I LOVE HOW they call this “the most talked-about season” of “Project Runway” yet. It’s just code for, “Everyone was wondering whether Lifetime would stink up our favorite show. Let’s tune in! And every time Heidi lisps, drink!”

The designers are sent on a field trip to the beach. “We don’t have oceans in Minnesota,” says Christopher. Well, no. But Minnesota is still in the United States; you have beaches, somewhere, technically.

Maybe I’m just cranky because Tim Gunn is standing in front of a lifeguard station wearing khakis, a pinstriped shirt, blazer, sunglasses and flip-flops. Really, Tim. And there are nice sandals out there a man can look chic in; just ask Steve McQueen.

The challenge is to create a “fun and fashionable” surfwear look with help from hot surfer girls.

The must work in teams of two. This should get good. Since she won last week, Shirin is team leader and first to choose. She takes Carol Hannah.

The other leaders and their chosen teammates are:
Logan: Christopher
Nicolas: Gordana
Althea: Louise
Mitchell: Ra’mon. (Mitchell actually says, “I wanted to work with someone who would carry me on this challenge.”)
Qristyl: Epperson
Johnny: Irina. (Crazy she was picked last. Girl oozes talent.)

Already the teams are clashing: Mitchell and Ra’mon get into it over Mitchell’s general squishiness; Epperson and Qristyl have warring aesthetics and he talks down to her like she’s a toddler. Things get tense just in time for Tim’s totally bogus “message from Heidi”: “I am raising the stakes. Each team must create a second look.” It has to be avant-garde and correspond to the surf look. They are literally trying to kill these scissor monkeys. That is messed up.

Hey, it’s the full moon from “Hell’s Kitchen”!

One member of each team goes to Mood to spend some real money — $200 — on their avant-gardeness.

Back in the workroom, Mitchell whines that he doesn’t know how to sew a bathing suit, then agrees to finish it while Ra’mon works on the avant-garde design. Then Mitchell irons a zipper, and burns himself. He stops working entirely.

And in our truncated Model Drama section, most of which has been moved to the surprisingly dull afterhow, “Models of the Runway,” Carol Hannah’s model, Erin, has opted for a paying job and won’t be there for the fitting. Valerie, an eliminated model, is returning. Dear show, please bring Morganza back.

The Tim-through produces the following from Our Fearless Leader:
“Work, work, work.”
“Talk to me.”
“You made the hat? That’s ambitious.”
“Go, go, go.”
“You have a lot of work to do.”
“WHAT is THAT? What IS that?”
“I fundamentally don’t get it.”

The judges this week are Max Azria, Nina, Rachel Bilson, who is apparently a designer now (Edie Rose). Where’s Michael Kors? Why have you forsaken us? It doesn’t matter what the designers sent down the runway — the most heinous collection of cheap, sloppy, ugly, badly made tripe in the history of the show, beeteedoubleyou — because the judges (or producers, cough, cough) had the winner and loser in the can before the cameras started rolling.

This show has been dogged by suspicion of powers-that-be tampering in previous seasons, but between the bone-headed challenge — surfwear and avant-garde; come on, now — and the transparently manipulative judging, even the thinnest reality-competition veil of the contestants’ work meaning anything has been stripped away.

Sigh. You really wanna know?

Qristyl and Epperson
» Surf: It’s a green jungle print with a tight bodice and flowy skirt. The skirt splits in front, presumably to reveal a bikini underneath, and has weird gathers that make the sides look like panniers.
» Avant-garde: Cute, very non-surfy chocolate brown maillot that makes the model look like she’s all stomach — that was last week, people — under a sort of coat/tent/water purification system in the same material with a Day-Glo green goiter on the neck. It has no sleeves and is therefore useless, because I was just kidding about the water purification system. When the model turns around, there is entirely too much tootie.

