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Greetings and salutations, Project Runway junkies. I'm Kevin Van Valkenburg, sports writer when sober, fashion blogger/recapper when not.

First, a brief apology for my absence last week. I'd like to tell you I was so overcome with all the emotion of Jim and Pam's wedding at Niagara Falls that I simply couldn't recap, but the truth is I was a little under the weather. Not even Heidi's bizarro Oktoberfest b---- slap of Epperson could shake me out of my fever fog. But seriously, just to look backward for a brief moment, Logan made a pair of pants that looked like they'd be ill-fitting on a traveling hobo, and Epperson was still the one who got booted. Insanity. (It's time for Logan to stop making Bambi eyes at pushover judges like Zoe Glassner and Zanna Roberts and start actually designing some closes.) Essentially, this is why Heidi can't be left alone to make major decisions, much like her native Germany. She needs Spain (Nina Garcia), France (Michael Kors) to keep her in line while England (Tim Gunn) makes sassy comments and referees disputes.

This week begins with the adorable Carol Hannah telling us she's queen of the middle -- never great, but never awful -- and then she tries to sell us on the idea that slow and steady wins the race. (Basically, Carol Hannah wants to be the Jay Leno of Project Runway.) Heidi strolls onto the runway this week wearing a stunning black blouse and ruby red pants that are probably supposed to seem a little punk rock (judging by the belt) by look more like the pants Aerosmith's Steven Tyler wore in the "Love in an Elevator" music video.

Heidi says this challenge is all about the opportunity to "shine," but doesn't elaborate further. Instead, she makes weirdo faces. My heart skips a beat as I briefly contemplate the possibility that the designers might be making an outfit for the rapper "Shyne," who just got out of prison after serving a 10-year sentence that everyone assumes he agreed to because someone had to take the fall for Diddy back in 1999. Alas, I have to keep reminding myself that this season of PR was filmed almost a year ago, so that seems unlikely. Perhaps next season.

Cut to what looks like a romantically lit museum, where Tim Gunn is looking rather debonair in a purple tie. He's standing next to Bob Mackie, the so-called "Sultan of Sequins." Mackie is famous in the fashion world for designing costume dresses sought by attention-seeking actresses, the kind of women who have never met an ostrich feather they couldn't stuff into a thong and call a red carpet dress. Which is to say Cher, Tina Turner and Madonna. Mackie is a handsome fellow, in a what-if-Frank-Gifford-were-gay kind of way.

Tim says this week's challenge will be to design a stage look -- in the style of Bob Mackie -- for a five-time Grammy winning, multiplatinum artist. But who is it? Tim lets the suspense build, and Nicolas responds by chewing on his fingernails like a raccoon with a meth addiction.

"She's an individual who sets trends and her own rules when it comes to her fashion, both on and off the stage," Gunn says.

(Please, please don't be Celine Dion. I have a hard enough time explaining to my straight friends why I love blogging about this show.)

Turns out it's Christina Aguilera! I'm actually kind of excited about this. I miss the days of MTV when the world seemed to revolve around people like Christina Aguilera.  Remember when Eminem was so angry that Aguilera not-so-subtlety accused him of abusing his wife that Eminem wrote a song about how she hooked up with Fred Durst and Carson Daly? And even though all parties involved denied it, it seemed, at the time like the most scandalous thing ever? It makes me feel so old realizing that happened more than a decade ago. Those vapid chuckleheads on The Hills were like 11 years old back then. (Sigh.)

Cut to Mood. We got here so quickly, I'm going to further revise my Los Angeles travel theory and suggest that Tim Gunn got everyone here by piloting the Millennium Falcon, because Tim is absolutely the Han Solo of the fashion world. (Here is hoping Nicolas had to ride in the smuggling compartments while Irina and Shirin got to play space chess.) Inside Mood, it's nothing but feathers, sequins and panic, baby! Carol Hannah tell us that her strategy is to buy as many possible things as she can and "figure it out later."

(Facepalm.)

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Oh dear. Sweet, naive Carol Hannah. Haven't you learned by now that Heidi is probably listening to you right now, beneath an invisibility cloak?

With two days and $300 for this challenge, there is really no excuses. It's one thing to get sent home when you have to make a outfit out of groceries or candy, but when you get to choose your own fabric, sketch your own design, and you have plenty of time to execute it, you're the only one to blame if it doesn't go well. It's sort of like when one party occupies the White House, and has control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. You've run out excuses if you can't get the job done, even if people are opening rooting for you to fail. So the same way that Rush Limbaugh is rooting for President Obama to fail, I'm rooting for Nicolas to fail.

Back to the workroom. My girl Irina resumes her role as the go-to designer for catty commentary in the talking heads. She's already mocking Shirin for her choice of fabrics, and we aren't even 10 minutes in to the show. She does have a point though. Shirin is ironing a dress that is so red, it looks like it will worn by Jessica Rabbit.

Carol Hannah pulls out a heap of clothes and looks equally confused.

"I really don't know what Carol Hannah bought," Irina says. "She bought this like this cheap, crappy-looking Halloween costume fabric."

I think the only way to make Irina's mean commentary more awesome is if you pretend she's saying it with Ian McShane's voice, like she's the main character on Deadwood. I think from this moment forward, we're going to have to refer to her as Irina Swearengen because she is simply that cold-blooded.

