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Project Runway: Season Five Premiere

The Season 5 cast of
The Season 5 cast of "Project Runway" has its work cut out for it, including a fashion challenge recycled from the show's first season: finding raw materials in a New York grocery store. The results are more amusing than surprising. (By Virginia Sherwood -- Bravo)
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Robin Givhan
Washington Post Fashion Editor
Thursday, July 17, 2008; 2:00 PM

It was back to the supermarket aisles in a blast-from-the-past challenge on the first episode of Season Five of Project Runway.

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Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post Fashion Editor Robin Givhan was online Thursday, July 17 to discuss the season premiere, which she reviewed in Wednesday's Post. She also welcomes your dish about the hosts, judges and new cast of designers -- and your speculation about what a move to a new city and network will mean for the future of the fiercest reality show of all time.

A transcript follows.

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Robin Givhan: Hello Project Runway fans,

I'm curious to hear if you all enjoyed the first episode last night or if you're starting to feel like the show's getting a bit stale. Let's chat!

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Leesburg, Va.: I know the quick-moving fine-print in the credits says that the producers have input into the final decision of the judges, but how much input do the producers have? Can they completely override the judges?

In the last couple of seasons, it seemed several times like the designer of the truly worst outfit didn't get voted off if the designer was one of the more dramatic or controversial characters. Even breaking the rules didn't get someone voted off.

Last night's premiere seemed to do that again. Jerry's outfit was bad, but at least it had several separate pieces and some sewing. Stella's outfit was just trashbag strips and Tanning-Guy's diaper outfit was trashed by all the judges, yet they both survived. But Jerry was a quiet older man while the other two are the punker-Cher and the new Christian Soriano-like annoying kid.

How much of the judging is talent-based and how much of it is purely for ratings?

Robin Givhan: Oh, Leesburg, you're sounding like such a cynic! My understanding is that the producers have some input but none that ultimately affects the outcome of the show. Now, I'm not sure if that's the final outcome....as in who wins. Or the outcome of each and every challenge. But I also think the judges see things we as viewers don't. After all, they can eyeball the construction of these garments and we cannot. And frankly, if it came down between two awful outfits and one designer was more entertaining than the other....I'd boot off the boring one. But I've always felt the most deserving designer ultimately ends up winning.

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Virginia: I felt really overwhelmed by the sheer number of contestants this season. Is 16 larger than the starting number in the past?

Robin Givhan: I know what you mean. The first episode is always a dizzying array of trash talk and angst. I'm not positive but I do think that there are a couple more designers than usual. But I also think that this crop had far fewer designers who were immediately memorable.

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Alexandria, Va.: Hi Robin,

A little constructive (I hope) criticism: nice summary of the show last night. The only problem is that your column ran before it aired. Couldn't you let me have a little smile of surprise that Austin S. was the 3rd judge? Or wonder if the punker would pull it off? The show is tired enough as it is, it was hard to get through it knowing the entire plot.

Robin Givhan: Dearest Alexandria,

A little constructive advice: If you're reading a preview of a television show....you might expect that parts of the storyline are going to be revealed. Several seasons ago, I revealed the winner of the challenge and people went berserk. I took my spanking like a woman. But on this issue....sorry.

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Alexandria, Va.: I just got back from the grocery store. (I really did have to go!) By the time I was finished I'd mapped out a flapper number with barbecue skewers, electrical cords for straps, and cut up frozen blueberry package wrappers for decoration at the top of the bust.

I also left thinking "How could someone spend 30 minutes and $75 and only buy black trash bags?... and survive to see Episode 2?"

Robin Givhan: Ha!

Yes, I have no idea what Stella/Cher spent her $75 on. It couldn't have just been trashbags. Maybe she bought some snacks to keep her going?

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Washington D.C.: Hi Robin, I am a huge fan of yours and Project Runway. I was wondering if you agreed with the judges' decisions of whom to oust and whom to reward?

Robin Givhan: Thank you so much! Generally I agree with the judges decisions. Of all of them, I'm probably most in sync with Nina. But I would have been hard-pressed not to send garbage bag woman home. That was a monstrosity in both execution and creativity.

