The Storytelling Magic of Project Runway, Part 2
And so the evil Santino, in a slash of scissors and a gnash of cruel bon-mots, lives to sew another day.
What attracts me to Project Runway, aside from the clever setting and fashionable clothing, are the characters. Like fiction writers, the producers of Project Runway carefully blend their characters for maximum conflict and easy character tags. There’s the chilly Brit (who’s from South Africa, but since she’s got that Carnaby Street vibe, who cares?), the brutally honest black woman (who seems to like the brutality more than the honesty), the nerdy Asian who’s aesthetic is informed by science magazines, and a plethora of über-gays.
And then there’s Santino.
Whether by fate or design, Santino Rice has become the standout villain of this year’s reality t.v. Hair glistening, Rasputin glare daring the judges to kick him off, Santino’s shadow looms over the other contestants. His designs are either genius or a hideous trainwreck. He by turns savages his fellow contestants or plays the affable buffoon for laughs. His ego is entertainingly in full-bloom at all times, even when he’s receiving a vicious dressing-down from his nemesis Nina Garcia, editor of Elle Magazine and runway judge. And he is always, always certain of that he, and he alone, is the best designer of ALL TIME. Unless he’s telling himself he sucks more than chewed sidewalk gum.
He is, in short, an antagonist of complexity, pathos, humor and hatefulness, and one worth studying for the character arc alone.
The producers of Project Runway couldn’t have found a better villain if they’d called up Central Casting. Santino dropped into their laps and he more than lived up to his potential. But the producers also shape his character with judicious use of edits: now we see a pouting episode in a corner when he loses a competition, later we see a whispered insult spit from his lips. Fiction writers should study how the producers are creating a Santino narrative worthy of an Emmy. Now that the show is in the final stages, his current character arc is one of redemption. We see a few moments of humility, even self-doubt. Can Santino be saved from himself?
I hope not. But I’m going to study subsequent episodes closely to see how it plays out. Either way is going to wind up as juicy fodder for my next novel.