Meanwhile, the stress seems to be getting to everyone else. Gordana is wandering around the workroom wearing sneakers and a skirt, rubbing her temples and mumbling to herself in broken English. Even with immunity for winning the "Lonely Divorcee Challenge" last week, I'm worried her brain is about to splinter into 10 different pieces, kind of like what happened to Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Cut to the next morning, Gordana is starting over from scratch, Nicolas focused on accentuating Christina Aguilera's breasts, and Shirin is drowning in a hurricane of fabric and wearing a hat that one of Payne Stewart's kids apparently mailed to her on accident. Tim Gunn strolls into the workroom and immediately expresses his "general disappointment" with Christopher's two-part outfit, which features a top that "tears away" to reveal another look underneath.

"If you're going to have a reveal, it should be super sexy [skanky]," Tim says, and somewhere Fred Durst nods his goatee in agreement.

Tim isn't finished grinding designers dreams beneath the heel of his boot, however, because he's equally unimpressed with Althea's outfit as well.

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"You and Christopher, you're both thinking about this like she comes out in a pumpkin and pops out," Tim says, and in the background, we see Nicolas giggling like a hyena. It turns out we might get the last laugh though, because Tim calls out Nicolas next for essentially ripping off his Ice Queen design, and Nicolas' snark balloon deflates by half.

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Like a tornado that seems to grow stronger the more it destroys, however, Tim Gunn is practically and F5 by the time he gets to Shirin. When he's done talking, I'm actually stunned that she hasn't burst into tears. Hell, I'm even more surprised Christopher didn't burst into tears just listening to it.

"This is like Guinevere meets vampira," Tim says. "This looks like student work. I looks like it's for a 16-year-old's really bad prom."

In case you'd forgotten one of our favorite subjects -- that everyone wants to get in Logan's pants, regardless of how poorly-tailored they might be -- before the night ends we're treated to several clips of Logan and Carol Hannah flirting with one another. Carol Hannah blushes and tells us Logan is hot and this is "really distracting." The more I see of this, the more I'm convinced that this season is going to end with a shot of Irina Swearengen lying in bed with Logan while Carol Hannah stands on the sidewalk outside their apartment in the rain crying.

Cut to the following morning, where it's time for models and make-up. Nicolas overhears Irina telling her model that Carol Hannah is mediocre and that she has no personality, and in a talking head, Nicolas seems mostly annoyed that Irina has the gall to act like a bigger snotty queen than him.

"Irina is a great designer. The only problem with her is that she is a b----," Nicolas says. "I just wish she would be nicer to people and not treat everyone like they work for her."

Runway show. Oh hell yeah, guess who is back? It's my girl Nina Garcia! It seems the Weinstein Bros. finally found her number in one of their BlackBerrys, and decided to let her know the season started, even though this is week nine of the competition. Everything is just better with Nina in it, frankly. I'd like to see Nina in the Monday Night Football booth, if possible next season. I want Nina hosting Meet the Press. I don't care if she's talking about Peyton Manning or Sarah Palin, she would eat them for lunch and then pick her teeth with their bones.

Christina Aguilera is also on Judge's Row, and she's wearing a wig that looks like someone from the local barber college cut her bangs with a bowl and a straight razor. I've never understood exactly why she likes to dress like a drag queen so often, because she's otherwise quite gorgeous. But she's not here. In fact, it seems like she took the Frowny Bus from Frowntown to get here. In half the shots, it looks like she's trying to pass gas without anyone noticing.

Let's cut to the chase. To be honest, Carol Hannah and Nicolas look like front runners, with Irina, Christopher and Logan not that far behind. Gordana's dress is a joke, and I'm almost certain that Heidi will scold her for slacking just because she had immunity. Shirin's dress his hit or miss. No idea what the judges will think. Althea, I assume, will skate through because that's what Althea does every week. Honestly, ever since she won that challenge early for an atrocious, bra less outfit, it's like she's been invisible.

In a minor surprise, Irina gets sent to the greenroom to represent the middle, which I'm a little bummed about because there is always the potential she'll mock someone as they're getting ripped, resulting in tears. (I'm looking in your direction, Christopher.) She's quickly followed by Gordana, but not before Heidi tells her that her dress was a disaster, and she's lucky to have a free pass this week.

Christina gets things started by praising Carol Hannah's featherpalooza, and backstage I think I hear Irina Irina Swearengen grinding her teeth. Shirin, however, gets called out for making a Halloween costume.

"I see like an upscale witch Halloween dress," Heidi quips. "There needs like a pointy black hat and a broom, and it would be like a perfect Halloween outfit."

(Now to Shirin's credit, Heidi did say "upscale" Halloween dress.)

Nina drops the hammer on Christopher, saying that everything she sees in his outfit is something that has been done before, but then Christina totally undermines that by saying she really likes the effort Christopher put into everything. See Nina, this is what happens when you miss eight weeks. Skinny like pop stars with bowl-cut bangs will undermine your rip jobs! The nerve!

Logan's outfit is a mess, but he gets minor praise from Nina for taking a chance instead of boring everyone to tears, which I suspect is a direct dig at Shirin.

In the end, Carol Hannah picks up the victory, and I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think (gag, cough, gag) that Nicolas got screwed a little. His outfit was pretty darn good. (Now excuse me while I go punch myself in the face.) Nicolas and Logan are safe, meaning it comes down to Christopher and Shirin.

(Dum, dum, dum, spooky music, Halloween music, dum, dum!)

It seems the Upscale Park Avenue witches are getting auf Wiedersehens instead of candy this year.

Goodbye, Shirin. If you hurry along and clean up your stuff, maybe Epperson will buy you a beer at Oktoberfest.

Until next week, kids.

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