Project Runway Recap: Who Will Win It All?

Even in a sleepy, somewhat predictable episode of Project Runway, you can still find zany little surprises: Heidi Klum nearly absconding with one contestant’s particularly snazzy garment. Tim Gunn excitedly dropping the word “effing” (!) into a critique. Joshua displaying all the charm of a rabid badger cornered in the back of a dank, mildewy cave.

Oh, wait. That’s pretty much become Joshua’s modus operandi over the last several weeks, hasn’t it? The way that dude hisses and foams at the mouth during his confessionals, I’m always half-expecting Animal Control to show up with a pole, a net, and a tranquilizer gun to collect and take him away.

Anyhow, this week’s episode found Heidi Klum greeting our final four — Joshua, Viktor, Anya, and Kimberly — by pulling her mouth, mime-style, into a terrifying smile, and announcing each of them had $9,000 and five weeks to create a 10-piece collection for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

We then fast-forwarded a few weeks to Tim’s hometown visits with the final four, which somehow felt more rushed and less comprehensive than in seasons past. (In other words, I didn’t get choked up even once. Sigh.) We learned about the personal hardships endured by the remaining contestants — Anya and Viktor both lost a brother; Kimberly and Joshua bost lost their mothers — and a few unexpected insights. Joshua used to be a track-and-field star. Viktor has an adorable boyfriend. Kimberly has a clear vision of the Brooklyn girl she wants to dress. And Anya went scuba-diving for the first time to gain additional inspiration for her collection.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Anya got caught in the undertow of the ocean energy to which she felt so connected. Much to Tim’s dismay, all that the season-long front-runner had to show after three weeks of work was a selection of lovely fabrics. “I haven’t been able to draw a new shape yet,” said Anya, and you pretty much knew that the race was down to Viktor, Joshua, and Kimberly — unless the Project Runway editing team has some kind of Emmy-winning surprise up its couture sleeve next week.

Things didn’t go all that much better for Joshua, who produced sample after sample of what appeared to be electric-colored polyester mined from the storage locker of a ’70s sitcom costume designer. And that wasn’t even the worst of Josh’s taste-level issues, as he proceeded to show off an obscene bolt of green lenticular fabric that appeared to give Tim a case of the bad swoons, and then several garments made from a ghastly patchwork eruption that our mentor referred to as “one of the homeliest textiles I’ve ever seen in my entire life.” Tim was reduced to holding his head in his hands and declaring, “This is one sad looking dress. Sad. It makes me want to weep.”

While Kimberly got a better reception — Tim’s main concern was that she not forget to take risks — it was Viktor’s collection in progress that had Mr. Gunn the most excited, that is once he caught his breath from an intense five-flight walk-up. Tim urged Viktor to “let your viscera dictate” the direction, and then, after praising all but Viktor’s final look, laid down the law: “After all this has walked, knock their effing socks off!”

Finally, our four designers returned to New York and were tasked with choosing three looks to show the judges — only Heidi, Nina, and Michael this week; no guest judges allowed — who would then advance only three to Mercedes-Benz fashion week. Here’s how it all played out:

* Anya: It pains me to say it, since she’s been my second-favorite designer (behind Viktor) all season, but the best garment Anya showed on runway day was the fabulous pink one-shouldered blouse on her back. If Anya happened to design that herself, I’m not sure why she didn’t throw it on one of her models instead of that ho-hum black bathing suit and not-even-worth-mentioning beige coverup. Of her other two outfits, Anya’s batik minidress was a winner — but not exactly cutting edge — while Heidi was right that her bulky gold caftan looked like it was made in a day. (And given Anya’s late start on her collection, perhaps it was?)

* Joshua: He of the industrial hair gel and intensely sculpted eyebrows got more positive comments from the judges than I’d have given. The shocking pink pants were okay, I guess, but I wasn’t in love with that overwrought black tailored jacket with exposed patches of bare shoulder. Meanwhile, Joshua’s little black dress (with a “modesty tab” that MK couldn’t stop mentioning) made his model look a little…bulky? And while all three judges seemed to like the front of Joshua’s black jumper thingie, I thought the plastic neckline looked like either a costume from V or the start of something you’d put on a dog to prevent it from scratching its post-surgery skull. At least Kors was with me on the back, noting that no woman wants to walk around with her “ass exposed in Olivia Newton John leggings!”

(Side note: I loved how Josh recalled Nina’s “you are a very good designer” critique as her saying “you are a great designer.” Anyone else catch that misremembrance?)

Kimberly: I’m not sure the Brooklyn native’s collection is going to be cohesive enough — or consistent enough — to take the top prize, but she definitely delivered some nice pieces, and delivered what MK notes were elements of color and sex appeal. The cobalt blue pants and flirty scarf-like top were lovely, and the rear view of her black sequined gown put the “sexy back” in sexyback. But Heidi was 100 percent correct that the pink brocade skirt was a disaster of Violet Beauregarde proportions. “I do not love the bubble butt,” Heidi said succinctly. “I think that skirt is awful.”

Viktor: Is there any way this guy won’t win Season 9? Is there any reason he shouldn’t? (Oh, yeah, I thought the same thing about Mondo last year, too.) Okay, the judges made some great suggestions by rearranging some of Viktor’s clothes and accessories, but the individual pieces were all pretty stellar. I couldn’t blame Heidi for wanting to steal that white leather jacket with pearl detail, and the sheer charcoal frock underneath it was pretty sensational, too. And while Viktor’s mirrored blouse and violet-and-white print pant didn’t garner as much attention during critiques, I thought that combined they were more exciting and innovative than anything sent down the runway by Anya, Joshua, or Kimberly.

Of course, the way the judges were assessing the four contestants — and with the knowledge that their season-long golden girl seemed to have experienced a late-in-the-game collapse — it was pretty obvious there wouldn’t be an elimination this week, and that all four designers would get to participate in the big show. In all fairness, it probably should’ve been Anya getting auf’d, but given her terrific body of work this season, I’m not upset that she’ll get a consolation prize of seeing her work show at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week — and to a televised audience of millions.

Joshua being Joshua, though, he saw it a different way, snarling that he was “confused” by the judges’ benevolence, that their feedback proved neither Anya or Kimberly was worthy of advancing, and that “This isn’t fuddy duddy dressup. This is New York Fashion Week!” Makes you wonder if somewhere, off camera, Tim Gunn conjured up another reason for dropping the “effing” bomb.

What did you think of this week’s Project Runway? Were you okay with the lack of ouster, or did Joshua have a point? And who will win it all? Take our poll below, then hit the comments to sound off with your opinions. And for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!