As Season 3 of Project Runway gets rolling, I’m catching up on Season 2 on DVD. Project Runway is a league above The Amazing Race, which was always a league above every other reality game show. While TAR features a non-contrived concept and honest competition, it still relies on the fact that its contestants are, at the end of the day, really lousy travelers. PR, on the other hand, sets itself apart from the reality pack by casting actual professional designers, giving them incredibly difficult (but still basically honest) challenges, and judging them on the quality of their work, which is frequently very high. Watching a bunch of designers go through an entire development cycle — conception, pre-production, production, presentation — in a matter of hours makes for some pretty compelling TV. More than that, it should be required watching for anyone who works in a creative industry and has to deal with clients, egos, constraints, and burnout.

Speaking of burnout: I just watched the next-to-last episode of Season 2, in which the three finalists scramble to get their collections ready for their big show at Fashion Week, which everyone is happy to remind them will be the defining moment of their careers. As they try to put the finishing touches on their ensembles, hosts Heidi Klum waltzes in and blithely informs them that now that they’ve poured every last bit of energy they have into their collections, they’ll have to create an extra piece out of nothing for the show. The looks of utter despair on their exhausted faces as they try to sketch up one more design on a completely empty creative tank is both painful and comforting to watch. Painful, because we’ve all been there; comforting, because with just a couple of weeks left in development on my current job, I’m there right now.

If only Tim Gunn had some advice for me on how to rebalance this pile of timers…