MAJOR SPOILER ALERT: Do not read this if you don't know the outcome of last night's show.
(Also maybe don't read this if you don't watch Project Runway, because you'll be confused, and probably bored.)
I'm mad, guys.
I'm mad that Mondo didn't win.
Or maybe I'm sad. Maybe this is anger covering up for sadness.
No, fuck that, I'm pissed.
I'm upset, obviously, because he was my favorite. I felt like he was more talented than Gretchen and that his final collection was better. I liked him more as a person. I may or may not want to keep him in my pocket like a little Jiminy Cricket and have him help me pick out eyeliner and learn to tap dance. For all of these reasons I wanted Mondo to win. But I'm not pissed just because he lost. I will grant that Gretchen's collection did not suck so much that there was no room for argument, and that she's probably not a horrible human being, and I realize that some people have opinions that differ from mine (in this case, clearly, Michael and Nina.) No, I'm pissed because I feel manipulated.
Hear me out.
I have watched a lot of reality television in my day. Before I drop my ridiculous knowledge on you, it must be said that there are many different kinds of reality shows, all of which have their own unspoken rules in determining the winner. Let's dispense quickly with the following:
SHOWS WON BASED ON MEASURABLE FACTORS, i.e. The Biggest Loser (pounds lost), The Amazing Race (er... a literal race), Beauty and the Geek (correct answers to inane questions), Wipe Out or I Survived a Japanese Game Show (ability to leap over obstacles without hilariously face-planting...or willingness to wear giant diaper while pedaling a child's bicycle through a sand pit), American Idol (based on votes, although you could argue that the voting process is corrupt), So You Think You Can Dance (ditto) and their ilk. These shows choose winners based on cold, hard math (or purport to, anyway). If you are an asshat on Idol or SYTYCD, people might not vote for you, so personality does count, but I'm MUCH more interested in shows where the producers have a heavy hand.
Also not counted are DATING SHOWS i.e. The Bachelor/ette, Rock of Love, Tila Tequila and all of the other, even shittier, iterations. These shows pick winners based on the taste and opinion of the person looking for love coupled with (I'm certain) input from producers. But for the purposes of this rant, I'm focusing on my experience watching week-by-week elimination-based shows that judge an unmeasurable talent and do not count on public voting.
Like, for instance, Project Runway.
Having watched ProjRun since the very first episode, I feel like I know the formula. We all do. That's why it's so hard to stay interested after eight seasons--it starts to feel like you've seen everything before.
Mondo's story arc this season was the stuff that great underdog movies are made of. He started off the weird outcast, he gained his footing, he started to prove himself, week after week, and then, as if we weren't already rooting for him enough, he revealed his very personal struggle with hiding his HIV-positive status from his family. WE HAD EVERY REASON TO WANT HIM TO WIN.
Then, we had Gretchen. Gretchen started off strong, winning the first two challenges, but even from episode 2, we started to get the message that she was kind of a bitch--a message, that, in my opinion, the editors made even louder than it needed to be. Every show needs a villain, and Gretchen, with her oblivious narcissism and superiority complex, fit the bill perfectly. As the weeks went by, she got more and more insufferable. We wanted her to fail. She almost did, landing twice in the bottom two, but made it to Fashion Week anyway.
To lose to Mondo.
I mean, that's how the story was supposed to end.
Oh, Mondo, we'll always have Santa Cruz... and your Janelle Monae hair.
And before you accuse me of just being biased, let me ask you this: Have you seen the movie Hoosiers? OK, so first imagine that Hoosiers gets stretched out to 21 hours (say, about the length of 13 hour-and-a-half episodes plus a two-hour finale). The tiny, underdog Hoosiers still, against all odds, make the state championship, but in the final minutes of the game they lose to the tall, athletic team from South Bend. And the end credits roll.
You see what I'm saying? Storytelling matters. Reality television is still a story, crafted by producers and editors. This season, the story had a hero and a villain. We might have liked Mondo and disliked Gretchen without the guiding hand of editing, but that certainly helped us along. I'm sure that the producers could have cast Gretchen in a more favorable light, and I'm surprised that they didn't, considering that she won. A television franchise needs its audience to be satisfied with the show in order to keep coming back. I trusted Project Runway, and it let me down.
Unlike a show with recurring characters and continuous plot lines that can count on your interest to see what happens next (i.e. you might have hated the season finale of Grey's Anatomy, but you're coming back to see how the characters cope with the trauma of having some dude come in and kill half the staff--and also whether maybe they think about installing a metal detector, because Seattle Grace is dangerous, yo), a show like ProjRun needs the audience to trust its judgment from season to season. Mondo's not coming back next year, so in order to keep watching we need to trust that whoever is most deserving of next season's cast will win. And I don't. I don't trust ProjRun anymore. I had my doubts back when Jeffrey Sebelia won at the end of Season 3, but he was also a recovering drug addict AND had an adorable son whose name he had tattooed on his neck, so I let it slide. Then "Meana" Irina Shabayeva took it home in Season 6, but that season was the first after the network change, so I told myself it was just part of a rocky transition. But now, I'm done. Project Runway, we're over*.
*Except for my final recap. Shit.
Oh, and it's not me--it's you.