What The Cameras Don't Show You On Project Runway

"Project Runway" has been around for 19 seasons, spanning over 18 years. That's a long time for a reality TV show. Much has changed since the first episode was broadcast in 2004 — the people, the places, the challenges, and the trends. One thing that hasn't changed is the premise of the show: Designers compete for a chance to create a collection for New York Fashion Week and money to start their own fashion line.

There's something to be said about watching the contestants become more refined versions of themselves as each season progresses. Every week, we see the designers go through all the ups and downs, culminating in the main event which showcases some of the most beautiful pieces worn on models parading down the runway.

There is a lot happening in each episode, but there is even more happening behind the scenes. It's amazing to think that there's a whole other story taking place alongside the finished product we see on TV. Here are some things the cameras didn't show you during the longest-running fashion show in history.

Runway judging is a process

The "Project Runway" judges don't get a ton of airtime compared to the rest of the cast, but they do put in work. That's comforting considering they hold the key to the designer's destiny each season. Producer Sara Rea has said (via Insider), "Although the runway show, judging, and elimination typically only take around 10 minutes of each episode, the entire process takes much longer." She told The A.V. Club that, in total, the whole process takes about seven hours.

Unlike most reality shows, where reshooting and staging key scenes is a huge part of the production process, the producers keep out of the judging process. Christian Siriano spoke with Brandon Maxwell and Elaine Welteroth on the "Project Runway After Show" after their decision to advance four designers to the finale. Maxwell was very clear, saying, "The producers do not tell us what to do, just FYI. Ultimately, we're trying to decide who's going to go to Fashion Week, so today, truthfully, was actually a weirdly magical moment." Welteroth later joked, "The producers don't tell us what to do, but Christian Siriano does. He's got opinions about everything."

Project Runway is more size inclusive thanks to Tim Gunn

During Season 3, "Project Runway" made some progress in the way of inclusive clothing with its "Everyday Woman" challenges. Despite the challenges for any novice designer who typically only has experience working with mannequins and dress forms in small sizes, this surely helped the contestants prepare for the real world in which the average size of an American woman is now between 16 and 18.

Still, Tim Gunn wasn't impressed with the show's slow-moving progress and pushed for more inclusive sizing. He opened up about the topic in his 2016 editorial piece for The Washington Post, "I love the American fashion industry, but it has a lot of problems, and one of them is the baffling way it has turned its back on plus-size women. It's a puzzling conundrum."

Gunn decided to take things one step further and take action, as USA Today noted. The seasoned on-air mentor championed change in a big way with the inclusion of plus-size fashion and models of all shapes and sizes in Season 16. Until Gunn stepped in, a model for a typical runway event was the sample size, which means they were often wearing U.S sizes 0 to 4. Today, models of various heights and sizes ranging from 0 to 22 have been spotted on the show's runway.

The crossover episode with Real Housewives was 'intense' behind the scenes

In Season 19, Episode 10, the Bravo franchise worlds collided when seven Real Housewives sought the help of "Project Runway" designers for their reunion looks. "The Real Housewives of Orange County" stars Gina Kirschenheiter and Shannon Beador, as well as Dr. Wendy Osefo, Gizelle Bryant, and Karen Huger of "The Real Housewives of Potomac," joined "The Real Housewives of New York" stars Leah McSweeney and Luann de Lesseps in the "Project Runway" studio.

Whenever there is a collision, there will be some noise. Host and mentor Christian Siriano told Vanity Fair, "Having the Housewives, designers, and myself in a room was probably one of the most intense groupings of personalities ever in the show's history. The fittings were chaos. Even the strongest designers backed down to the power of the Housewives. It was hilarious to watch."

Although Andy Cohen is accustomed to chaos, his experience was more relaxing than Siriano's time in the studio. The talk show host was right in his element, telling Vanity Fair, "As the guest judge, what was fun for me was that I was able to bring the conversations that I knew the viewers would want to hear about, and that maybe the judges ... wouldn't necessarily know about. Like Gizelle's complicated past in fashion and Karen's view on that, or Wendy's new body, or Shannon's love of a high ponytail — there were a lot of things I was able to discuss at the runway that I think the judges didn't know. That made it fun for me."

