK laughs, "I just don't get how you guys edited today!" I'll grant that a few -- especially Gretchen and Andy -- made kind of underwhelming choices, but again, the whole point of the fabled "finale dress" -- the most theatrical look of a collection, which generally closes a show -- is that it's a surprise. So I can understand their reasoning.

The judges deliberate -- a rehash of the previous scene but with more eye rolling -- and then call the gang back out.

Heidi tells them they should all be proud and have all grown as designers. But the first one going to Fashion Week is -- duh -- MONDO, because he is like 5,000 times better than the other three. Even Heidi cries "Yay!" as he runs behind the scrim.

Gretchen is also going to Fashion Week. I'm happy for her, if only because the success preserves the deluded self-image necessary to maintain her sanity and keep her from snapping like a rubber band and climbing into a tree with an assault rifle. As she runs offstage victoriously, Gretchen lays hands on Michael and Andy -- not hugging them, exactly, but kind of high-fiving their sternums. When she enters the lounge, the exchange between her and Mondo goes like so:

"Yes!"
"Yes."
"Girl."
"Girl!"

It's like a Milli Vanilli chorus.

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Girl, you know it's true.

Back on the runway, Andy and Michael are left to sweat it out. The judges think Andy did himself a disservice by showing the looks he chose, while Michael's monotone color palette worried them and left them wondering if he had anything new to say.

In the end, they decided, he didn't -- Andy is going to Fashion Week.

Michael's face crumples. Andy hugs him and then goes backstage to hug and sob with the other finalists.

But MC can't seem to handle the crushing loss. He just stands there, staring at the floor and grimacing. Heidi tries to buck him up and send him on his way, but he just kind of slumps along step by step, stopping to sigh in anguish. The judges clearly don't know what to do, and I'm not sure what to make of it. Part of me wonders if Michael C.'s emotional displays are not kind of, well, fake. Not that he doesn't actually feel sad, mind you, just that he overacts everything he feels. Or maybe he's in a kind of arrested emotional development -- his facial expressions and behavior as he left the stage reminded me of an eight-year-old child. Or maybe his bravado throughout the season was all an act and losing in the final round just broke him. I don't know. I feel like this deserves a pictorial but I feel that would be unkind, even for me.

When he gets to the lounge, it gets much, much worse. He bursts in with balled-up fists pressed against his eyes and starts crying about how he can't take it and he doesn't know what to tell his parents. Again, the cynic in me wonders how anyone can go onto a reality show in which they have a one in 16 chance of winning and not accept that they will in all likelihood lose, but making it almost all the way must get a person's hopes up. I do feel for Michael, because it sounds like his parents are dicks who don't accept him (he even makes it sound like they'll coerce him into getting married again and leaving Richard, which is weird), but his exit is so melodramatic I wouldn't be surprised if he got some telenovela work from this.

"The way Michael is reacting to the elimination... worries me," Gretchen interviews. And for once I am totally with her.

But! Tim comes in and makes things better, and by the time Michael goes to clean up his space he's (mostly) dry-eyed and telling the others to "give 'em fucking hell!" When he goes to hug Mondo, he whispers, "Take it home." YES.

As he packs up his things, Michael reflects on his tumultuous journey. "I learned that friends are hard to come by and hard to make, and that it hurts to say goodbye to them," he says. Everything Michael Costello needed to know he learned in kindergarten on Project Runway, y'all.

Next week (erm, tomorrow -- sorry for the late post, guys): Finale! But also... reunion? Gah, I don't want to look at Ivy's stupid face anymore. Then it's Lincoln Center and Jessica Simpson and "the toughest decision in ProjRun history." Really? Because I thought we had this wrapped up about five weeks ago. Please, God, don't let Mondo be the Daniel Vosovic of Season 8. LET'S FINISH THIS BITCH.

So. Speaking of tomorrow's finale. My plan is to live-blog it as it airs on the East Coast (I will put up a spoiler alert for West Coasters) -- just my stream-of-consciousness reactions, no bells or whistles or photos -- and then do a more thorough follow-up recap to be posted Monday or Tuesday of next week. I figure why not go out with a bang. (I'm sticking with my decision to make this my last season recapping the show, but I'll never say never to writing about Project Runway in some form at some point in the future.)

See you for the finale, and as always, if you like these recaps, check out my blog or become a fan on Facebook.