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Oct. 26 2009 - 9:00 am | 2,505 views | 4 recommendations | 13 comments

Project Runway’s surprising homophobic editing

Wesley Nault, 23, and Daniel Feld, 25 (Images from Bravo)

Wesley Nault, 23, and Daniel Feld, 25 (Images from Bravo)

The sixth season of Lifetime’s Project Runway is underway and the Internet is all abuzz about the flowering romance between two of the show’s designers, Carol Hannah, a sweet, flaxen 24-year-old Southern belle hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, and Logan Neitzel, an equally blonde, buff 26-year-old designer, who happens to be straight, an event as unlikely on Project Runway as, say, a strutting model accidentally opening a rift in the space-time continuum.

The Hannah-Neitzel Aryan courtship is surely a novelty, since Project Runway is not known as a hook-up venue, but rather one of the rare reality shows that actually demands contestants demonstrate tangible, creative skills in order to advance. However, this is not the show’s first romance. Rather, it is one of the only courtships the show’s producers have allowed their audience to see.

In season five, there was an epic courtship between two of the shows male designers, Daniel Feld and Wesley Nault, but the relationship was completely whitewashed from the show. A brief recap of the Feld-Nault romance is enough to make any reality show executive producer squeal with excitement (that is, of course, if the participants were heterosexual). All of the elements for great television were there: love, angst, drama, and a romantic ending.

“I knew the minute I saw him on the rooftop,” says Nault, reflecting on the first time he met Feld. “Daniel was kind of playing coy, but I thought it was kind of cute because he was a little nervous.”

The feeling was mutual. “I thought he was the kindest, sweetest person,” says Feld. “I kind of got butterflies right away.”

Meanwhile, in the current season six edition of Project Runway, Hannah describes the object of her affection as “hot” and “really distracting.” That’s not to downplay their chemistry. Maybe the pair do share an unspoken legendary love, sort of like a down-low, Couture Romeo and Juliet. However, if we’re just comparing the kinds of drama and romance between the two relationships, Feld-Nault puts Hannah-Neitzel to shame.

The two men immediately connected, and would hold hands as they sat beside each other during the runway shows until Nault was eliminated after the second challenge, an event that totally devastated his partner. “I was just in shock when they came and said he was eliminated,” says Feld. “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. But Kenley, another contestant, came to me and said, ‘Wesley says: Make it to the end for me.’”

Seriously, you couldn’t write this kind of ratings gold. Feld continues, “I was worried about him the whole time. He’s so sensitive inside. I was just worried about him. I just felt broken-hearted for him.” Sadly, these events were nixed from the show. And the selective, homophobic editing continues. Nault also handed Feld a note before he left — a big no-no in the show’s rules that ended up getting Nault in trouble — which read he would wait for Feld in the outside world.

At one point, Feld even said during a video confessional that he really wanted to win the next challenge so he could get immunity and exchange it with Nault to bring him back for a challenge, an utterly selfless decision in the reality show world akin to taking a bullet for a fellow soldier during the heat of combat. “I did say that in interviews, but I guess they didn’t show it,” says Feld. Guess not.

“If anyone looks at Project Runway as ‘Project Hookup,’ they’re going to be disappointed,” says Tim Gunn, one of the show’s popular regulars, while defending the selective editing as the producers being “discreet.” But if that was the case, the producers would have also edited out the Hannah-Neitzel flirt fest, a seemingly superfluous aside to a show otherwise entirely about fashion. (Note: I could be wrong. The season isn’t over yet, so maybe Neitzel plunges a dagger into his heart during the last episode to demonstrate his undying love for Hannah.)

Feld partially defends the airbrushing of the romance by claiming he and Nault were trying to keep things private. However, privacy is antithetical to the reality show genre. Contestants sign wavers and networks employ teams of guerrilla camera crews with the sole intent of capturing every real, gritty moment. That’s why contestants inevitably embarrass and humiliate themselves on camera, whether they break down in tears from frustration or end up becoming the show’s asshole by screaming at another contestant.

“Discretion” was not used, nor should it have been, during the fourth season when Project Runway’s first openly HIV-positive contestant, Jack Mackenroth, had to leave the show after developing a contagious staph infection. Bravo’s producers (the show has only recently moved to Lifetime) should be applauded for casting Mackenroth and also including his tearful goodbye to his fellow contestants. However, it would be nice if they also included the positive, happy moments between gay men in addition to the horrific “worst case scenarios.”

Even if Feld and Nault wanted to keep their romance private, it was the producers’ conscious decision to keep their relationship a secret from the world. If the producers had thought their courtship had value, you can be damn sure it would have been in the final product.

