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Project Runway Season 11: All Teams, All the Time

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So, thanks for the head's up guys--Project Runway has been on for two weeks and no one told me! Last weekend I popped open a bottle of wine and settled in catch up on all the action--a mere four hours of PR: two 90-minute episodes, plus the one-hour Road to the Runway special where they introduce us to the season's contestants.

Season 11 really sneaked up on me, and as a result I was overcome anew as each wave of disappointment came crashing down upon me. Michael Kors is gone! Every challenge will be a team challenge! None of these designers seems even remotely melodramatic! It was a rough reentry, but Project Runway waits for no woman.

Road to the Runway: Meeting the Contestants

Although it's nice to get the chance to meet each designer and get a sense of who they are, isn't that why PR extended each episode to 90 minutes a few seasons ago? We get a peek at where the contestants live and work, get an idea of the kind of clothes they design, and generally waste an hour learning things that could be done within the structure of the first episode. Gotta wring out every last advertising dollar!

Let's meet a few of the more memorable characters:

Cindy: The older contestants are always interesting, and Cindy is no different. Of course, her first career--mortician--is also pretty attention-grabbing. Also, her house has an elevator, so while I'm sure becoming a designer in her 60s would be amazing, winning PR is not going to be "life changing" in quite the same way as it would for a starving, broke, 20-year-old. • Daniel: Look past the moustaches and Daniel is still incredibly fascinating. This Austin native is self-taught, and his positive attitude is infectious. • Patricia: An artist who manipulates fabric to beautiful effect, Patricia's work strongly reflects her Native American roots. She says she chose her art over her marriage when her husband gave her an ultimatum. Good choice, girl--you're amazing. • Michelle: Michelle has a strong personal look, and clearly designs clothes that she would wear--retro/punk, feminine but edgy. She also seems exceedingly nice. • Richard: First of all, he spells his last name "Hallmarq" which is charming. There is something very inviting about his energy which makes him very watchable. He's almost as compelling as his clothes, which finally--after three auditions--landed him a spot on PR.

This isn't the end of the list by a long shot--Benjamin has a lot of experience, but his leadership skills put him at risk of becoming annoying and/or a target, and watching Layana gain confidence with the help of Daniel's experience and encouraging words is inspiring--but it's always fascinating to watch the outsiders (read: older, or quirkiest) contestants navigate the early waters of the competition.

The Teams

The designers split into two teams: Team Keep It Real and Dream Team. Team Keep It Real (which includes Daniel and Layana) seems to work well together, keeping the lines of communication open and working to help one another while also maintaining their individual identities. The Dream Team is anything but, and big egos result in their losing the first two challenges of the first two episodes.

Each episode will feature a team challenge in some form or fashion, but they change from episode to episode. In the premier, each designer was responsible for a New York City-inspired design of their own as part of a larger team collection; in episode two, they had to come up with uniforms for Susan Sarandon's ping-pong concept club, Spin, and designers collaborated on specific designs for wait staff and ball boys.

To be honest, this isn't as awful as one might expect. Even if you hated team challenges as a rule in past seasons, thus far the concept has been kind of compelling. Plus, the team thing will have to end eventually, right? They can't take collaborative teams to Fashion Week, can they? CAN THEY?! Please tell me they can't.

Zac Posen

Sigh. Zac Posen, and his dreamy face and dreamy clothes, are so very adorable. But compared to beloved, orange-hued snarkmeister Michael Kors? Well, Zac Posen--literally, and figuratively--pales in comparison. We miss our runway zingers, and only Kors can deliver them. The upshot is that Posen isn't trying to be Michael Kors and falling short; he seems genuinely nice and non-snarky, so any attempt to add the snark would probably feel forced. I'll take genuine, gentle Zac Posen over that scenario any day of the week.

Random Thoughts

Why a team challenge season at this stage of the game? The Internet speculates that this season of PR could be the last, which would be devastating. The departure of Kors says more to me than the team aspect, although the given reason for his departure was simply that he needed to devote time to his own giant, internationally-successful brand--sounds reasonable.

Austin native Daniel is truly worth the price of admission. Each week his talent, kindness, and ability to work as a team member make him fascinating to watch. He displays selflessness that one must hope will serve him well, rather than be his downfall.

Watching the balancing act of ego with personal aesthetics within a team dynamic is better when it's the norm, rather than "the twist" that induces moans and groans at the beginning of the challenge. With that out of the way, it's more fun to sit back and enjoy the collaborations.

Project Runway airs Thursdays on Lifetime at 8 p.m. CT. You can watch full episodes online at Lifetime.com.

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