Project Runway 4: Handicapping Episode 5

>> Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Hello hypochondriacs! Dr. Gratz here with this week's Project Runway prognosis. This is the week when all those hints and teasers about Jack's medical condition will finally be answered. Oh--and apparently the contestants will also be asked to design and sew something as a subplot. How novel!

I joke about Jack's health only because we know he's alive and well. Very well, it would seem, as he's currently dating one of our other favorite reality celebs--Dale Levitski from Top Chef Season 3!

Good on you, Jack. We really should have seen this coming though, as Jack listed Dale Levitski as one of the people he'd most like to meet on his MySpace page. (Yes, we saw that, you sly devil! And it's still there--along with Jack's e-mail and post office box address in case Dale wanted to get in touch with him!) Looks like Dale really got his mojo back during Top Chef 3--and then some--after breaking up with his ex. Revenge is a dish best served hot and beefy, isn't it Dale?

But I digress.

The build-up for this episode began during the season teaser PR gave us at the end of Episode One, showing a crying Jack standing with Tim, who tells the other contestants that Jack has a "very big announcement." Cut to expressions of shock and sorrow. Given Jack's HIV-positive status, speculation ever since has been that his illness would manifest itself while he was on the show, forcing him to quit.

One of this week's official preview videos proves the speculation was only half right. It is a medical issue that Jack will face this week, but he tells us right up front it has nothing to do with him being HIV-positive--explaining that his immune system is not suppressed. But we'll get to what he doesn't have in a moment. What he does have is Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, or "MRSA" for short. If you watch the Google preview video, you will hear Jack say what sounds like "mursa" on the phone to his doctor, which is the commonly spoken word for the MRSA acronym.

MRSA, according to Wikipedia,
is a resistant variation of the common bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. It's also sometimes referred to as the "superbug," as the combination of natural selection and over-prescribed antibiotic treatments has created a bacterium that's stronger than anything we have to fight it with. (See? And you thought you were just tuning in to hear about darts and pleats.) Translation: the thing is as tough to kill as that shape-shifting metal robot in Terminator 2.

There are two strains of MRSA, one you typically get in hospitals where lots of people are sick and lots of people have open wounds, and one found in communities where sick people and wounded people aren't usually in the room next door. Strangely, it's the communal variety that's the most dangerous. We don't know from the brief clip which strain Jack has or where he got it, but if it's the communal variety there's more of a danger other people working in very close proximity could get infected.

Wikipedia does say that "current US guidance does not require workers in general workplaces (not healthcare facilities) with MRSA infections to be routinely excluded from going to work," although it also notes that "workers with active infections should be excluded from activities where skin-to-skin contact is likely to occur until their infections are healed." Let's see, does carrying Christian around on your back in the workroom count? And when the presentation of symptoms can include things like "pus-filled boils," "rashes," and can lead to "flesh-eating pneumonia," I think Jack and the producers probably decided to err on the side of caution.

As to what Jack doesn't have: he doesn't have AIDS. Jack has said that he is HIV-positive, but that's not the same thing. Most HIV cases left untreated eventually lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), but treatments with retrovirals (i.e. that big bag of pill bottles Jack has with him) have radically increased the life-expectancy for HIV victims. People with weakened immune systems caused by AIDS are at greater risk for catching MRSA, but from what Jack's told us there's no connection between his HIV and his MRSA. The guy's just incredibly unlucky.

And so are his fans. While some viewers have noted that Jack's condition may not actually mean he has to leave the show for good, I think the clips are a prelude to Jack announcing that he is withdrawing from the competition. He's got his hand to his nose all morning before meeting Heidi on the runway, and he wonders aloud if he can sew with one hand. Contagious or not, Jack's affliction would make it incredibly difficult for him to produce under the kind of pressure and deadlines required by Project Runway. Given the nature of his medical condition and his diminished facility, I'm predicting that Jack tearfully withdraws himself from Project Runway in Week Five.

