Easily one of Bravo Television’s most popular “reality” shows, Project Runway gives its audience a unique view into the highly competitive world of fashion design. Able to bring together an elite group of talented and mostly undiscovered designers, their work is scrutinized by the likes of Heidi Klum, Tim Gunn, and Karlie Kloss among others. Set to return for its 17th season, the show has also inspired a spin-off, Project Runway All Stars.
Of course, just because Project Runway is called a “reality” show it does not mean that everything viewers see on the show plays out exactly the way it seems. With all of that in mind, it is time to take a look at this list of eight things that are totally fake about Project Runway and 12 that are real.
In order for something to be up for possible inclusion on this list, it first and foremost has to relate to an element of Project Runway in one way or another. On top of that, it either has to be a lot more real than a lot of viewers may realize or have an aspect to it that is totally put on. It should be noted that we do not have any relationships with the people involved in the show so when it comes to the real side of the list, we have relied on public information.
At the time of this writing, Project Runway fans are learning what the show feels like without having Tim Gunn and Heidi Klum involved in the just-started new season. Clearly the show’s biggest stars up until now, the pair has chosen to join a competing fashion-related TV show that is set to air on Amazon Video.
Despite how important they clearly became to Project Runway’s success over the years, producers obviously didn’t value Gunn’s contributions very much early on. After all, he wasn’t paid a thing to be a part of the show’s first season and the following year he only received $2,500 per episode.
When it comes to any high-profile competition show, the key to its ongoing success is the ability to keep viewers interested in who will prevail each year. On top of that, a show like Project Runway needs to keep as much about its production under wraps as it can, at least until the time has come to let a few tantalizing secrets out of the bag.
For those reasons, it is incredibly important that contestants don’t let any slip out. Fortunately, for the show’s producers, the cast is forced to sign non-disclosure agreements that promise serious repercussions for anyone foolish enough to spill any of the show’s major secrets.
Right off the hop, we want to make it abundantly clear that most Project Runway contestants seem to be fine with the show’s editing. However, some previous competitors have been upfront about their feelings on the way things come across on television. For instance, Season 4’s Jack Mackenroth told The Fashion Spot,
“The judging is totally fake and they basically decide who they want to eliminate and edit the footage to make the viewer agree.”
While speaking with Culture Map, Season 11’s Daniel Esquivel said, “To me, everybody else was portrayed a certain way where [producers] pushed it to the extreme.” Clearly, Esquivel isn’t as angry about the editing but he still considers it deceptive.
As any ardent fan of a competition show could tell you, it can be really easy to become invested in how one's favorite contestants, and the ones they like the least, are doing from week to week. As a result, you can find yourself positioned on the edge of your seat for several minutes as the elimination process takes place.
With that in mind, it is staggering to think about just how intense it must be for the Project Runway competitors to be in front of the judges. After all, they actually have their dreams on the line and it typically takes around six or seven hours to complete the judging process!
When it comes to the fashion world’s top models and designers, their relationships are of the utmost importance. This is the case for two main reasons. First, the models need to walk and pose their bodies in such a way that they do justice to the clothes. Second, garments obviously need to fit perfectly. Unfortunately for the Project Runway designers, they don’t get much time to work with the ladies that wear their clothes. As the show’s executive producer Sara Rea told The A.V. Club,
“Backstage, they get five minutes of what we call 'last looks' which we shoot and air when it’s relevant. They’re last-minute touch-ups, just like any designer would do for their show.”
Even though some viewers may try to pretend they watch Project Runway strictly for a look inside the fashion world, in reality, all of the drama makes up a good portion of the show’s appeal. If you feel the same way, you may be delighted to know that Season 9’s Anthony Ryan told Palm Springs Life that you can mostly take the fighting at face value.
“It’s you getting us fully. If you want to see me, you’re going to see every solid inch of me if that makes sense. We’re filmed 24-7. So if you see me have a breakdown, I’m having a breakdown. It’s not necessarily drama, it’s me being a person. I don’t know if the producers love it; they just want us to be ourselves.”
Unlike many other competition shows, Project Runway is all about an art form that is quite subjective. For that reason, a judging system had to be designed in order to make it most likely that the right person is eliminated from Project Runway each week. Unfortunately, keeping the judges' decisions free from personal biases can be difficult since they are only human.
According to what Season 10’s Gunnar Deatherage told Kelly Wayne Hughes, however, they try to ensure this by keeping the designers and judges apart:
"We only see judges during judging. No off-camera relationships. No contact. Project Runway is one of the few reality shows with integrity."
For those of you that don’t follow the entertainment world too closely, in this day and age there are more ways to promote a popular show than ever before. For instance, in the past, there was an event called the Project Runway Roundtable which included most of the show’s most notable stars. Attended by a News Week writer named Jessica Bennett, she shared her opinions about them all, including former judge Michael Kors.
A very outspoken person on the show, according to the writer, Kors is just as talkative in person and he seemed to be perfect for a judging role since he had very decisive opinions on all things large and small.
If there is one thing that this list should make abundantly clear, it is that Project Runway’s producers exert a great deal of control over the show’s many contestants. One of the best examples of this is how when you watch the series there is no way to know that words coming out of the contestants' mouths are anything but their own.
However, Season 7’s Jonathan Peters told Entertainment Weekly that there were certain words he was informed were not to be used in front of the cameras. “I started referring to it as a game show when I was getting kicked off, and they were really [angry]. They were like, ‘It’s a competition.’”