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DC-licious: sorry, had to. Each year, more of the designers seem to already have well established careers (own shops, own lines etc). I kinda liked it when it was more a bunch of unknowns who hadn't dressed celebrities. Your thoughts?

Robin Givhan: I"m ambivalent on this subject. I think it would be a fairer, more brass ring kind of show if the designers were less experienced. But having more experienced designers tend to make for better results in the challenges. Although, in the case of Jerry, who actually has a design business, his experience and "seriousness" worked against him, I think.

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Washington, D.C.: How can you even write a review before the show airs? Do you get some sort of special pre-screening of each episode?

Robin Givhan: I just intuit what might happen.....I'm kidding. I watched a screener of the episode on Tuesday morning.

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Bethesda: The women with the garbage bag dress should have been sent home. It took her all day to make that? But she seems like she will add drama to the show, so of course they couldn't kick her off yet.

Robin Givhan: I agree on all points. The dress was hellacious. But she practically had a nervous breakdown over it so that suggests many more entertaining moments. When she first opened her trash bags and found them to be so thin I thought: What, she had $75 and she bought generic trashbags? She didn't splurge on Hefty? And then I thought, why doesn't she just double them up?

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Plymouth, Mich.: Do you think Project Runway's impending move to Lifetime and subsequent change of production companies spells doom for the franchise?

Robin Givhan: After watching the first episode, I actually think the move and the freshness of LA might be good for the show. I think it's still entertaining, but there weren't many surprises. And frankly I'm sick of the "Atlas luxury apartments."

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Washington, D.C.: I'm frightened of tanorexic Blayne. Why do they keep show him sniffling? And why does "Suede" keep referring to himself in the third person? Is it so he can remember his own made-up name? And how come these people want to design clothes for me to wear, yet most of them look like homeless people? Help!

Robin Givhan: Be very afraid. Suede seems to be one of those people who thinks that this is how a designer is supposed to act: all diva- like, etc.

Blayne is rather scary, but as I said in the review I'm glad he explained his tanning addiction, otherwise I would seriously have been wondering why that man is orange.

I think a lot of these people have succumbed to the reality-show-itis, which is the idea that you have to play a character instead of just being yourself. And to some extent it works. Bye-bye boring Jerry. And meanwhile Blayne and Stella/Cher are unpacking their bags.

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random: What is your opinion on pleated pants?

Robin Givhan: unless your name is MC Hammer, just say no.

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A little off topic...:

How do you pronounce your last name?

Given? Giv-ahn?

Robin Givhan: Accuracy is never off-topic: Givhan rhymes with on.

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Chicago, Ill.: Please, please, please don't give the whiny trash bag lady any more face time. She's like a bad commercial, I want to change the channel when she comes on.

Robin Givhan: I'm so sorry, but for as long as Stella/Cher survives, I must poke at her like a science project. She is fabulous.

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Arlington, Va.: Does anyone know when the season 4 DVD is coming out? They are going to release one, aren't they? Thanks!

Robin Givhan: If anyone knows, please speak up and I'll pass it along.

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Washington, D.C.: Dearest Robin: don't you think the show has become somewhat of a self parody? I mean, I met one castoff from season 2 en route to Athens and you would think she was Madonna.

Robin Givhan: I'm assuming you mean she was mobbed and not that she was walking around with A-Rod. I wouldn't blame the show for people's inability to distinguish between celebrity and importance. That said, I do think the show is having a hard time getting contestants who aren't playing up to the cameras and coming off as caricatures. See Blayne.

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Houston, Tex.: I knew they were moving to Lifetime, but I didn't know they were also moving to a new city. Where are they moving?

It was so good to see Little Lord Fauntleroy last night! I love Austin and his lisp.

Robin Givhan: Yes, the contestants will be ensconced somewhere in LA. Where, I do not know.

I think Austin is one of the creepiest characters to ever come out of Project Runway. The man looks like a wax figurine.

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Chapel Hill, N.C.: I'm with you on the less than memorable cast. I think Bravo did less previews that focused on the cast and more on just the show coming back on (Even before Season 4 aired, my friends and I loved to tell one another we were "kind of a big deal," a la Christian Soriano, and I knew from the moment he spoke that Ricky would be my LEAST FAVORITE CONTESTANT EVA!). I'm hoping that these blah personalities will compensate when it comes to the clothes. I did finish the episode kind of attached to leopard tube dress/gold headband girl, if only for her personal outfits (but of course I can't remember her name).

