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The Hell of Being a Contestant on Project Runway

In case you thought making outfits out of car seats, thousands of candy-bar wrappers, or corn husks while locked in a windowless room surrounded by weirdos for hours on end seemed like fun, the Times is here to set you straight. The paper reveals the Project Runway experience, like that of many reality shows, is a hellish combination of sleeplessness, isolation, and abundant alcohol to ensure contestants act crazy. Contestants are cut off from all media, deprived of cell phones, and not even allowed to listen to music. So if you were filming the seventh season of Project Runway when Michael Jackson died, you might not find out until weeks later. Talk about being so last season.

Designers on the show have no emotional support network except the producers, who, as we mentioned, offer no real support at all since their only goal is to get competitors tired and drunk so they don’t bore audiences on TV. Also, the designers sign nondisclosure agreements so that when they are allowed to call their real friends, they can’t tell them about their horrific living situation.

The Times reports:

Chloe Dao, the winner of the 2005-6 season of “Project Runway,” said that the filming would usually start at about 6 in the morning, “and we finished sewing every day around midnight.” The contestants then would tape the “confessionals,” in which they speak directly to the camera. “We would get to sleep at 1 to 3 a.m., and wake up again at 6 or 7.”

Uh huh. Horror stories don’t stop there:

Diana Eng says she was so tired after multiple 18-hour days of shooting the program’s 2005-6 season that she was sometimes awoken by the camera crew standing over her.

Dan Cutforth and Jane Lipsitz, who run Magic Elves, the production company behind the first five seasons of Project Runway, say contestants are isolated “to ensure fairness and prevent cheating” and to keep spoilers from leaking.

“We always give contestants the best conditions we can,” the executives said. “Our budgets are less than half what a similar network show would have, and that means very long days for cast and crew, but our contestants are fed at least every six hours, and there are always snacks and water available.”

Ah, the Project Runway guarantee! You might lose your mind in a fit of exhaustion, but at least the producers will nourish you enough to keep you standing. However, now that the show’s on Lifetime, all bets are off. Though we imagine that channel not only has Pringles and water available at all times, but also pink-frosted cupcakes with those little silver-ball sprinkle things. But now we know just how desperate contestants must be for exposure, if they willingly put up with all of this. They’re either very dedicated, or very sad inside.

TV Contestants: Tired, Tipsy and Pushed to Brink [NYT]

The Hell of Being a Contestant on Project Runway