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Thoughts on Project Runway: Under The Gunn Episode 9

It has been a very emotional week. 

Following the ninth episode of Project Runway: Under The Gunn, I have received a dizzying amount of messages through social media about my reaction to the judges' decisions -- namely, my opinions about Natalia Fedner.

It didn't surprise me that viewers would have strong feelings about my exchanges with Nick and the judges.  But I did not expect the level of hostility to be so profound.

I have been largely silent about the episode since its airing -- partly because I've been focused on the recent NYC launch of the Mondo Guerra for Crocs collaboration, but mostly because I needed time to process.  Now, I'm ready to respond.

The majority of negative comments I've received fall into three categories:  1.) accusations of bullying; 2.) disappointment in my behavior; 3.) the belief that mentors should not question the judges.  These are my thoughts on those issues.

Accusations of Bullying

Never in my comments did I disparage Natalia's character, appearance or personhood.  I simply stated my opinion about her position in the competition (a full transcript of the controversial segments are available here).  Still, many feel I was being a bully.  What's more, these people have expressed their disagreement in hurtful and bullying behavior toward me.

I'll spare you the blow-by-blow accounts, but most of the comments have been personal attacks on my character, style and appearance.  I'm baffled at how people can condemn me for perceptions about my actions and behavior that they in turn perpetuate themselves. 

Needless to say, I'm hurt and confused.  I admit that I was indignant and emotionally charged.  But I never "went there" in my own words about Natalia.  And it should be noted that I shared my comments only with the other mentors and the judges -- I never revealed my opinions to Natalia or the other designers.  The statements and behavior of the competitors were their responsibility alone.

So I find the accusations of bullying to be a little unfair.  Because I have an opinion and share it, doesn't make me a bad person.  And I don't discredit other people for sharing their own opinions.  But when someone says I'm a "horrible person" or a "whiny little bitch," productive dialogue about the issue at hand becomes nearly impossible.

Disappointment in My Behavior

I described my reaction to the judges' criticism of Michelle Uberreste as unleashing my "inner mama bear," hoping that people would understand that sometimes our behavior in defense of those we care about can be intense.

I imagine that many of us have been in similar situations where we've shown our ferocious sides in weak moments.  The difference here is that my low points were captured on camera, edited by producers, scored with dramatic music and then broadcast for the world's entertainment.  But that is the risk you take when you put yourself in the public spotlight.  I have to own that.

What you didn't see in the mentors' lounge was that both Anya and I apologized to Nick for venting our frustrations.  And Nick, in turn, thanked us for being honest with our feelings.  So we had already kissed and made up before heading back to the runway for the judges' decisions.

It was difficult to watch myself react in such a negative, emotional way.  But I hope people can understand that I felt compelled to speak up and defend Michelle -- I believed so strongly in her potential. 

Tim Gunn has considerably big shoes to fill.  He's had years of experience guiding designers from concept to the catwalk.  For me, the role of mentor is a new one and I learned on the job.  And I still have a lot to learn.

Mentors Shouldn't Question the Judges

When I said I was disappointed, it was in response to the judges' questions.  Anya and I weren't standing there in defiance -- we were asked to comment on how we felt about their decision and I answered honestly.  I don't feel like I should have to apologize for sharing my opinion when I was asked for it.

I don't envy the judges' positions.  As a former guest judge on several seasons of Project Runway and All Stars, I can vouch that scoring can be very unpredictable.  But I think that the mentors can share important context for the judges to consider.

For example, Tim Gunn came to my defense during the finale of Project Runway season eight, even going so far as to call Michael Kors and Nina Garcia "crack smoking judges" after the season wrapped.  Those moments were never shown on TV, but eventually Project Runway acknowledged the value of Tim's insight and his mentor role was expanded in season 12 to include a seat with the judges during the runway shows and even a Tim Gunn "save."

I'm not Tim Gunn, so I'm not going to pretend that I've earned the right to question the judges' decisions.  But Under The Gunn set new precedents in placing some of the final decisions in the mentors' hands.  So some lines have been blurred.