When people tune into any major “reality” show, one of the most obvious drawbacks for the contestants who take part in the series is the time they must have away from their family and friends. Of course, having the opportunity for adventure can make up for that when it comes to some shows but the Project Runway cast spends almost all of their time together hard at work in the same places every day.
Thankfully, they can visit the outside world through technological means, right? Unfortunately, that actually isn’t the case as the internet, cell phones, and even basic TV watching are off limits for Project Runway contestants.
Earlier in this list, we touched on the fact that one of the best parts of Project Runway is the drama that bubbles up among the show’s contestants. Despite that, if you think that the people behind the show cast contestants because they think they will play into the arguments that fans enjoy, then you are mostly wrong.
This is the case according to what Sara Rea, Project Runway’s executive producer, told the people at The A.V. Club. Asked how the show tackles the casting process, Rea said: “We have a process of what we look for. Talent is first and foremost.” Of course, her answer leaves some room for personality to be considered.
Based on what is said during episodes of Project Runway, it seems like the designers who are taken out of the competition actually go home. However, that certainly isn’t the case as evidenced by what Season 9’s Bert Keeter revealed during a discussion the Palm Springs Life had with several former Project Runway competitors.
“They don’t let you go home. They basically keep you sequestered. You all travel in a pack even if you are the first person voted off, you’re there five or six weeks. They separate you and you go down to the basement and stay down there for 12 to 14 hours. So the people who watch the show can’t tell who is off the show. It’s [bad].”
In a world where entertainers are among the most celebrated people on the planet, it is understandable that so many people seem to think that notoriety is the ultimate goal. For those folks, there really isn’t anything more appealing than finding an easy route to the fame they seek. However, if they have an eye for design and think that competing on Project Runway will be easy, they have another thing coming.
This is the case because the workload is so severe that the competitors wake at 5 am and they don’t stop until 11 pm. If that weren’t enough, evidently the contestants get so wrapped up in the work that they have to be reminded to eat!
If there is one thing about Project Runway that seems obvious from the get-go, it is this: a lot more goes into the judging process than they show us. After all, we only hear a series of soundbites and if that was all the judges considered it wouldn’t do the contestants’ fates in the show justice! That isn’t to say that everything about the decision-making process is so clear from the start, especially since it is only natural to wonder if Project Runway’s producers weigh in.
However, according to what the show’s executive producer Sara Rea told The A.V. Club: “I’m not going to tell Heidi Klum what to do. That just doesn’t work. The judges decide. We would lose integrity if we started basing it on, ‘Well, so and so…’”
Let’s face facts, when it comes to a lot of the clothes that get seen on Project Runway, it is a real challenge to imagine an everyday person wearing them. However, if you tune into an episode of the show and a garment strikes your fancy then it may be time to act very quickly.
As revealed by Season 7’s Seth Aaron during a conversation with Palm Springs Life, “Everything is auctioned off immediately. The clothes that are produced by us go up for auction immediately after the show.”
That said, bidders need to know that the clothes “may or may not be finished.”
Arguably the most important factor in whether or not a “reality” show succeeds, viewers buying into the things they are seeing can make all the difference in the world. For that reason, Project Runway’s producers definitely wouldn’t want anyone to know that Season 2’s Diana Eng revealed that the show sometimes reshoots moments.
"One morning they scared me so bad I jumped and screamed. They said that wasn't good, so I had to pretend to wake up again,” she said. Of course, reshooting a throwaway scene like that may seem silly but it does beg the question: What other moments have they filmed more than once?
Just like the vast majority of competition shows, a good portion of any Project Runway episode is dedicated to things that may not seem directly related to who will ultimately prevail. Still, when you tune into the show there also is no doubt that the contestants’ ability to design attractive clothing is of paramount importance.
For that reason, it shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that there are rules that are designed to make sure the clothes seen on the show spring out of the contestants’ minds. For instance, series executive producer Sara Rea told The A.V. Club, “It’s all in their heads. We don’t want them relying on other people’s designs or other materials.” She added, “We want them to create from what they know, not from a pattern book.”
As we touched on earlier, Project Runway contestants agree to follow certain rules before they go on the show. Of course, information like that begs a pretty obvious question: What exactly happens if one of the competitors steps over the line? After all, a show like Project Runway could opt to go easy on rule-breakers or take real action against them.
Based on how the show’s producers have dealt with issues like this in the past, we know that rule breakers face serious consequences. For instance, Season 16’s Claire Buitendorp kept a tape measure in her room, which is not allowed, and she was eliminated as a result.
There are a lot of things that are on the line during any given season of Project Runway, including the fight to be named the winner as well as the prizes that are up for grabs. On top of that, many designers have likely found themselves wishing they could exhibit their clothes in one of the fashion capitals of the world.
Fortunately for the Project Runway finalists, they get to put on a runway show in New York which gets seen by millions of the show’s biggest fans. However, as it turns out, it isn’t only the finalists that get to show off in New York. In fact, as many as 10 competitors per season get a New York runway show of their own, most of which don’t get seen on the show.
For all of the positives associated with being a part of Project Runway, the truth of the matter is that it really isn’t all that it's cracked up to be. Instead, when you look at the show’s history, the simple fact of the matter is that Project Runway has failed to make a lot of stars in the fashion world.
Just ask Season 4’s Jack Mackenroth who told Paper Magazine,
“Most people just go back to their old careers and continue to struggle. Fashion design is a cutthroat business. Well established designers go [broke] right and left. And quite honestly, the fashion industry frowns on Project Runway and doesn't take the designers very seriously."
References: Pop Sugar, The List, The A.V. Club, Palm Springs Life