Robin Givhan: I think this season is especially difficult for PR because last season's cast was really talented - or at least knew how to whip up some pretty eye-popping projects. But who knows, maybe these characters are just late bloomers. There may be a Santino lurking in the bunch. I think blue Mohawk boy has possibilities... as does the former model.

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Springfield, Ill: BPR said ProjectRunway.com said November for the Season 4 DVD.

Robin Givhan: fyi:

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Shaw, D.C.: So does Wesley make his own skinny Eddie Munster shorts or does he buy them? and, um, why?

Robin Givhan: Oh Shaw, it was my great sorrow that I did not have ample space for a detailed discussion of Wesley and those aptly named Eddie Munster shorts. Either he packed a whole suitcase of them or he plans to wear the same two pair all season. I don't trust any designer who looks like he should have a widow's peak and a cape.

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Washington, D.C.: So I am one of those people who watched it twice last night so I could get to know the characters better after seeing their final creations, and I thought the best moment was when Jerry at the beginning said that Project Runway would be a great platform to showcase his designs and his business. Is it wrong that I'm glad he was booted because of that comment? I'm sure all the other contestants feel the same, it just felt really smug coming out of his mouth.

Robin Givhan: I don't blame you for watching it twice...but wasn't that painful? Let's be honest. Jerry was a bore who's outfit looked like it was for Mary Poppins' crazy half-sister the flasher. He should have known better. And accessorizing it w/yellow rubber gloves? Whaaaaa?

Jerry definitely came across as calculating. He did not have the bright-eyed hopefulness of some of the other contestants. He seemed a bit battle worn. But that's what a few years in the biz can do to you.

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Chantilly (lace?): FWIW, I think the right person won (although I can't remember her name -- see above re: unmemorable characters). The cup dress was awesome, but the winner took -several- things and made them into garment material. I mean, hooks and eyes out of the spine of a spiral notebook? Awesome.

Robin Givhan: Yes, we have not discussed the wonders of the vacuum cleaner bags, coffee filters and thumb tacks. That was some creative wackiness. Highly impressive.

I completely agreed with the judges regarding the plastic cup. You're set loose in a supermarket for dressmaking materials and you make a beeline for the plastic cups?! That's nerve. And, as Tim Gunn would say, he made it work.

I actually liked the macaroni/oven mitt dress, too. But maybe it's because the designer is from my hometown, Detroit.

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New York:1: Robin, your commentary is fabulous. Project Runway should definitely have you as a guest judge!

2: I do wish we heard more from the judges on the middle set of outfits. The braided mop by Teri was so well done and I thought the paper towel dress was adorable. What are your thoughts on the outfits that were not discussed by the judges?

Robin Givhan: On point one: From your mouth to Harvey Weinstein's ears!

On point two: The tragedy of the crowded field is that a lot of the interesting stuff in the middle went undiscussed. I agree on the mop head sweater. Even one of the other contestants complimented it. As I said earlier, I liked the macaroni dress. The paper towel dress was ok. But I also like the tablecloth, plastic cup, fly swatter extravaganza. I think it was by Eddie Munster.

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Portland, Ore.: In a notable column during the primaries, you discussed Hillary Clinton's attire and wondered if she was deliberately lowering the neckline of her blouses to look more feminine.

I'm wondering if you will turn that same razor-sharp focus to Cindy McCain - whose $3,000 a piece outfits are designed for her by a German designer. Don't you find that interesting, especially in light of the fact that many are trying to call the Obamas the elitists?!

washingtonpost.com: Here's a piece Robin did on Cindy McCain's spread in VOGUE: Letting Her Hair Down, but Still Keeping Up Appearances (The Washington Post, May 18).

Robin Givhan: Uh, Portland.....waaaay off topic! But yes, I expect I will have much to say re: Cindy McCain. I have already written about her Vogue glamour shots and her elaborate hairdos. And the German design house of which you sneer is Escada, I believe.

