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Poll: What will win best reality-competition show at the Emmys?

August 26, 2011 | 11:00 am

Project runway

Last year, the Emmy contest for outstanding reality-competition program proved to be the most dramatic as "Top Chef" zoomed past "The Amazing Race," which had won the category the previous seven years in a row. Now Emmy watchers wonder: Can "The Amazing Race" rally to reclaim the prize? Can "Top Chef" do it again? Or is there another usurper in the mix?

An examination of the episodes submitted by nominees to Emmy judges (every contender submits one sample) reveals that three programs are clearly out of it: "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and "So You Think You Can Dance."

"Stars" submitted episode No. 1204, which is filled with charming moments as Mark Ballas and Chelsea Kane dance a Viennese waltz and Kirstie Alley catches up with a lost shoe, but it's not strong enough to win.

Both "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" blundered by submitting their season finales, which are rather ho-hum viewing experiences now that we know who prevailed. A much better selection for "Idol" would've been the one in which Casey Abrams gets saved from elimination. Shrewdly, Ryan Seacrest submitted that one in the host category, but producer Nigel Lythgoe will continue to lose as long as he stubbornly sticks by entering season finales in the program race.

"The Amazing Race" has an outside shot to win. Producers submitted a lively episode: No. 1807 ("You Don't Get Paid Unless You Win") in which the teams endure catastrophes and humiliations (they must make fuel patties out of water buffalo manure) while trotting around Varanasi, India. It's entertaining and energetic, but it doesn't have what the other two nominees do in spades: heart.

This Emmy matchup is between "Top Chef" and "Project Runway." "Project Runway" could be this year's category spoiler thanks to the emotional tug of "There's a Pattern Here," which asks contestants to design fabric based upon meaningful moments in their lives. At the end of the segment, Mondo Guerra wows the judges when he submits a pattern that spills a secret he's previously kept fiercely hidden: He's HIV positive.

While "Project Runway" has the single most powerful scene, "Top Chef" serves up 90 minutes of continuous emotional fare as contestants visit Ellis Island, bond with family members and learn surprises about their ancestral histories in "Give Me Your Huddled Masses." A jaw-dropping moment occurs when it's revealed that two of the contestants are related to each other.

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— Tom O'Neil

Photo: Mondo Guerra on "Project Runway." Credit: Lifetime,

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