‘Project Runway’ 17: Are you shocked by Hester Sunshine’s rise to the top? And did she deserve her 2nd win? [POLL]

This week on “Project Runway,” the harshest and most senior judge on the show, “Elle’ magazine’s editor-in-chief Nina Garcia, revealed that she has developed an itch for contestant Hester Sunshine‘s kitsch, and that bodes well for the 34-year-old Santa Fe-based designer. Her unique — dare we say kooky — sensibility was a bit of a liability in the early episodes. Also holding Hester back was her lack of confidence in her own vision, a fall-out from being kicked out of the Parsons School of Design in her junior year there.

On the premiere, Hester seemed to be flailing after she regretted choosing plastic organza as her fabric, especially after she tried to iron it. She was partly responsible for her three-person team’s less-than-successful outfits for episode 2’s futuristic challenge. Mentor Christian Siriano damned the blue ensembles as being too bridesmaid. Still, Hester squeaked by  both times as part of the “in” crowd of designers, but that was because Cavanagh Baker and Frankie Lewis had far worse flaws with their execution and were eliminated.

But as the season has gone on, the fashion skies have brighten for our Little Miss Sunshine. Hester won the head-to-toe print challenge with a playful red-and-white ensemble and tickled the judges with a flirty garter on her model’s thigh. She had one of the high scores in the fourth episode’s camping challenge even though she had immunity (and maybe should have won over Renee Hill‘s more literal interpretation of outdoorsy garb) and was in for the high-end streetware.

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The minute I heard that the contestants had to invent a powerful video-game heroine this week, I figured Hester might just nail it since she possesses enough whimsy to come up with a strong female fantasy figure. Plus her model, Thijin, has a unique look and body type that flatters Hester’s designs. Granted, I thought Garo Sparo‘s “editrix” look was genius. But while the judges enjoyed the combo fashion editor/dominatrix idea and Nina had fun cracking model MiMi’s whip, she ultimately said it was a little too S&M and called it too cliched. Tessa Clark‘s flour girl, complete with sack accessory, intrigued the judges and met the requirements of the challenge, with judge Elaine Welteroth noting, “It’s such a modern interpretation of a gamer.” But it didn’t have the fun factor of Hester’s star-chaser party girl in her sexy cargo pants with plastic peek-a-boo inserts and cute jet-pack accessory.

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Somehow, Hester is now the only designer so far to win twice. In fact, she has never been in the bottom.  But the preview video below suggests that the fact she has immunity next week emboldens her to do something out of the ordinary in a challenge that requires the contestants to embrace elegance. According to the preview below, Hester reveals to Christian that she wants to make elegant pasties and attach them to a top. He warns her that the episode will feature a flash sale and she will have to take photos of her look. But basically he says, if anyone can pull it off, it’s Hester.

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Take the poll below and tell us if you think Hester could actually win Season 17. Or is her bag of eye-catching tricks losing its magic. Also, use the comments section to share your thoughts on which other final-10 designers who could go all the way to the end.

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