The contestants have a grueling schedule

Being a contestant on a reality television show has its perks, but everything has a price. They are isolated from everyone they know and thrown into a situation unlike anything they've ever experienced. It is common for a "Project Runway" day to last up to 18 hours. Producer Sara Rea confirmed in her interview with The A.V. Club, "But, yeah, they're up at 5 a.m.— and some of them are up earlier to get ready. They're working to midnight, and by the time they get back it's 12:30 a.m., and if we're shooting reality it's 1 a.m., and then they're back up in the morning."

The producers place a lot of importance on the well-being of the contestants. As a result, they introduced a sleep schedule and mandatory lunch breaks, according to Rea. "We've learned that we have to make them eat because they'll get so focused that they won't eat, and that's not good for them or us or anyone," she said. "We just do rotations so that everyone eats at different times within the same hour block."

These are some rules we can get behind!

The models on the show reportedly aren't paid

In the real world, a designer can create new looks with unlimited access to their model or muse. Unfortunately, the "Project Runway" process doesn't afford their reality stars that same luxury. As the show's executive producer Sara Rea told The A.V. Club, "Backstage, they get five minutes of what we call 'last looks' which we shoot and air when it's relevant. They're last-minute touch-ups, just like any designer would do for their show."

The lack of availability of the models could be done purposefully to make the competition more interesting. Perhaps this is also a result of the fact that the models are reportedly not financially compensated, so they're not available as often as the designers would like. Season 3 model Clarissa Anderson shared her experience with OnMilwaukee, saying, "Being a model, you're used to being paid a pretty decent amount of money for whatever job you're doing, but 'Project Runway' was not paid and that's something a lot of people don't know." She said, "We did not get anything; 13 hours a day, nothing."

Producers have a team of people coming up with ideas for creative challenges

The designers aren't the only ones who need to get their creative juices flowing each season. Team members behind the scenes must find creative ways to challenge the contestants while keeping the viewers engaged at the same time. Although challenges come our way every day, there's something to be said for a designer who can make a killer outfit out of party favors, newspapers, car parts, or items from a hardware store. There's something to be said about those who come up with these intriguing ideas as well.

​​Producer Sara Rea responded to The A.V. Club's question on choosing materials for the unconventional challenges, saying, "It's a process. We have a team of people whose main job is to sit around and come up with ideas, and they bring them to us and we try to visualize all the different materials." She continued, "I always like it when they present it to us as a list of what's in that store. Like, what's in a hardware store? It helps you say, 'Well, what would I do? What could they use to make something?'" Ultimately, the team decides to go forward with whatever they think will be the "most fun."

Project Runway has moved networks and coasts

If you're an avid fan of "Project Runway," you know that New York City has played an integral role in the reality show. In its early years, the reality show was filmed at Parsons School of Design, a division of The New School. Parsons was also dear to on-air mentor Tim Gunn, as he taught there. The show briefly relocated to the West Coast during Season 6, when the program moved to the Lifetime network. Some were hopeful about the move. "Los Angeles is a big part of fashion now because of celebrity, film, television and red carpet fashion. So it gave us a chance to do all sorts of new challenges," said executive producer Jane Cha to Fashion Network. Still, some were happy when they returned to the East Coast and were back shopping at Mood Fabrics for Season 7.

There was a lull until Season 14 when "Project Runway" needed to leave the Parsons' Manhattan building. The School of Design was moving to Greenwich Village, where the New School campus was located. The reality show found their new home at GUM Studios in Long Island City, according to Reality Blurred

Finally, "Project Runway" made its triumphant return to Bravo for Season 17 in 2018, bringing everything full circle.

Johnny Weir was thrilled to be a part of Project Runway

Season 19's celebrity client challenge brought a unique opportunity for the designers. It's not every day that former Olympians Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski show up on set asking you to create a look for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

The Olympians-turned-commentators were delighted for this opportunity. Weir told The Daily Dish about the fondness that he and his friends shared for the reality show when it was still in its infancy. "And just being able to celebrate young talent and people that maybe didn't have the correct circumstance to really make their fashion dreams come true, putting it all on the line, I always admired that about 'Project Runway.' It gives young designers a chance," he shared. "And my feelings towards the show have never changed. And I was so excited and honored that they called and wanted Tara and I to not only be a part of the show, but to have the designers create looks for us for what we do and what we love to do at the Olympics."

Seems like appearing on "Project Runway" was a dream come true for Weir.