There was no joy in canning Keith Michael from Project Runway. It sucked. We hated it. We loved Keith from the moment we cast him because we saw in him drive, good taste and talent. He's also handsome and generally quite free with his opinions of others. When taping began it was pretty clear that Keith was going to be a frontrunner in a crowded field of talent. He won the first challenge and had the judges talking for the next few weeks.
We were in the midst of taping (last night's) episode 304 when we took a break to shoot promos for the series. (You no doubt have seen your fill of them -- the ones with the designers and Heidi in front of an all-white background....) It's our standard operating procedure to shoot these promos while we're still in production to capture the competition -- thus there's no fakery when people are saying "I'm going to win," etc. The designers all believe they are going to win and they are still very much in the competition. (Though yes, it is a drag for the few people who have already been auf'd.)
There were accusations of Keith's bringing some pattern books with him that came to the production's attention at this time. The production team assembled to question Keith about what was real and what was not, and about what access he had to the books.
Having access to the books is a no-no and against Runway rules.
There was a long discussion in order to formulate a verdict about Keith based on what we were hearing from him, his fellow designers, roommates, and the production team. These discussions were occurring during our promo shoot and, unfortunately, came to a decisive finish when Keith went AWOL from the photo shoot, disappearing for several hours.
Whatever we did or didn't know about Keith's access to the books -- which represented a clear infraction of our rules -- was compounded by his breaking another rule. Keith walked out of the bubble that contestant/designers are required to live in.
Challenge-in-hand, he had access to Macy's itself, the internet (which he used to email the production team), and an entire outside world full of people and things that could influence his designs.
Our decision about whether we could keep him in the design competition based on having the books was unfortunately sealed by his ditching the photo shoot. It was heartbreaking for me to watch Keith explaining to his roommates that he's become a laughingstock in front of his friends and the world.
We went to great pains to not accuse Keith outright of cheating, and I hope the fans of the show, and of Keith, got that. But the show does have rules and everybody has to follow them to the letter, it's as simple as that. We take rule violations seriously not only because so many people want to be on the show, but also to maintain the integrity of the competition for the remaining participants.
As exciting as the promos were and as fun as it was for viewers to speculate on who was going to be eliminated and why, there has been no joy in this process for anyone involved with the show. As for Keith, based on what he designed in those first three challenges, I am sure he has a great future in womenswear.