Obviously, this isn’t to accuse the show’s producers of not liking gay people. Clearly, that’s not the case. Over the six seasons of Project Runway, there have been numerous openly gay contestants. However, by selectively editing which relationships they include in the show, the producers are participating in homophobia.

What’s so tragic about the Feld-Nault concealment is that their relationship shatters one of the most detrimental stereotypes in the gay community, the one about homosexuals being emotionally flippant, and incapable of serious, meaningful relationships. This is one of the major nonsensical philosophies behind the anti-gay marriage crowd, and the foundational reasoning for why homophobes think gays will ruin the “sanctity” of marriage.

When Feld was eliminated, Nault brought him a consolatory dish of Penne pasta. The two are still dating, live together, and have also become business partners (they created a collection called “WesFeld”). “We compromise a lot and it’s a journey together, and we get to celebrate our success together,” says Feld. Most recently, they traded commitment rings. This might, quite literally, be the only example of a healthy relationship to emerge from a reality television show, and most people don’t even know about them. (Again: Not to imply Hannah and Neitzel won’t share similar success. Maybe they’ll go on to create a clothing line for really tall Swedes.)

It’s sad that the millions of people who watch Project Runway were deprived of seeing this great relationship blossom. It would have been nice to see a non-stereotypical moment between two men rather than the endless hours of bitchy comments and witty derisions from the gays normally supplied by producers.

Of course, Project Runway is primarily an entertainment show. However, for millions of people, it is also their only regular exposure to gay people. In addition to seeing gays perpetually bitch about other contestants and quip about outfits being “fierce,” characteristics that reinforce stereotypes, it would have been healthy for the country’s gay and straight citizens to see two men fall in love, and begin what will hopefully be a long, happy life together.


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  1. collapse expand

    I don’t know … Bravo seemed to publicize the relationship between Project Runway’s Jack Mackenroth and Dale from Top Chef without hesitation. I watch PR regularly, and so far they’ve only devoted one short clip to the romance between Carol-Hannah and Logan. It is unquestionably important to be vigilant about homophobia in the media, I’m just not so sure I see it here.

    • collapse expand

      But that doesn’t change the fact that the relationship between Wesley and Daniel was nonexistent on the show. The excuse that the producers were being “discreet” doesn’t really hold up under scrutiny, considering they so freely advertise the romance between Carol and Logan (a relationship much discussed on the blogs). Though it was only briefly touched on in one episode thus far, the straight flirtation was at least mentioned, while Wesley and Daniel’s relationship wasn’t mentioned at all on the show, despite the fact they were clearly falling in love (as demonstrated by the fact that they are still together.)

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        I’m sorry but I have to ask: Do you actually watch the shows on Bravo? Because you don’t seem to have a grasp at all. Bravo shows regularly feature gay contestants/people including their crushes, romances and romantic partners. Last season there was even a long-time lesbian couple competing against each other on Top Chef. And, as previously stated in another comment, other gay romances have been highlighted.

        What you failed to mention in your obvious case of trying to garner attention for yourself is that Wesley was eliminated in the SECOND EPISODE. The viewers didn’t even know anyone’s names yet and you are calling them out for not highlighting their romance? To be perfectly honest, if the show was highlighting a “romance” after the people had known each other a week, I would find it a negative reflection on the people involved. And that would apply whether they were heterosexual, homosexual or liked to screw car stereos. To me, to become so quickly involved with each other in a situation where you are there to compete for something that could change your life, would look shallow. Maybe after living in close quarters for several weeks… but one? Sorry.

        The Logan/Carol Hannah romance wasn’t really even mentioned on the show. The only thing that was said was that she thought he was cute and he liked her southern sayings. That’s it. And frankly there were very few people on the show who DIDN’T say that they thought Logan was cute. In fact, one of the gay male contestants went to far as to suggest that he might jump on him during the night. PR didn’t shy away from showing that. Furthermore, the media were the ones who outed the two as having a romance not the show. Maybe you should be attacking the AP instead?

        I am very happy that the two gentlemen are still together and happy. I wish everyone happiness in love. Truly. But for them (and you) to say that Project Runway was homophobic in their treatment is ridiculous. I think maybe someone is trying to extend their 15 minutes of fame.

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  2. collapse expand

    Allison-
    Great post! While I definitely agree with you about the fact that there is a certain level of homophobia involved in the way that the two differnt relationships have been handled, I think that it is more reflective of how the move to Lifetime has been bad for the show.

    Overall, the quality of the show has really been dismal-from the delays due to the legal drama to the rotating cast of guest judges that have prevented any sort of coherent flow in the judging decisions. And even worse, by moving the show to L.a., you lose the ever-important charachter that is New York City.

