The best reality show is now off the air

21:40, Apr 25 2013

Thursday nights seem a little darker than most nights of the week, from a television viewing perspective. Why? Project Runway finished its latest season, leaving me with an old Bones repeat and a reality-television-sized hole in my heart.

I got sucked into Project Runway by my fiancée. Television viewing is left to me, for the most part, but Thursday nights were hers and Project Runway was the show of choice. And despite my best efforts (I'd say things like "I have to, uhh, write an important blog post," while keeping half an eye on the television) I ended up getting caught up in the show.

I've been thinking about Runway this week, especially in terms of its format and how it compares to other big reality shows on the schedule. I'll say it: Project Runway was (is) the best reality show on television. And I think some of the current crop - local talent show The X Factor NZ, silly singing contest The Voice, despicable cooking show My Kitchen Rules - could stand to learn from these four reasons why I think Runway is the pick of the bunch.

It introduced me to a subject I genuinely know nothing about, and made me think that I wanted to know more. I know nothing about fashion. Nothing. I reckon I could cook a meal that would impress Simon Gault. I'm pretty sure I could survive on a desert island for five weeks and make my way through an obstacle course. I think I could belt out a decent rendition of some John Legend song and get through to the audition stage of a singing show. But hell would freeze over before I could design an attractive jacket or a shimmering skirt that Heidi Klum could wear for a night on the town.

It was legitimately interesting. The process of how the various designers went through sketching ideas and choosing fabrics and constructing clothing was riveting to me, in part because it was foreign to me. By showing the process at length, Runway makes the process an important part of the show.

I think most reality shows don't spend enough time on this part. We don't learn about how X Factor contestants learned to sing, only about the challenges they've faced in their personal lives. We don't usually see Survivor contestants build their huts or start their fires, only that they have a hut and a fire. Masterchef does all right at this, diverging into Masterclass episodes mid-season. But more reality shows could learn from this tip.


(A quick aside: both of these reasons could also apply to Face Off, the underrated movie makeup competition on Four ... but that show just doesn't have the status of Runway, and I don't think it's quite as interesting.)

It didn't drag on and on (and on) for no real reason. Think about this: the latest season of Project Runway started with 16 designers, and whittled them down to a single winner* in 14 one-hour episodes (or 840 minutes total, including advertising). Meanwhile, My Kitchen Rules is on television for three nights a week - the current season started with 15 teams and will name a winner after 46 episodes each 1.25 hours in length (or 3450 minutes, including advertising; and that's not counting a likely "two-hour grand finale extravaganza").

Why? What are they doing on MKR that takes so damn long?! Why are teams being eliminated then re-eliminated again later? And why on earth do we need three damn episodes every single week?! I'm sure the producers on MKR are taking the piss. They're sitting at home rolling in money and laughing at every single person watching that show.

It didn't allow itself to focus too much time on interpersonal drama. Did you ever catch America's Next Top Model? You didn't? Well, I envy you. Look, I love my fiancée more than anything in the world, but I'm sure she was testing me by watching ANTM every Tuesday. The dramatics and tears and screaming and bickering and meltdowns ... the few times I bothered sitting through it, it actually stressed me out. Luckily there is little of that on Runway - and when contestants do argue, it's nearly always about the work, not about who is eating what and whether they talk to their mother too much. I'm half-Irish. Trust me, that girl didn't talk to her mother too much.

Those are my reasons why I think Project Runway was (is) the best reality television show. Farewell, Heidi and Tim. I'll miss you. Until next season, anyway.

What do you think: is Project Runway the best reality television show around? Or do you think my reasoning is wrong? What do you think is the best reality show right now?

(*) I'm about to spoil the latest season of Runway, so don't read on if you haven't caught the finale yet: Dmitry had no business winning the season, right? He had good form and technique, sure, but the guy didn't really take any risks with his work, unlike Fabio or Chris, who constantly took a punt on wild ideas and tried to do something unique. By the way, I'm a little embarrassed by how mad I am about this. Please don't tell anyone about this footnote.

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