Monday, November 9, 2009

Reality Showdown

I only watch 2 reality shows, and even that is probably too much. But while I'm unapologetic in my love for Top Chef, which has bounced back from its so-so Hosea season back to its tasty former self, Project Runway just continues to make me more and more embarrassed to be watching something on Lifetime. I was one of those people who said "I will never watch it on Lifetime. Clearly the change is due to get rid of all straight male viewers. And the producers of The Real World? And in LA? I'm out." But somehow I'm still watching it, and it just goes to show that you should always listen to your first instinct.

When the first episode ended without a single breakout contestant I could remember, it was a bad sign. When Michael and Nina disappeared after the second episode, that was a worse sign. When Ramon, one of the few somewhat talented designers this season that made my early top 3 prediction, got kicked off way early, it got even worse. And somehow we made it to the top 5 with two obvious deadweight contestants (who thankfully were sent home), and nobody all that worthy continuing into the final three.

So what went wrong? So many things. The erratic judging has to make it to the top of the list. Without consistent judges, good people (Ramon, Shirin) got sent home for being unfortunate enough to be declared the glorious fuck-up of the week while Christopher kept scraping by at the bottom with no one to notice. Well, except Heidi, who seems to yield more power than ever this year, and that doesn't seem to be a good thing. Plus, the show's just not as fun without Michael Kors comparing everything to '80s movies and Nina's various facial expressions. By the time the judging panel was all pregnant women, it was clear I was watching Lifetime.

But even getting past the judging, the contestants weren't all that great to start. And the new producers could care less about what they design. Do you realize how little actual sewing and constructing we've seen this season? Yet how many times have we heard Irina trash talk someone or Althea gossip in a corner? That's what happens when you get the team behind The Real World - it's all drama, no design. Obviously people are watching for some drama, but when Irina's confessionals start making up half the show, it's gone too far.

Good news is, it's almost over. Just the finale to go, then next year the promise is back in New York and back with Michael and Nina. It's not even like this season made particularly good use of LA - just a lot of lame celebrity judges and excited talk about "red carpet." I guess I'm rooting for Carol Hannah by default, but it's really not even worth the effort of picking someone to root for. I'll give Runway a break and call this year a failed experiment. But if next year starts following the same pattern, it's Auf Wiedersehen.

In contrast, Top Chef this season has been everything Project Runway hasn't. While on PR it was tough to see who would come out ahead as nobody was all that good, Top Chef had a clear top 4 from the very beginning: Kevin, Jennifer, and the Voltaggios, who have literally taken every elimination win this season between the four of them. Now, Jennifer's had a rough few weeks, and if she was on this year's Project Runway she definitely would have been cut, but the TC judges recognized her overall performance and let her stay. Which will make for a more interesting finale when they all finally get to face each other down (unless something goes wrong this week, which it very well could).

This past week's Reunion Dinner was admittedly kind of lame, but it was airing opposite the final game of the World Series, so they get a pass. Especially after a Restaurant Week challenge filled with inter-Voltaggio drama, Robin annoying everyone, and a group declared the best Restaurant Week team ever. See, the drama on Top Chef may feel just as manufactured and over-emphasized as on Project Runway, but at the end of the day, the food still wins out.

I would be satisfied if any of the top 4 win this year, which makes the chance of a Hosea repeat all the less likely. So yes, I like food a whole lot better than fashion, and I would prefer Top Chef's worst season (5) to Project Runway's best (2). But now that each is well into its 6th year, it's clear which one's got longevity and which may have finally become out of season.

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