There's been some talk about other in-season casualties on Project Runway and sister show Top Chef getting medical treatment and returning, but staph infections aren't broken toes. These things take time to battle. Just think of the last time you got antibiotics for something. If Jack is out for a week or more, how can he realistically return? By that time the other designers may have tackled two, three, maybe four more challenges. Could the producers realistically plug him back in, essentially giving him a pass through those elimination rounds? I don't want to sound insensitive to Jack's condition, but it would be like letting a golfer skip nine holes in a tournament and jump back in for the last few holes at the end with his same score. I think once you miss one challenge, you're done.

The other buzz has been about Tim's second announcement. All we know is that he has something more to lay on the designers, and we get Kevin (I think,) saying, oh crap, what now? I confess, I don't have a great prediction for this announcement. Some commenters over at Blogging Project Runway surmise that Tim's about to announce something positive, not negative--like the return of a formerly eliminated contestant to take Jack's place. Chris, perhaps?

There is some precedent for this. During Top Chef Season 2, Cynthia was replaced with the most recently eliminated contestant when she quit to be with her sick father. And of course in Project Runway 3 Angela and Vincent were brought back--but as a preplanned stunt to include all former challenge winners in the fight for the final three spots.

Frankly, I just don't see this happening. The Top Chef replacement was done to even out a team challenge, and this week on PR it's individual designers. And why Chris and not Carmen? Or Marion? Or Simone? Yes, Chris was the last person eliminated and thus made it farther than the rest, but none of them won an elimination challenge like Angela or Vincent. And how would the producers know that Chris was going to be such a fan favorite?

As far as I can tell, the teasers have never shown us anything past this episode. Is it because they're hiding Chris's return? No. Wishful thinking. I don't think Chris' return is the second announcement--although I'd certainly be happy to see that. At this point though that announcement could be just about anything. Something like a guest mentor for the design challenge?

Yes, believe it or not, there's actually going to be a design challenge this week--and despite most of the previews focusing on Jack and his tearful revelation, we do have a few clues of what's to come. On the MSN preview, Jillian tells us "the shirt I was left with had a lot of seaming and darts," and that instead she's found the same color fabric and will make a dress out of it. A recycle challenge! They don't go to Goodwill, as I had once hoped, but the designers do appear to be working to incorporate existing pieces of clothing into new designs.

From the sound of things, the contestants can take the clothes apart and reuse them, but Gratz Industries' resident sewing expert Wendi explains that this would be very difficult in Jillian's case, if not impossible, due to excessive seaming and darts. If she took the shirt apart she wouldn't be left with much of anything to work with. And are those more overalls that Ricky is turning inside out in one of the clips? They're jeans at the very least, and he's probably tracing the pattern or getting ready to rip out the seams.

During the mad scramble at Mood, Tim tells Steven that he's got one of the toughest challenges with a wedding dress. Steven's buying lots of black stretch fabric because, as he says, the fabric from the dress is "awful." He's going to use that awful wedding dress fabric as trim instead, conjuring memories of Laura's "shorten it and give her a feather duster and she looks like a French maid" disaster from Season 3.

The other clue we have is from Tim, who tells the designers that their looks must meet their clients' needs while reflecting their personality as designers. That's clients, plural, torpedoing a clever theory on the BPR boards that one model will come out wearing many layers of clothes which the designers get in random order. I like better the idea another commenter had: that this may be a challenge to make dresses for "Dress for Success," an organization that helps low-income women get the clothes they need to wear for professional office jobs. On the DVD extras to PR Season 3, we learn this is an organization second runner-up Laura Bennett's been working to support. Will the challengers have to take donations and make something fashionable and workday-wearable out of them? Will Laura Bennett make an appearance as a guest mentor like she did on Tim Gunn's Guide to Style? Could be.

