Reality TV, depending on the show, tends to be a mixture of spontaneous moments and carefully orchestrated situations designed to produce a desired effect.
Obviously, there is probably more of the latter than of the former, and yet, without this spontaneity, these shows would not exist. They need the pathos, the petty drama. The bitchiness.
One of the best examples of this phenomena is Lifetime Television’s “Project Runway,” which airs locally on Thursday nights via cable or satellite providers.
Of special interest in this 11th season is the inclusion of Patricia Michaels, 46, a well-known and highly regarded Native American fashion designer from Taos Pueblo. Michaels, the first Native to appear on “Project Runway,” has survived six episodes up to now, but this is a crucial period in the scheme of these shows.
The reason is because the competition, in this case between 16 highly focused designers, supports the argument that only the strong survive in the animal kingdom. So, in the first six episodes, the weakest contestants are the first to crash and burn — and do they ever.
Just before Emily Pollard, James Martinez, Cindy Marlatt, Joseph Segal, Matthew Arthur and Benjamin Mach were each let go, the panel of fashion professionals and a token celebrity verbally ripped their fashion designs to pieces and in one case questioned the designer’s sense of taste altogether. Then, after they are told to leave the runway, they are allowed to return to the herd for hugs and consolation before the final humiliation of having to clean up their workstation, often in tears.
Having seen the competition up to this point, it’s clear that the 10 remaining are the strongest designers of the lot, which means that now the competition — which has a twist this season by making them work in teams — is about to get really ugly. Especially after semi-popular Mach's dismissal.
Already, the show’s producers have edited-in little interview snippets in which they individually make comments about other designers and Michaels is among a few that have been dissed, one saying she hoped she wouldn’t have to work with her, and another calling her “strange.” Worse were the comments made by her sixth episode teammates Michelle Franklin and Layana Aguilar said behind her back.
This is odd, because up to this point there has not been enough shown of Michaels to let viewers understand why anyone would harbor such opinions. In fact, so little is shown of Michaels that one wonders how she has gotten this far. Could it be her designs are actually lovely and innovative and maybe are made with a level of creativity lacking in some of the other camera-friendly types like Layana Aguilar, Amanda Valentine, Richard Hallmarq, and Michelle Franklin? Well, Michaels' design for the sixth "Senior Fling" episode was clearly her weakest, and still she was given a pass.
Ultimately, these shows tend to reward contestants who are battle-hardened, uncompromising to the point of alienation, and willing to stab a fellow competitor in the back if it will get them ahead. Here, they also have to design amazing fashions in a day or so. Nice people, those with integrity and a willingness to compromise usually get shown the door before the competition gets to the last few episodes. There are 14 altogether, and this Thursday (March 7) is only the mid-point.
For Michaels’ sake, I hope my prediction will turn out wrong.
The competition is already well under way, but participants are contracturally obligated to not reveal anything about what happened, who got eliminated or who might win.
This season’s winning designer will receive $100,000 from L’Oréal Paris to start his/her own apparel line in addition to a fashion spread in Marie Claire magazine, a 2013 Lexus GS 350, a $50,000 technology suite by HP and Intel to create his/her own vision and run his/her business and the opportunity to design and sell an exclusive collection at Lord & Taylor, according to “Project Runway” promotional materials.
The model paired with the winner of Project Runway will also appear in the designer’s Marie Claire editorial feature and receive $25,000 from L’Oréal Paris EverStyle.
This Thursday (March 7), Michaels is hosting a "Project Runway" viewing party at the KTAOS Solar Center, 9 State Road 150, north of El Prado. She is hoping all her friends and supporters will show up to watch her compete in the "Duct Tape Challenge." Admission is free.
Exclusive interview after Episode 5.
We caught up with Patricia Michaels, Monday afternoon (Feb. 25) and asked her about her experience during the first five shows ...
Tempo: We watched the first five episodes and it’s pretty cutthroat.
Patricia Michaels: It is cutthroat. I think all the years beating a dead horse, being that my work is so contemporary and it’s not your typical Native American design, it’s been hard for me, nonetheless. So, I rather would be in the industry where we say: Do you understand me and what I’m about? ... They don’t understand Native Americans. A lot of the times they think I’m fabricating. I’m also worldly, yet they think I’m lying when I say I’ve lived in Italy and that I was in New York before ... We’re changing right along everybody else, we’re still adapting.
Tempo: How does it make you feel when you hear the other designers criticizing you?
Michaels: We’re in a competition so I don’t expect them to be nice ... Of course, I’m human, so yes, it does hurt, because this is a passion for what I like to do. But, at the same time, those are limitations of their own acceptance of what’s out there in the world. If they choose to limit themselves, I’m really not responsible and I’m not there to teach them. I’m there to be learning and to reach a larger audience. So, I really try to stay focused on my work.
Tempo: In the first five shows, the judges haven’t really talked a lot about why your work seems to remain among the top teams.
Michaels: I know, that’s part of what reality shows are about. They tend to show people who are, for lack of a better word, bitchy. And, I don’t play into the drama. Every piece of work I do goes with a prayer. I put a prayer in everything I do, and I just don’t understand, I can’t put myself in their shoes and get anything done.
Tempo: If you could do it over again, would you?
Michaels: Oh yeah.
Tempo: What did you learn from it?
Michaels: The parts that they don’t show are the critiques that I had with the judges from the industry. They really helped me to develop and evolve as who I am as a designer. I’ve met a lot of people in the industry who gave given me an opportunity to have a bigger audience and pursue avenues that are only going to help me grow in my business. Plus, having a Native American voice ... It’s important that we’re given a chance.
Tempo: The competiton looked pretty brutal. How did you deal with that?
Michaels: It is, it is and I guess as an artisan what you always want to tell yourself is: In order to grow, you have to stay open to how other people perceive you and consider it, but you don’t have to take every bit of their advice. You have to have a good, solid understanding of who you are.
Michaels is at work on designs for Fashion Week, as well as looking for a publicist in Manhattan and working on a children’s book. “That’s a dream come true for me,” she said.