Final Thoughts

I'm sorry I let you down.  I wish that things would have worked out differently.  I meant no disrespect toward Natalia, Nick or the judges.

I know that I have disappointed many of you and that it will take time to earn your respect again.  But I hope that you will give me that chance and find a way to forgive me.  I'm still the Mondo you know and love -- but now you've seen part of my "dark side," as well.

I wish I could say that the worst is over, but knowing what's coming in the next episode, I'm bracing myself for a fresh slice of humble pie.  Keep in mind that while the show airs weekly, the challenges come the very next day during production.  So the emotions were still very raw going into this next episode.

I love you, Team Mondo, and I hope that we can steer past these bumps in the road together.  Your support means the world to me and is what motivates me to keep going.  Deep breaths, chin up -- I'm ready to begin rebuilding your trust, if you give me the chance.

Live & Love,


Reader Comments (108)

Love you Mondo! I was shocked when I read some of the comments too. It seems like the producers, knowing you and Anya were unhappy, set things up for a confrontation with the judges. They asked your opinion and you gave it.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMamaG

Mondo, dude! Thanks for sharing this insightful consideration of your own behavior. That shows so much maturity, as a human being. Forget being a personality, or designer, or anything. This blog post is very indicative of your unique genius in not shying away from a look at yourself. A critical aspect in growth of any kind, and certainly in growing as a mentor. As for all of the vitriol that is coming your way, I wish I could say ignore it. Impossible. This is in the internet. However, if the individuals who are throwing you the flak or who are "disappointed in you", could untangle, for just one moment, the mediation of producers and editing... they'd understand exactly what you are saying here: it's out of context. You are Mondawesome! And always will be. I hope you don't have to lose a second more of sleep or thought over this.


March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPhilip Shaw

I was totally with you and agreed 100% with your disappointment. I never saw disrespect or hate. And I'm not just standing by you because you are one of my favorites, but because I think your stance was fair.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterTina

First of all, I have NEVER taken the time to contact someone from a television show. I am a big fan of yours from Project Runway. You brought such a unique and inquisitive perspective to all your work. Additionally, I admired you for your humanity: in the way you related to yourself and to another contestant who had been singled out for very negative treatment. In no way do I think you were abusive. Perhaps it had to do with the editing of the program, but to watch it, one saw a LOT of behind the back sniping about this young woman. It felt like, not exclusively from you, there was a lot negative attitude being heaped on this contestant.

This is a situation that is not necessarily winnable. Remain true to yourself. Hang in there.

A fan.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterAnn

I think you're awesome! Appreciate your clarification post and will ALWAYS BE A FAN!

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterWandaluz

I didn't know, on top of all your talents, that you are also a good writer! Your comments here are carefully reasoned and convincing. I appreciate your taking to the time to address your critics. To me, it seems like you are an introvert, so acting and speaking passionately in public probably makes you feel regret and shame afterward. That's a rough dichotomy, and one I share, so your experiences have offered support for me, and I thank you.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commenteremily

Dearest Mondo,

I was relieved to see you speak your mind and in no way were you a "bully".
I have been a fan of yours since you were on Project Runway and i think you are an
amazing mentor with a heart of gold!

All the best!

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterCourtney Terrill

I myself am sorry to you mondo, when I saw the episode I had nothing negative to say about you but after clearing it up hear I just thought i'd apologize myself to you knowing your not at fault for anything and for believing the way producers portray reality competitions show with over dramatic sense turning heroes into bad guys , but I must say you and the other mentors do show love and support only for your teams and at that point in the competition its what they need . thank you for clearing it up on this blog for most of your supporters/ fans and may the best be with you and th winner and losers of Project Runway Under the Gunn

p.s. Tim Gunn AWSOME !