Speaking of, might Bravo try to cross-pollinate with Tim Gunn's Guide to Style by having the women he's helped come on in lieu of this week's models? They could bring with them the relics from their closets that Tim has made them throw out, but which still hold particular significance to them. By reworking the clothing item, they can wear their nostalgia anew without sporting designs as old as their memories. That may be a little too much Tim Gunn though, and Bravo and the producers seem to really be limiting his screen time, perhaps for fear of Tim Gunn over-exposure. Is that why the very popular Tim's Take blog wasn't re-upped this season until fans protested?

Finally, the only people we see on the runway in the teasers for the grilling/rewarding are Jillian, Kevin, and Steven. Steven we know is putting together a black and white dress with wedding dress ruffles. Sounds awfully much like a French maid's outfit to me. I'm going to say it's Steven who's getting the pointy end of Nina Garcia's stick there. But wait--Nina Garcia is channeling Michael Kors! She says a dress makes someone look like "a French maid--or like she's going to a funeral," which sounds exactly like Kors' description of Laura Bennett's Season 3 couture disaster.

The only other dress we get specifics on is one Michael describes as "a little too Shirley MacLaine/hooker with a heart of gold." (I looked all over for pictures, but alas, nothing.) A short dress that Jillian didn't quite pull off? But Jillian has immunity, so why would she be on the runway for a lashing? Perhaps just to say "if not for last week, you'd be out" Daniel Vosovic-style, but perhaps not. We also see Kevin on the runway, looking amused or chagrined--it's tough to tell which. To me it looks like it's funny "ouch," not funny "ha-ha."

Given how little we know and how little of the actual challenge we see I don't have much to go on this week, but here are my fearless predictions anyway. I think Kevin and Steven will be among the bottom three this week (along with who--Ricky? Again?) and I'm going to learn my Chris lesson and pay attention to who's getting the loser edit. I think that's Steven. He's already getting a lot of screen time in what little we have. We hear about his fabric choices at Mood, and Tim's already expressing his concerns for him and we're not even back to the workroom. My prescription: Steven will be auf'd in Week Five.

As for the winners, well, this feels like a real crap shoot. Assuming Jillian isn't on the runway as one of the bottom three, she's one of the top three. (And even if she's on the bottom she has immunity from last week, so she's not going home yet.) Who else will be in the top three? I'm going to play it conservative here and say Rami and Victorya. They're both more mainstream designers who can deliver something everyday but fashionable for a client--although I don't want to see another short dress from Victorya. So who wins? Take two of these and call me in the morning--I'm calling the first back-to-back win of the season! I predict Jillian will win her second elimination challenge in a row in Week Five, making her a strong contender for Bryant Park.

For those playing along on Fantasy Runway and looking for a little help, here are my answer for the trivia question and my guess for who will win "Best Hair Concept."

This week's question is, "In Season 1, somebody's child's photograph was defaced. Whose was it?" The answer of course: Wendy Pepper. It never was revealed during the show or the reunion episode who drew all over her little kid's picture, but I can reveal to you now the real culprit: it was me.

Best hair design? Let's say Elisa this week. Perhaps she'll introduce us to how hair is styled on Planet Happiness, where all the product is organic and comes imbued with Vidal Sassoon's life essence.

Which as I write that sounds really, really nasty.

There you go. All better now. Please see the receptionist on your way out to schedule your next appointment!


Anonymous,  December 12, 2007 at 3:51 AM  

All my friends and I are major Jack fans and we don't know if we will keep watching if he leaves....Do you think he will come back next season? How will the little pocket gay get around? Love your blog - you guys have some great ideas.

Sue,  December 12, 2007 at 3:53 AM  

I heart Jack - please don't leave me with boring Jillian, pompous Rami and wacked out Elisa. Not only are you a great designer but total eye candy too.

Ms. Bean December 12, 2007 at 7:35 AM  

Okay, I'm hoping you redeem yourself after last week's performance!

I'm so sad Jack's gone. I really hope they bring Chris back because there's no one else to root for in this bunch.

So sad...I never thought PR could bore me but this season's emphasis on drama over design is losing my interest quickly.