Johnny and Irina
» Surf: A white pleated skirt, spiderwebby off the shoulder sweater with a gorgeous multicolored macramé lattice
» Avant-garde: The green goiter on Qristyl and Epperson’s avant-garde look has returned backstage to devour more fabric and grown into a gigantic, head-eating brown beast that just about unbalances the poor model wearing an assy brown cocktail dress.

Mitchell and Ra’mon
» Surf: Another cocktail dress, a pretty one, this time, in shades of moss, gray-blue and ivory, cinched with a wide belt. “I don’t think the judges are going to know what that dress was made
in 45 minutes,” says Mitchell, which, seriously, sand crabs know that dress was made in 45 minutes.
» Avant-garde: Ra’mon’s reworked neoprene dress is a one-shouldered chartreuse mini with an unsightly stain of what looks like liquid Tide — oh, I get it; Tide! — across the front.

Shirin and Carol Hannah
» Surf: Magenta bikini under Uli-type print dress
» Avant-garde: Floor-length Oscar gown in navy blue made out of Carol Burnett’s old curtains with all kinds of pointless action around the neck and hips.

Althea and Louis
» Surf: Little fuchsia dress with gathered hem over black and white pop-op bikini. Love this one.
» Avant-garde: You know what? This second look challenge was stupid to begin with. So they made a glittery bustier over a skirt of tiered ruffles that’s mini in front and floor length in back. It’s all black.

Nicolas and Gordana
» Surf: Nicolas brought back the wraparound pant, thank goodness, with a very Slim Hawk ’40s look — white trousers with a sweet blue and white one piece underneath.
» Avant-garde: Oh, the horror. In an accident on the set of “Sexy Secrets of the Wiki Wiki Mermaids,” a performer’s hair got caught in the bubble machine and the ensuing electric jolt ripped her costume to shreds, forcing her to become a stripper in Pensacola, where she hoards her tips to buy more patches of white stretch lace and hopes eventually to cover her butt entirely. Meet the new Blayne, chubbier than the old Blayne.

Logan and Christopher
» Surf: Cheap dirty T-shirt and pants with a nasty, smelly-looking stain down the crotch. They made the hat, though.
» Avant-garde: The world’s ugliest ball gown. No, really. It defies description.

And here’s where it gets really ugly.

Johnny and Irina are top-twoed, mostly thanks to Irina’s macramé, but Max Azria also likes the bunched-up basket weave bodice on the “avant garde” design.

Mitchell and Ra’mon are, not top-two, exactly. Mitchell admits he did nothing; Heidi is almost vibrating with fury as she tries to get to the bottom of who did what. Do not mess with a German girl.

Qristyl and Epperson land in the bottom two, the fate of bickering teams. They continue to bicker on the runway, which the judges just LOVE.

Nicolas and Gordana. They like the macrame top and tie-dye, but hate the fact that the pants 20 inches too long. Fair point. But the ripped-up lace thing gets Heidi’s “Not classy!” They don’t hate it enough, I don’t think.

Really? Whose decision was it? Ra’mon wins and Mitchell is auf. I understand that Mitchell’s refusal to do anything was worthy of an aufing, even if the dress he was standing next to was pretty, but Ra’mon’s look wasn’t the best one we saw.

You know what? None of it matters. For a show that has had drag queens and wrestlers as inspiration to pull out as wack and unworkable a challenge as this one is distressing and incomprehensible. Congratulations, Ra’mon. No one is the winner.

Next week: Sounds like a real-girl challenge, and the designers predictably whine about little people and their low taste levels.

So, poodles. What the hell was that? You tell us, in comments, below.

» Nicolas: “I don’t know what she was talking about. Hoodies and little sweatshirts are not for the runway” and “I’m gonna bring back the wraparound pant.”
» Irina: “I think this is gonna be so hippie. It’s gonna be like super hippie, like hippie .”
» Gordana: “I know that Nicolas is inspired by the sea, so maybe the look is a sea-woman who is becoming human. Like in the movie, ‘Mermaid.'”

Photos courtesy Lifetime