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRafael

Mondo, I'm sorry you have had to defend yourself. You were in no way a bully, nor were you out of line in any way when you expressed your opinion. It is the role of the mentor to take their designer's part, to encourage them, to see their vision, to stand with them during the stressful moments of the competition. I applaud your well-written response. I am disappointed by those who would criticize you and especially those who made it a personal attack. Please continue to work with, understand, support and guide your team. You are following in the footsteps of a truly inspirational mentor and doing a wonderful job.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelanie

That was a very nice blog Mondo, you have restored my adoration for you. I do admit to being very disappointed in you and I totally understand having such passion but for me, at my lofty age of 46, you never build up one person by pulling another down. I think when Natalia sees this episode it will hurt her and add that to the pain she's already gone through...well never mind I suppose, you did apologize and I totally believe every word you said. Good for you Mondo and I'm sorry for the hurt some have heaved upon you, whilst you deserve to know how people feel you did NOT deserve name calling or anything else so horrible. You're a good person and a fantastic designer and I wish you nothing but unicorns and rainbows for the rest of your life! And giggles! xx

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLizzy

Mondo - thank you for your message and taking another risk by sharing your thoughts. I think it is important for us all to remember that all the material we see in the show is edited. Thanks for the reminder.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

Mondo - Massive support from down under! I love you're work from way back in Season 8. Keep being honest and giving your honest thoughts... people are just scared of the truth. Hope you come through with the win for Under The Gunn. Love and Light, Mel

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMel J

Hi Mondo I think we can agree that sometimes we really disagree with the judges decisions. After you were not picked as the Project winner I was so incredulous that I searched the internet for a way to support you. I found your sugar skull t-shirt and I a broke girl bought your shirt . I used my money to show my disagreement. I agree with you regarding Michele the judges didn't get her. i thought she was going to be in the top. I was shocked she was eliminated. I must admit I was surprised about your comments on Natalia she isn't myy favorite but I can see her potential. I guess we can say that you feel about Natalia the way the judges felt about Michele

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMelissa A

Mondo, You did not let anyone down. I'm human. You're human. You have an opinion. Don't sweat it. You are fine. Since when can't we talk or express an opinion? Honestly, I loved your column (above) but the mea culpa at the end was NOT necessary. Be yourself, dude. That's is what I admire about you in the FIRST place :)

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered Commentermollie

Mondo, thanks for sharing all of this. It never occurred to me that people (and your fans) would turn on you. I respect what you did but I respectfully disagree with you. Natalia is one of my favorites for her wit and creativity. i understand that she has time management issues. Perhaps you feel that she also has construction issues. I can't speak to that. I can see how the mentors have struggled and grown on this show. Watching the mentors is a fascinating part of the show. I suspect you are learning more than you imagined. You have some great designers as do the other two mentors. Good luck to you!!

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMichael

What you did and said was proper and needed. You didn't attack Natalia; you criticized the work. Many of us viewers who have sewing skill can't understand the judges comments sometimes. Thanks for being the breath of realism in an unreal situation.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLisa

I loved that you stuck up for her. You would regret it if you never had. As her mentor its your job. Ive been impressed with your mentor skills, your open, direct, honest and give incredible feedback. You never said anything untrue or unfair.

The thing is, its tough all around.. Its hard to hear critisism, get kicked off, and to be creatively vulnerable in that way. Its a fantastic journey, but there is a price. "Fans" who dont like it should suck it.

You go, Mondo. Its hard to put your guts out on national tv. Good for you.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

You have nothing to apologize for. Your role as a mentor is not only to help them through the creative process but to continue that support through all aspects of the competition. As you stated never did you or Anya express your thoughts in front of the contestants. You and Anya have never overstepped the boundaries in your interactions with the designers. As a mentor you should offer no apologies for defending your team. Through all the episodes your thoughts on your designers work has never been through rose colored glasses, you've critiqued equally as well. Showing your emotional investment only demonstrates your commitment to being an excellent mentor. Keep being the wonderful person you are with the strong opinions you have that's what makes you the Mondo we love to watch and cheer for.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKelly Jones

Mondo, you have absolutely been my favorite mentor for most of this season, because I love the way you teach your designers. If I were ever to be lucky enough to be on the show (I'd have to learn how to sew, first!), you would definitely be my pick for mentor!