Alan December 12, 2007 at 7:58 AM  

Yeah, I botched it last week calling Chris to win and he was auf'd. Talk about wishful thinking . . .

Jyesika December 12, 2007 at 11:07 AM  

So, do you think we should vote "Jack" for an auf on fantasy runway or Steven? If we vote for Jack will this not earn any points because he wasn't eliminated from the runway proper, or will we get points because he is no longer on the show?

Jane December 12, 2007 at 11:43 AM  

"...hooker with a heart of gold" is from the 1963 film Irma la Douce.

Lilithcat December 12, 2007 at 12:21 PM  

Dress for Success is also the charity which receives the "giveaway" clothes from Tim's show.

Tbone December 12, 2007 at 2:38 PM  

What really scares me is that I am in complete agreement with the GI prediction this week, even for best hair!

My biggest question is whether or not there will be a double elimination, Jack plus one? I think Jack is a safe auf pick as far as Fantasy Runway is concerned.

And I also agree that if there is second auf, Steven is the prime suspect. The brief focus on Jillian's fabric selection at Mood is reason enough for me to give her the nod for the win.

The TV Guide episode description mentions something about a "seamless transformation" regarding the challenge. This is definitely a 'make something new out of something old' challenge.

No clue who the clients are though! Friends, relatives, everyday people, Bravo execs?

Thanks for your excellent work on these posts, Alan. They are becoming a highlight of my Wednesdays!

tundrababe,  December 12, 2007 at 3:24 PM  

Wow. I thought I obsessed over this one! I don't hold a candle to you.

I'm with you pretty much all of this. However, there was a big rift concerning Tim's Guide to Style and the Weinstein's. They didn't want him making it and fought him on it. He wasn't allowed to mention Project Runway in his book, and he wasn't allowed to have the same people who work on PR work on his show. I think this probably has something to do with Tim's Take being gone. I don't think his show is going to cross-pollinate with PR. That makes the Dress for Success theory a bit less feasible.

Could the women they're designing for be pregnant?

I think the Shirley MacClaine line refers to the film Sweet Charity (1969). That film had a lot of flashy outfits (and she dreamed of being a secretary, which would fit in with your Dress for Success theory).

Laura K December 12, 2007 at 4:21 PM  

Hi Alan - thanks for your great post. I appreciate the clear explanation of Jack's apparent medical condition.

If Tbone agrees with your picks, then you MUST be onto something because "Tbone is never wrong."

Many of our readers are wondering if Jack is off PLUS another designer.

I don't know the answer to this, but I do know for sure that the challenges are lined up in advance and that companies pay to "sponsor" various challenges. (Nothing wrong with that, the sponsors make the show possible.)

Also advertisers sign up for a season of a certain number of episodes and I believe that this is pretty much set in stone.

So, the suggestion that we could have "one less challenge" if two designers are "aufed" in one episode is problematic.

I would love it if Chris came back. I hope he does. I'd especially love it if he came back and then won a challenge or two and actually went all the way to Fashion Week.

Although I have locked in Christian as my pick for the ultimate winner, I'd really love for Chris to make it to Fashion Week. I think that if he comes back from defeat, the show will gain more fans. America loves the underdog and Chris certainly has the talent to do this.

Meanwhile, It does sound like Steven's outfit is being described with disdain by the judges in the promos. Making a black knit dress embellished with parts of a wedding gown sounds like a very bad idea ... but then - so did cornhusks...

We'll have to Watch What Happens.

Brieanne December 12, 2007 at 6:39 PM  

Great post, but just one little nitpick--Cynthia went home and was replaced in season ONE of Top Chef, not season two. Keep up the great posts!

Laura K December 12, 2007 at 8:07 PM  

I just noticed that zap2it has the episode title "What's the Skinny." (note to self - check zap2it next week!) Sounds like a "transformation" of women who have lost weight. Maybe they will get a complete makeover including hair and makeup. Maybe the garments are from their "former" wardrobes.

Of course this means that the regular models won't be used AGAIN this week. Grrrrrr....

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