Another Lesson From Reality TV: Emulate those who succeed

Project Runway is my absolute favorite reality show. Although my other favorites feature real talent and creativity, PR features the kind of creativity that I relate to. Not saying I could do what they do anymore than I can sing or dance. I can’t sew anything but a curtain panel, but I’m talking about deeper stuff, that digging into the hidden corners of the right brain when doing art and finding originality. That’s what two designers were able to do on last night’s premier of Project Runway, Season 5.

What is originality? Talent and imagination, certainly, but also a third component, knowing what to do with it. One could say a person either is talented or not, has imagination or doesn’t, but I don’t believe that. Like everything else in our genes, the amount of talent and imagination varies, but of more consequence is what we do with what we have. Last night’s first episode of PR is a good example of what I mean. There is talent and imagination in each contestant, but two of them also showed that third component: savvy, the wisdom and shrewdness to pay attention to those who succeeded rather than to those who failed.

I can’t remember their names, Blond Tattoo Girl and Wistful Guy is what I’ll call them here. BTG and WG are obviously students of the show and so were familiar with last night’s challenge: Season 1’s grocery store outfit, and they were successful because they looked to the winner of that challenge while everyone else focused on what previous contestants had done wrong. That shift of perspective last night made all the difference.

Here’s the set-up. The contestants were taken to a grocery store and given $75.00 to purchase materials to fashion an outfit. Tim Gunn told them to think about the WOW factor, to come up with something that would “blow the judges’ socks off.” Austin Scarlett, the competitor who WON this challenge four years ago, pointed out that he succeeded by delivering the unexpected. The name of that episode was “Innovation” and his design, a bustier sundress made of corn husks, transformed an ordinary agricultural product into a snazzy little summer number. Yet despite these admonishments, many of the contestants headed straight for the easy-way-out aisle.

The most obvious and forgiving “materials” to purchase are, of course, trashbags, shower curtains, and table cloths. My immediate thought as they scurried into the aisles to buy these exact items was “These guys have thought about this challenge.” Of course they have. Me too. Everytime I take onions and avocados out of their plastic netted bags I think ‘evening gown yoke.’ But unfortunately, this year’s designers focused on the contestants who floundered with seemingly unsewable products, and they were determined not to fall into the same trap.

All except Blond Tattoo Girl and Wistful Guy. They paid attention to the winner of that challenge. They recognized Austin’s inventiveness and had considered about how they too could innovate. WG made probably one of the most impossible choices. He bought plastic drinking cups. As one of the judges said, “Exactly what ANYONE would hurry to grab for this challenge.” But it worked. He molded–literally with an iron–a corset top and bell skirt that looked wearable and was definitely sexy. He remembered the word “innovation” and by the silhouette he chose, he also remembered the corn-husk design. He kept it simple and pretty, AND used the unusable.

This worked for BTG, too, who won the challenge. SHE was crazy-creative with her vaccuum cleaner bags, her coffee filters, her tacks, and her binder spirals. Again I’m positive she’s thought about it before the show, asked herself, “What would I do if…” Her dye and bleach treatment to the bags created a fresh and artistic skirt. The burn-out filters worked humorously with the tacks for the bodice. It was charming. I was pleased she won.

So why am I–a writer–spending all this time on this topic? Because this first episode of the season carries with it a potent message: emulate those who succeed, not those who lose.

How many times has a writer, a friend, or even me, said, “I read the worst book. I know what’s wrong with it, so I know what not to do!”

Is this what any creative person should think about? An artist? A designer? A writer? Or should he or she instead, study what’s hanging on the walls of the Norton Simon and MOOLA? Watch what’s coming down the runway at Olypus Fashion Week? Or read closely for the content, the structure, the language of To Kill a Mockingbird or The Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Tess of the D’Urbevilles and shout out loud, “Now this is the kind of art I want to do!”

The two best pieces last night were created by savvy designers who listened, who studied the winners, who dug to the center of their imaginations, and who executed with confidence and verve. That’s the kind of writer I want to be. An original.

4 thoughts on “Another Lesson From Reality TV: Emulate those who succeed

  1. Trish

    Now that “Design Star” is coming to a close, I’ll have to start recording “Project Runway.” I forgot, until I read your post, just how great that show is. We’ve discussed the similarities between writing and designing lots of times in the past. The challenges they give on PR really do force them to think outside the box, which is something we who create must do, but within reason, following certain rules that can not be ignored. Emulating greatness, but giving your work your own personal edge is a huge challenge. Which brings me to this trip down memory lane…remembering that luncheon we went to where we sat next to Robert Ellis. You asked him a question about what he reads. He answered that while he’s in the middle of a project he reads nothing, so as not to be influenced. I don’t know what that means exactly as it relates to your post, but it’s just what came up.


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