That being said, I was really disappointed with the way you went after Natalia on the last episode - to me, it almost seemed like you were hurt over Michelle being in the bottom, and lashing out at someone you didn't feel deserved to be in the top (this may or may not be the case - it's just how it seemed to me). It's a human response, and I very much get it - but I also don't think Natalia deserved it. I'm no expert, but you were right in that her garment had construction issues; however, as a consumer, I can also tell you that I MUCH preferred Natalia's dress over Michelle's. And yes, Natalia may have struggled in past weeks, but the show is about teaching new designers and helping them to grow - mentoring them to become the best designer they can. Nick (finally) did a fantastic job of that in this episode, and it showed in Natalia's work.

I was pretty upset/disappointed with you and Anya after watching the episode, and I lost a little respect for you. It really didn't help that it seemed like all of the other designers were ganging up on her, but I sort of suspect that was played up a bit by the directors for dramatic appeal. Natalia is my favorite designer because I feel I relate to her in a lot of ways - I think a lot of young women do - and it's hard to watch her peers tear her down. I was always that girl in class that no one liked, so this last episode seriously hit home with me.

That's all just my two cents on the subject. However, I wasn't there and none of us are privy to all of the things that happen that the directors choose to leave out of the broadcast, and we don't have the same experiences with the designers that the mentors do. I understood that as I watched the show, but I'm grateful you took the time to write out your side of the story here. You've restored my faith in Under The Gunn and in Team Mondo :)

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer Booth

Bottom line, Natalie did not finish the challenge, Michele did. In my opinion, Natalie should have been eliminated way before this challenge. By the way, Mondo I applaud you for standing up and expressing your beliefs. You are a class act and know talent when you see it. Your mentoring skills are superb.

March 17, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah

I really appreciate the sincerity and thoughtfulness of this post. I think what struck me most in the episode - the part I was disappointed in - was less about what you said and more about how you said it. I think there is a lot outside of words in communication and it was the attitude with which it came across (some of it, albeit, edited) that was off-putting. Also, the fact that they did not show, which does not mean it did not happen, either you or Anya role modeling a better attitude for your respective design teams.
However, in my very unimportant eyes, at least, this post shows a level of self-awareness and insight that warrants my continued respect.
Keep fighting the good fight with the knowledge that only you can truly know your intention.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

Dear Mondo, Not even close: you in no way, shape or form were bullying. I agree that this show has broken the wall by placing you and Anya and the impossible position of having to choose between two of the designers on your own teams. It's only appropriate that you then voice your opinion to the judges at the level of colleagues-who-disagree. You have not lost our trust, and your humility only deepens it. Bravo.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiane

It's true that Natalya isn't the best designer in the group, but there was someone worse than her in every episode. Michele was the worse one this time and it was totally fair that she left. Natalya did a good job and it was a shame you and Anya ruined that moment for her.

The comments on your behavior went way too far, but there were also realistic ones you don't mention here. Anyway, apology accepted :)
I was also disappointed from the latest episode, because I remember you as the humble Mondo that made the world fall in love with him. Instead of thinking who should leave without even paying attention to the current look they are showing, you should focus on the work of your own designers... It was bad last time and the elimination was totally fair.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNatasha

I was never disappointed in you Mondo. I thought your opinions were valid and in no way bullying. I have no doubt you will continue to grow in your mentor role. You are doing a great job. :)

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKellkitten

That episode was very intense, and I felt everyone, designers and mentors were not being really fair or forgiving. While Natalia was never a favorite of mine, I did not agree with the judges, it was, in fact, their decision, not yours or mine. I am glad you defended Natalia, and I think you are the best mentor there. Go on doing what you have been doing, be true to yourself and your ideals. You are a favorite of mine since the first show you were on, and my prayers are always with you.

March 18, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterKathy Boyce
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