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Washington, D.C.: I loved your comment about hoping for an Afro-Ozark look this season. It would be such a hoot if you and Lisa DeMoraes could do a live blog one show. I can only wish.

Robin Givhan: Oh, that DeMoraes would leave me in her wickedly funny dust. But what a devilish idea...

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DC: Loved Shaw's shorts. But former model man = Patrick Robinson Doppleganger!!

Robin Givhan: Patrick Robinson? mmm, maybe. in dim lighting. I think Patrick is better looking.... but I like former model man better when he had bigger hair.

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D.C.: In regards to Nina's move to Marie Claire, what really happened? Does an editor choose to leave a magazine or are they a bit like creative directors of labels where if the "company chooses to go in a new artistic direction" they are expected to pack up their bags as well? Thanks, always love your writing!

Robin Givhan: As they say in politics, Nina is leaving Elle to spend more time with her family...ha!!! Elle has a new creative director. He and the editor are also working on a reality show project w/Tyra Banks about people competing to be a junior editor/assistant/indentured servant at Elle. Apparently there was not enough room at the inn for Nina. And I'm sure she has a deep and abiding passion for Marie Claire. (In legalese, I believe that is the CYA sentence.)

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Anonymous: Robin :

You know the show is in trouble when they start publicizing Ru Paul as a "celebrity" judge -- doesn't he work as kitchen help somewhere ?

Robin Givhan: Oooh, that's brutal. But I am looking forward to a drag queen challenge. Now we're talkin'.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Robin --

Do you know where I can obtain the July 2008 edition of Italian Vogue? I cannot find this magazine in a 25 mile radius.

Thanks!

Robin Givhan: oh baby you and about a zillion other black model loving folks are hunting for that mag. My only advice is to get yourself on a waiting list - I understand that additional mags are being shipped - or get yourself an Italian pen pal.

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Arlington, Va.: No -- you can't hate Austin Scarlett! Actually, he used to creep me out too, until he won my heart after having modeled (fiercely, I must say) Jay's post office design when Jay's model didn't show. Hilarious.

Robin Givhan: I'm not saying Austin doesn't have a big heart. Just that it's made out of wax.

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Confused: I watched it last night on Bravo, but will I have to turn to Lifetime for future episodes? When will the show move from NY and Bravo?

Robin Givhan: Season 6 begins the Lifetime era.

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Hollywood: I predict the guy who did the fly swatter dress will be in the finals. He said he worked for some famous designer for a year. By the way how can they seriously be bringing " Top Design " back -- yuck !

Robin Givhan: The best thing about Top Design is Jonathan Adler. Big kiss, Johnny!

Fly swatter boy worked for a year for Marc Jacobs. He very well might make it to the finals, but he'll be two hours late for it! ha!

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Rockville, Md.: Is it just me, or is Tim Gunn becoming more and more p.o.'ed with each season's contestants' lack-luster efforts and lack of creativity (i.e. picnic table cloth meltdown)? (plastic-cup dress man exempted)

Robin Givhan: I don't think I'd go that far, but I think he was really disappointed w/all that gingham in the workroom, especially since this was a reprise of a challenge. The contestants should have known better. But I did love Momolu's solution. I wonder if her friends call her Momo? I hope so.

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Washington, D.C. : I just thought that Jerry looked sad ALL the time!? I laughed every time I saw his face. I'm sure he is very nice though.

I know it is going to be a while before the season finale, but are you planning on having a pre-screening for the finale and write up a preview for the Post?

One of my votes is on Daniel. I loved his solar-cup dress!

Robin Givhan: I plan to go to the Bryant Park finale and then tell everybody who won before it airs... just kidding. I will do my best to get to the finale... but it often conflicts with the Ralph Lauren show. I know. PR versus RL. It's a toss up.

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Logan Circle: Seems like a young group this year, as compared to seasons past. I actually like seeing people with solid experience in the biz, using the show to get to the next level in their careers. . .

Robin Givhan: I was thinking that as well. I can't give you an average age, but there's no 21-year old wunderkind a la Christian. Most contestants are in their 20s. I believer there are two people in their 30s (well, one now, because I think Jerry was thirty-something) and two in their 40s (Stella/Cher and Detroit-boy.)

