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‘In or Out’: Why Heidi Klum Makes Me Nervous

While the sixth season of the fashion reality show “Project Runway” is fast-approaching its climax, it’s become a running joke in my house that the show’s host, German supermodel Heidi Klum, would have made a good Nazi.

Every time she announces to the panel of quaking designers, in her German accent, “One of you will be in, and one of you will be out,” either my husband or I will mock, in our own fake German accents, “One of you will go to the right, and one of you will go to the left.”

Then, of course, there is the matter of the empty bed the day after someone has been “eliminated” (eliminated!). The remaining contestants never fail to mention the loss of yet another of their peers, and to remark on how their ranks are being whittled away, one by one. You will say that this is all a part of how the reality show game is played, and of course that is a part of it. But, in contrast, I would argue that Klum’s counterpart over at the food reality show “Top Chef,” host Padma Lakshmi, manages to deliver the line of elimination, “Please pack your knives and go,” in a manner suggesting she actually feels bad about it.

But maybe I’m being too harsh on Heidi Klum. Maybe the fashion industry or the show’s producers are to blame for the harshness of these judgments. Hosts aside, “Top Chef’s” “Please pack your knives and go” is a much gentler way of giving someone the axe than Project Runway’s “You’re out.” The “please” adds a polite touch that softens the blow, and the line is constructed as a request. No contestant, to my knowledge, has ever responded, “No, I won’t pack my knives and go,” but that would not be an unreasonable response, linguistically speaking. In contrast, no one could reasonably respond to “You’re out,” a statement of fact, with “No, I’m in.”

But I digress.

I realize that whether or not Heidi Klum is actually a nice person has nothing to do with her being German.

I, like many of us I suspect, have not gotten over the suspicion of, and prejudice against, German citizens that our relatives passed down to us from World War II. And joking about something as serious as the Holocaust is a way of alleviating the deep-seated anxieties that still plague us, subconsciously or not.

So I will probably continue to watch “Project Runway” and laugh at Heidi Klum, because that’s part of what makes it fun, but I will try to focus more on her obsession with whether clothing “looks expensive” than with the way she seems to relish deciding contestants’ fate.

Ich liebe dich, Heidi!

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