No matter the outcome of tonight's finale (10 pm/ET on Bravo), Santino Rice's name has become practically synonymous with Project Runway's second season. And that just might be by (ahem) design. The 30-year-old Missourian had been a struggling designer in Los Angeles for 13 years, so he was determined to make an impact in the show and make it to the final three even if it meant going over the top with his designs, arguing emphatically with the judges, talking dirt about his fellow designers and driving the competition batty through the power of song.
TVGuide.com: Where were you in your career before the show?
Santino Rice: I had been designing in Los Angeles since 1992, and I had basically been making a lot of other people a lot of money.... I've actually had several false starts throughout the time I've been in L.A. I did a line out of India. It did relatively well; however, it was a case of the backers falling out of love with all the work that it entailed. The experience left me penniless and homeless. I've always taken risks in my life. My parents would have accepted my moving back home to Missouri, but then what would I do?
TVGuide.com: Are you a fan of other reality shows? You seem to be aware of yourself as a reality "character."
Santino: I gave the producers a lot to work with. I think that there are a lot of aspects to my personality: I like to sing; I like to dance; I love life. I think all of those things just came into play. It was great even when all my humor was edited out and it just looked like I was a megalomaniac or something, that's funny, too. The bottom line is, the people who I really care about know who I am. I'm a nice guy, and I just tell the truth.
TVGuide.com: Do you feel like the editing made you look bad?
Santino: I think you can't show [everything], especially when there are 16 designers. Up until maybe the fifth or sixth episode, people only saw me for about 10 minutes in total, so it's funny that people had such strong opinions about me. Once they started fleshing out more of my personality... then it showed a more well-rounded person. I don't look like I'm crazy or evil or a villain. I came to win; I'm a passionate designer. Maybe I'm argumentative, but I have a point of view.
TVGuide.com: Why did you feel it was necessary to argue so much with the judges?
Santino: I was listening in detail to the vocabulary that was being used by the judges, and sometimes things got thrown in, like "It's not even comfortable," and I'm like, "Well, no, Nina, it's made out of plants." And then it became combative. But this was the challenge: to use these materials, be creative and have a point of view that you're proud of and want to defend. I'd rather shoot too far than not have enough going on.
TVGuide.com: What was the hardest challenge for you?
Santino: I think the very first challenge was the hardest. You're not in the petri dish of the studio at Parsons. You have to pay rent and you have to quit a job.... I was sitting on the plane looking at that first garment thinking, "Oh, my god, am I actually going to make it?" I was still questioning it.
TVGuide.com: Does that mean you have self-doubt underneath all that bravado?
Santino: No, it's not self-doubt. If you ask yourself the stupid questions as a designer, [then] when someone else asks you, you're prepared.
TVGuide.com: Who did you think was your main competition?
Santino: I felt like I was my own biggest competition. I wasn't really out to compete against other designers because it's like comparing apples to oranges. It's so arbitrary.
TVGuide.com: Was there any behind-the-scenes romance going on during the show?
Santino: It wasn't allowed. And it's best that it wasn't, because I always said if sex were allowed, that would have been my Plan A, to have sex with everyone. And then Plan B would be to actually work really hard.
TVGuide.com: Will you be coming out with a CD?
Santino: Oh, you know I will. I get a lot of inspiration from music, and it helps to whistle while you work. I think laughing and having a good time is what got most of us through that experience. It was like being in a golden birdcage and being prodded, day in and day out.
TVGuide.com: What was it like when you went back home to work on your collection?
Santino: At first I went back to work [for another designer]. I needed to repair my bank account. I did that up until two months before the show, when I had to quit my job and spend all my time on my collection. I'm still paying for it. Now I'm back to a negative bank account.
TVGuide.com: Any regrets?
Santino: No regrets whatsoever. The bottom line is where you go from here.
TVGuide.com: Finally, what I really want to know is: How many lion and tiger T-shirts do you own?
Santino: I own one lion T-shirt and one tiger T-shirt. It's because I am a Leo and I was born in the year of the tiger. But really, my inner animal is a giraffe.
TVGuide.com: Now that explains a lot.