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Houston, Tex.: Please tell me that you are doing weekly chats for the full season of Project Runway. Love ya!

Robin Givhan: I love you back Houston. I'm always happy to chat. Can't promise weekly though. I don't have TiVo.

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Washington D.C.: So I was reading earlier an a typically unreliable newsite based out of NYC (eh hem, not so blind item) that Apolo Anton Ohno of speedskating fame will be a guest judge this season. What? Does involvement in Dancing With the Stars really get you that great of a publicist/agent? I was just surprised by that.. and the headshot of RuPaul.. sans makeup. Such great freckles he has!

Robin Givhan: Apolo Anton Ohno is one of the promised judges. Sounds like they'll be doing some sort of Olympic costuming challenge. Yikes!

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Venting: I cannot stand whatever the blonde overtanned dude's name is. How many episodes do you think he's going to last before he goes through withdrawals from tanning or other substances (see: all that freaking sniffing).

Robin Givhan: Isn't that sniffling suspicious?! I'm not accusing. I'm just sayin'. His name is Blayne and I suspect the longer he annoys...the longer he stays.

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Hillside, New Jersey: WHY are there no designers of COLOR (Hispanic, black/African, Indian)???? It's seriously pathetic yet strange to know these cultures don't qualify to enter such a competition. Only one race of people (designers and judges) every season?? I used to be hooked on this show but now my friends and I are totally turned off! To exclude other segments of society speaks volumes.

Robin Givhan: Come on now Hillside, get down off that soap box. Previous judges of color: Teri Agins, Wall Street Journal. Patrick Robinson, Gap. Francisco Costa, Calvin Klein. And that's just off the top of my head.

Each season has had contestants of color. None of have won but who could forget crying Ricky. And hello: this season 2 black women and one black guy, including the marvelous Korto Momolu of Liberia/Little Rock who created a tablecloth kimono trimmed in kale.

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Washington D.C.: ROBIN!!! I have a dream contest... Can the Washington Post give away a trip to NYC fashion week with you? C'mon, I'll go out right now and sell a corporate sponsorship... please?!

Robin Givhan: The WP GIVE a trip away? yea, they're going to be doing that right after I get my clothing allowance...but I love your optimism and enthusiasm...

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Richmond, Va.: Do you think Project Runway will continue to be must-see television when it moves to Lifetime? Also, I'm wondering how Lifetime will get the word out about time and date of the next season, since there's probably not much overlap in audience between that network and Bravo.

Robin Givhan: I'm sure Lifetime will have some sort of advertising blitz. Hard to say how well PR will do on Lifetime. It's not exactly still a bright shiny penny anymore.

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Houston, Tex.: You don't have TiVo?!?!?!

Call cable co. NOW and get a DVR!

Robin Givhan: yea. I know. I'm a luddite.

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D.C.: I understand the general frustration with Blayne but I was also a bit excited. It seems no one has attempted to bring street wear with more of an athletic/urban flair to Project Runway in recent memory (correct me if I'm wrong). I'd love to see that aesthetic... something different!

Robin Givhan: I'm all for street wear but I have yet to see any adult on the street wearing a diaper. But Blayne certainly has nerve so perhaps he'll settle down and produce magic. I suspect that's why he was kept on and Jerry got the boot....big white rubber boots, to be exact.

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Springfield, Ill.: Who do you think will be kicked off next and who do you think will be in Top 3/4/5 this season?

Robin Givhan: I didn't think there were any obvious favorites based on the first episode. Daniel has lots of nerve and creativity. I think Momo has an interesting aesthetic. Mophead woman was interesting. And Blayne might be able to turn it around. He's either going to be incredible or horrific.

Next to go? Maybe one of those brown-haired girls in the middle of the pack who all blurred together. But I'm betting on Stella/Cher. She does not seem to work well under pressure.

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Washington, D.C.: Chloe Dao is a person of color, and she won.

Robin Givhan: ah yes, thank you!

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Re: clothing allowance: Does this really happen?! Elsewhere, obviously..

Robin Givhan: Indeed....elsewhere.

Thanks for chatting folks. It was a dee-lite.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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