Project Runway’s surprising homophobic editing
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.