The industry of reality television is a give-take game – contestants often have to give the producers something so they can take it and make a television product out of it, for good or for bad. Often the reverse happens, where producers give contestants opportunities and stories on a silver platter and they are expected to take them and run with them. Often, this is the result of favoritism, other times, this is the results of simply a dig for content. It’s rare that contestants will refuse to play ball with opportunities like this but one such story like this happened on the latest season of Project Runway, and it almost led to the destruction of Swapnil Shinde’s wellbeing.
Like most good Project Runway contestants, Swapnil was a likable, funny, and fantastic fashion designer. He dealt with casual racism in a level-headed way from several of his fellow castmembers. He made fantastic garments from almost nothing that got overlooked constantly. But the only thing he didn’t count on was the system of reality television, which was simply begging him to play ball. At some random point in the season, he was treated as though he’d been coasting making boring pieces and the judges were expecting him to step up, rather than continue his already great work. They acted as though their arbitrary whims towards who deserved to win a challenge each week were truly indicative of someone’s work, and because Swapnil hadn’t won a single challenge despite placing highly in all of them, he was coasting and lazy.
And the television product seemed to agree with him – after this point in the season, he was shown to be lazy in spite of his talent and constantly went on smoking breaks to the consternation of everyone around him, first and foremost Tim Gunn. In spite of how funny it was on the show, nobody around him was laughing. Tim Gunn acted as though Swapnil was ungrateful for the experience rather than just being cautious. Episodes would go by where Swapnil was berated endlessly for his supposed laziness, and it was all simultaneously fascinating and uncomfortable to watch. Whenever he did attempt to play ball with the story being given to him, Swapnil was ignored, and it got to the point where he simply didn’t care about what the producers wanted from him anymore, and in spite of his constant fantastic designs he was eliminated well before his time in 6th place.
On top of being easily the most likable and entertaining character of the season, Swapnil was a case study into the machinations of reality television, starting as a positive and turning into the negatives. Given the opportunity Swapnil made fantastic designs but his refusal to buy into the system had his entire character destroyed and even had him contemplating giving up being a designer, if the reunion was any indication. While it appears he never gave up on his dream, and he never should have considered it in the first place, the ten episode arc of Swapnil Shinde was one of the most notable and interesting arcs of the year.