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Project Runway can’t give up its addiction to twin drama

Shawn and Claire Buitendorp talk to Tim Gunn on Project Runway season 16. (Photo by Barbara Nitke/Lifetime)

An episode I hoped would be the conclusion of The Time of the Twins on Project Runway 16 turned into another protracted twin-focused episode—and yet another twin-focused cliffhanger. For a show that has, for the majority of its life, found drama and tension in work and the pressure to create, not in personality alone, this is a dismaying departure.

Of course the show has always had strong personalities, all the way back to the golden age of its first few seasons. That’s different than what the show gave us this season, in the same way that an ice cream sundae works well with a maraschino cherry on top, but a bowl of maraschino cherries with a dollop of whipped cream on top is not a sundae.

We started with the conclusion of the twin-off, where Claire and Shawn Buitendorp each had one hour to create a new look to show the judges, and to determine who’d exit. Claire immediately began designing and constructing; Shawn immediately started wallowing and whining.

She was in full-on breakdown mode and, looking behind the camera, called for Tim Gunn, and said that she was going to quit and let Shawn continue. That was inevitable, and she was never going to win.

That gives me an idea: Next time I run a 15K or half marathon, where I’m usually solidly in the middle of the pack of thousands of other runners, I should stop on the side of the road so I can be praised for my decision to let someone else win—the person who already ran by in the other direction toward the finish line.

Anyway, Tim walked the twins to the stage and stood on the runway, which flabbergasted him more than the fact that he’s been asked to oversee this twin nonsense all season, and Shawn explained that she was quitting. She was emotional; the guest judge got emotional; Tim seemed emotional.

Were we supposed to get emotional? Because please: The show has treated the twins as nothing but a scourge all season, and then played Shawn’s exit like a selfless, beautiful choice. Don’t fling spoiled mayonnaise at me all season and then act as if you’ve given me a gift of ice cream.

Imagine watching that scene of the Tim and the judges tearing up if you’re one of the people who was eliminated this season before Shawn, or if you made it to a late stage in casting only to not make the cut.

But what came next—a chaotically edited, confusing sequence of events—proved that the judges and producers seem to be disconnected with their own show.

Claire is accused of cheating? Maybe? What?

That should have been the end of the drama that’s consumed most of this season and overshadowed what otherwise seems like a really strong group of designers. But no.

First, Margarita noticed that Claire’s top looked similar to her own. “What makes me sad is that somebody else with genuine and original design will go home,” she said.

It’s interesting that, while the editing has specifically illustrated accusation of twin plagiarism before, cutting away to show us how their clothes were similar to what their models were already wearing, it did not do that this time.

Instead, it cut to Ayana, who said, “I don’t really feel that way so much.”

Tim noticed—kind of. “This top,” he told Claire, “I’ve seen a similar version of this before from you, and I just don’t want the judges to call this out and say, Claire, we’ve seen this before.

But Margarita refused to confront Claire about this—and went so far as to not even mention it after Claire won the entire challenge. “I don’t want her to feel attacked,” Margarita said earlier, and later told the judges she didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus.

Ayana said in an interview,  “No one is saying anything to her directly, which I think is an issue.” And it was.

When Heidi Klum announced Claire won, Michael left the stage. He told a stagehand, “I came to play fair, and there’s no fairness in this game.”

Then he told Tim Gunn, “I apologize for making a scene” but explained: “I do believe in fairness, and I believe this win lacks that.” Tim responded as if he had no idea what Michael was talking about, and then Michael said: “it has to do with what is actually going on behind the scenes.”

Presumably, that refers to the excerpt of a conversation in Spanish that we saw while the designers were working. Michael told Margarita, “I went to the bathroom and the pants were there. She has a measuring tape and she measures in her room.”

So she’s copying her own pants to make a new pair that Heidi called “a great pair of pants”? “I know that these pants are definitely not original work. They’re similar to something she has in her room, and that’s not really fair,” he said.

The work was not the designers’ best last night, but Claire’s win still seemed suspicious. The judges went out of their way to talk about how familiar the clothes seemed, yet still chose her. Nina Garcia said, “I have seen a version of this.”

That’s why I’m not fully buying their ignorance, and especially not buying Heidi Klum’s “Somebody tell us what is going on.” If she really had no idea, wouldn’t she be asking if Michael was okay? Maybe he had a medical emergency. Maybe he just really had to go to the bathroom. But maybe that’s unfair to Heidi and I’m just overanalyzing.

What is clear is that the production knows—the producers know, they’ve been told in interviews, they’ve overheard conversations, and they’ve chosen to milk this for yet another week by turning it into a cliffhanger instead of resolving it during the already over-stuffed 90 minutes that they’ve had my attention.

Being forced to watch the start of that unbelievably bad competition American Beauty Star instead of the conclusion to Project Runway’s episode is frustrating, especially since it yet again involves the behavior of one of this season’s stunt-casted contestants.