Thanks to my originally-a-client-now-a-dear-friend Kathryn, I am able to watch last night’s premiere of HGTV’s Design Star Season 5 without fear of blown breakers. And gawd knows I wouldn’t serve myself anything as nice as the Prosecco Royales Kathryn mixes up, either–so double thanks! On my way over to Kathryn’s house, I chat with Season 4 finalist Jason Champion, who is excited to see how things will be different with Mark Burnett’s production company (Survivor, The Apprentice) at the helm. I expect it might be a little bittersweet for all of last season’s finalists to pass the torch to a new set of twelve contenders, but of course Jason is his usual upbeat self and says he expects the show to come off a lot more sophisticated. He is right about that in many respects, although for me, this incarnation of Design Star actually lacks its own true identity apart from The Apprentice. They use the same score, same B-roll of New York City, same confessional interview locations, same pack-your-bags-if-you’re-headed-to-the-“boardroom” as The Apprentice. Regurgitating the formula, music and footage must save them a s### ton of time and money, but if you have the sound turned off, you barely know you’re watching Design Star and not The Apprentice. Granted, this season is head and shoulders slicker than previous seasons, but that bar isn’t so high, is it? Talk about phoning it in…or maybe I expect more from the man who revolutionized reality competition shows?
It must also be said…I miss former host Clive Pearse. He humanized the show in previous seasons and added a humorous vibe that this season is lacking. As a hosting panel, judges Candice Olson (Divine Design), Vern Yip (HGTV’s soon-to-come Urban Oasis), and Genevieve Gorder (Dear Genevieve) appear much more stiff and robotic than they do on their solo shows.
I do applaud the abandoning of Design Your Own Living Quarters So We Don’t Have to Pay Other Designers for That brand of first challenges that has stalked previous seasons. It is interesting to see them begin with the White Room Challenge—something normally reserved for deeper into the season. The fact that the contestants don’t have to bust out of the gate with a group project is great for those of us who are design fans. This gives viewers—as well as the contestants—a chance to size everyone up before everyone’s thrown together on a task and forced to compromise their design visions. (Task? See how Apprentice-speak has already started infiltrating?) It’s also a welcome change to see carpentry assistants assigned to each designer, although I can’t tell if it makes much of a difference in this particular challenge. That will certainly play a bigger role if/when a kitchen makeover is involved.