The third season of Design Star premiered tonight, and if you read my cast critique or saw their audition videos yourselves, there weren’t many surprises.

*Spoiler alert: I’ll reveal the winner of the online poll for the 9th cast spot and talk about the shocker of a first challenge.

Let’s get right to the identy of the ninth finalist. The voters selected Stax…um, I mean Stephanie Cook, who beat out a cute, petite woman from Tyler, TX to take the last spot in the lineup. If you saw her audition video and/or tonight’s show, you probably noticed that Stephanie was workin’ her bustline every chance she got, to garner a spot on the show. Her portfolio was admitedly pretty great-looking–very streamlined and Vern-like (as in Vern Yip, one of the DS judges), but I don’t know how competitive she can be if she can’t build anything for the upcoming challenges (“I’ve never touched a power tool in my life!”). Since their first assignment is the mind-blowing challenge of building their cast home with a deadline of seven days, methinks Stephanie’s going back to her home in Irvine, CA at the end of next Sunday’s episode.

Stephanie Cook

And speaking of this first challenge, the sight of the nine of them driving up one by one to find two stacks of lumber, two tall toolboxes, and a rectangle marked off in orange surveyor’s tape in the drizzling rain and mud brought to mind the season of The Apprentice where each week’s losing team had to camp outside the winning team’s mansion digs. It remains to be seen if they’ll get some unexpected help with parts of the equation–surely they will not be expected to install the electrical and plumbing in a property that will presumably be sold off after the competition is over–but Jennifer echoed my own reaction to this prospect when she said she considered getting back in the car, that maybe she wanted to try out for a different show!

Other impressions:

Traci has a more relaxed on-air persona than her audition video seemed, but we caught her stressing over her manicure in slow-mo when host Clive Pearse tossed the first paint can o’ money (a hundred grand!) at the group. Man up, lady. You’re gonna be getting your hands dirty. Or didn’t you watch the previous seasons of the show?

Props to Matt’s OCD-on-crack-style presentation “boards” (more like an installation). That was c-r-a-z-y cool.

They brought far too many freaks out to LA for testing (Tidy Whities Guy, Nautical-or-Nothing Guy, I Don’t Understand Juxtaposition Girl, Dude Looks Like a Lady).

One whackjob with his own catchphrase (“America, it’s official. I’m amazing.”) managed to charm the judges somehow and made it onboard. I’m still scratching my head over it because during his meeting with the panel, our local-ish guy Michael struck me as someone too instable to make it through the competition without going postal on the other finalists. After watching him whine and struggle to articulate his point of view as a designer, and appear to resent the question, I only have one thing to say about him. Freak Boy, it’s official. You’re annoying.

Looking forward to seeing what’ll happen next week.