    Personally, I think in some ways that playing out the Carol Hannah/Logan relationship is really more about Lifetime trying to provide some distraction from the trainwreck that is Season Six. Here’s to hoping the move back to NYC for Season Seven will cure at least some of what is ailing the show!

  3. collapse expand

    I disagree that it’s homophobic editing. Do you really think the network that’s famous for Queer Eye would do that?

    Keep in mind that season 5 and season 6 have different networks and production companies. I think season 6’s producers (Bunim/Murray) are just trying to create some sort of story line for TV purposes. Season 5’s producers (Magical Elves) didn’t need to do any of that because of all the strong personalities on that season, such as Kenley.

    The storyline of Daniel’s and Wesley’s relationship wasn’t even necessary because Wesley got eliminated 2nd. I was suprised and sad to see him go early, but his design was hard to forgive and he was in the bottom 2 with Leanne, who ended up winning that season.

    I also recall during the time Season 5 was airing on TV, they showed clips of never-be-scene moments during commercials. one of them was about Daniel’s and Wesley’s relationship.

    Andy Cohen was also supportive about their relationship. Both Daniel and Wes were on his aftershow. You could watch the clips on Bravo’s site.

  4. collapse expand

    Rather than your conspiracy theory regarding Project Runway’s gay/not-gay relationship policy, there’s actually a much simpler answer to why this season’s relationship is getting play. Which is that with the move to Lifetime and LA, the producer changed. Now the producers of The Real World are running the show, and sadly, in charge of the casting. Is there one designer on this season that is half as talented as some of the top people from previous seasons? This year’s designers suck, and were obviously chosen for reasons other than talent. Where are the Daniel Vosivics, the Christian Sirianos, the Jay Carrolls?

    As such, that The Real World producers are putting much more emphasis on the infighting, the personality clashes, and the hookups than actual talent in designing leaves me unsurprised. They ruined the show.

  5. collapse expand

    The comparison between how Seasons 1-5 and 6 were produced is really unfair. As others have noted – new network, new producers.

    Wesley was eliminated in Episode 2, so there was hardly any time to play the relationship up on camera anyways. And in fairness to Bravo, they acknowledged the relationship on their online aftershow program and did promote it via cast interviews.

    A couple of cuts showing Logan and Carol Hannah flirting hardly constitutes a romance and the network has not really tried to promote it. The internet may be “abuzz” about it, but it was abuzz over Daniel and Wesley as well.

    Although not directly pertinent to the argument, it should also be noted that Wesley and Daniel are no longer together. The link to “Most recently they traded commitment rings” is more than a year old!

    I would argue that Bravo has done more to show gay people in a positive light than any other network through its myriad of reality programming. Lifetime now has the same opportunity to broaden its appeal.

    If you want to argue homophobia on Project Runway, I think the bigger scandal was in Season 2. Zulema Griffin was an out lesbian but you would have never known it watching the show. In post-show interviews, she complained at how this was mentioned on camera in the confessionals, in the workroom and living space but always edited out. It was ok to be an openly gay man but not a woman!

  6. collapse expand

    This is phenomenally overstated. The first episode or two of any season of PR have been devoted to cast members getting acquainted with one another, with Tim/Heidi/etc. Regardless of whether there was a love at first sight situation between Wes and Daniel, the producers or editors can hardly be blamed for not having given air-time to what LATER became a serious relationship.

    Moreover, I’ve watched this entire season and gotten out of it that Carol Hannah has a crush on Logan, or thinks he’s attractive, and he enjoys her company — I honestly didn’t even know whether he was straight or gay.

    I have no doubt there are other hookups, arguments or relationships that didn’t make other seasons. What makes Project Runway great is that it’s never really stooped to covering the drama, good or bad. Even Carol Hannah and Logan has been in the context of them working next to each other, not making eyes at one another on rooftops.

  7. collapse expand

    there’s definitely a gay double standard on project runway. and not just a gay/straight double standard. there’s a gay male vs. lesbian double standard. the gay men on the show seem to be encouraged to be as “swishy” and fey and super gay as they can on the show, but the one and only (to my knowledge) out lesbian contestant on the show, zuleima griffin (who wanted it to be known that she was a lesbian with a wife of 3 years), was completely marginalized and edited out. to the extent that at the 2006 GLAAD awards, the “cast” of project runway was asked to present an award, and by cast, they clearly meant all the flamboyantly gay men from the show…also in an interview with RealityBlurred.com “that producers asked her, “Do you want us to promote you in the gay market?” She said yes, but she soon discovered that, in December, “Everyone was in the article in The Advocate about being gay but me.” in fashion, it’s only okay to be gay if you’re male. if you’re a gay female, you’d better keep it to yourself.

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