The big news for this season is that the entire season will be a team challenge. This has been a much-reviled move on the internet, since it serves to transparently increase the interpersonal drama. Tim Gunn has been bravely pushing the company line, which is that by tying together the fates of the designers in teams, they should be more willing to help each other out and offer constructive criticism instead of just being catty in the interview room. They way it'll work is that most of the challenges will still be individually judged (not like they have to make coordinating team collections every week), but the team with the overall higher score will have one of its members named the winner and the team with the overall lower score will have one of its members eliminated. So an individual who does poorly can still be safe from elimination if the rest of her team is good enough to cancel her out. So it could lead to more cooperation - I guess we'll find out!
We start off with the usual first-episode blur of trying to introduce sixteen people. James manages to distinguish himself with a truly gross joke about peeing on the set to mark his territory (complete with a raised leg). Then it gets down to brass tacks, and the designers are clued in to the fact they'll be on teams. (Sound of a record scratching, tinkle of broken glass) Yeah, not a popular idea with those folks.
The teams are formed according to...nothing apparent. Heidi just names names and they sit on one side of the room or the other. The first challenge arrives: each team will have a scenic field trip (either to the top of the Atlas apartment building or on a boat) to see inspiring views of NYC, and then they will each make a garment drawn by that, which, as always, should show "who they are as a designer." But also they should listen to feedback from their team members during the process.
Stanley, Kate, Richard, Patricia, Amanda, Layana, Joseph, and Daniel are on the boat. They call themselves "Team Keeping It Real." Matthew, Samantha, Tu, James, Emily, Benjamin, Cindy, and Michelle are on the rooftop and call themselves "the Dream Team." Thus continues the streak of PR teams giving themselves horribly cheesy, cliched names. Well, I guess they are clothing designers, and not branding experts. James continues his stream of not looking good on TV by yammering nonstop.
Each team gets $1200 for fabric, which I assume ends up getting split up evenly to $150 for each designer as we don't see that part. By the time they are well into sewing, I notice that 24-year-old Emily has gotten a LOT of screen time - plus she's said many very confident things and pooh-pooh'd many of the other designers. So in other words the editors are telling us now that she's doomed.
The teams have to all listen to Tim's critiques together. Since there are so many to get through, some are reduced to literally one syllable (Benjamin's: "Good!") and some designers are edited out entirely. But that's actually a good sign since that means they'll probably be around for at least a few more episodes. By this point Emily is very intimidated and know's she's bitten off more than she can chew. (Or cut off more than she can sew, more accurately) Her team tries to tell her to take on less (two pieces instead of three), and she initially agrees, but then continues on with her elaborate jacket anyway. James is pouty when his team isn't wowed and suggests some changes.
As the time comes to a close, Emily's pride is further broken down, when Cindy, whom she previously disdained (mostly for being an older lady who chose to be a designer only later in life), comes to her rescue and helps her sew, so that she at least has something to go down the runway. Says Emily, "I'll never judge again." We are then treated to the usual array of smug comments from the designers belittling other outfits.
For team "Keeping It Real" (I can't believe I'm going to have to call them that all season), Stanley sends out a shiny jumpsuit, Kate a pieced boucle dress that seems to have construction issues, and Richard a colorblocked dress. Patricia hand-painted her own print, which she made into a boxy short dress with odd blue crescents at the armpits. Layana made an LBD with lacing in the back, and Daniel a nice black suit with capri pants a giant poofy peplum. Amanda's outfit is a drapey blue shirt and sci-fi pants, and Joseph's dress looks like towels hanging on a clothesline.
The "Dream Team" starts out with Matthew's white collared shirt & poofy skirt accented with a string tie. Samantha shows a nice navy dress with an organza overlay, and Tu has an odd midriff-baring white outfit. James has grudgingly produced a white shirt with messy ruching and a black skirt with a beige segment. Emily manages to send out a belly shirt, a black mini skirt, and a randomly-sewn organza shape that looks more like an out-of-control collar than a jacket. Benjamin's is a mullety assortment of flowy beige panels, Cindy's long dress has an interesting print but a weird red checkerboard pieced Empire waist, and Michelle closes it out with an survivalist waxed denim dress.
My favorites are Richard and Samantha's dresses. I might be biased in Richard's favor, though, since he's from my hometown of Sacramento.
Team KIR are the winners! David, Richard, and Patricia are the top three. David's looks chic and expensive, and Richard's is flattering and the asymmetry works well. Patricia starts talking about hers and the editors let us know she actually talks for a loooooong time by cutting to a variety of bored-looking faces. The bottom three are James, Cindy, and of course Emily. James tries to blame his bad outfit on the unwelcome suggestions made by his team but the judges have none of it. They say Cindy's has "no designer quality." Nina claims that Emily's "jacket" is the least finished garment she's ever seen on the show, but I disagree - that would have to be the pathetic "shirt" that Carmen made for Tiki Barber in season 4 (scroll to the bottom - it's the blue swatch of fabric tucked underneath the jacket like a full-torso fichu)!
Daniel is named the winner, for his very designer-y suit. (Where can you wear something like that? How do you sit down with a cloud of fabric around your hips?) And then, surprising no one, the utterly crushed Emily is out. Emily was initially sure she would win, because she works a day job and sews at night, so that must mean she could take the pressure of PR, right? Well, we can extract from this that working long hours by choice actually has no bearing on whether you're good at time management. (and in this specific case, it seems to be a negative correlation!)