This week’s Project Runway challenge: survive an emotional rollercoaster. After discovering he has a contagious, drug-resistant staph infection in his face, Jack Mackenroth announced to a tearful workroom that he will leave the show to seek medical treatment. If that weren’t enough drama, the competition continued with a new group of models–real women who had recently lost dozens (or in some cases hundreds) of pounds. The contestants’ mission was to take the former favorite outfit of their model and recreate it into a wearable, modern look, worthy of the women’s new figure.
But Jack never returned to compete. Instead, the last contestant to be auf’d–costume designer Chris March–returned to take his place. PEOPLE checked in with Jack to find out why he didn’t come back, what’s next for him and what’s up with his reality TV romance. But first a Runway recap:
The challenge of recreating a favorite outfit for a dramatic weightloss survivor produced two clear frontrunners: Christian, who fashioned an outfit the judges loved from top to bottom, and Kevin, who, when faced with a canary yellow blazer, made it work as a re-imagined sleeveless tunic over leggings.
Even though Chris had a second chance, he fell right into the trap Tim Gunn urged him to avoid with a sailor look reminiscent of “Shirley MacLaine when she played a hooker with a heart of gold,” as judge Michael Kors put it.
But it looked like a million bucks compared the black frock Steve created out of a white wedding dress. Kors compared his design to a “French maid at a funeral.” No one wanted to deal with the polyester and beads, but by casting them aside almost entirely, Steve’s creation didn’t stand up to the competition and he was out.
Back to Jack, 38, who left the competition to take care of a staph infection. PEOPLE caught up with the menswear designer to find why he didn’t return.
Take us through your last day on the show.I just got to a point where I couldn’t even concentrate. I was exhausted. As the bacterial infection spreads, within 48 hours, you get a fever. My work was suffering and I was like, “You know what? I really don’t want to leave but I can’t stay here.” It was not an HIV related thing but I have to be extra cautious.
So getting treatment and coming back wasn’t an option?There was an issue of contagion so I didn’t feel comfortable. It’s bacteria. Anyone can get it by touch. So that’s not fair. And number two, the medication is such a strong antibiotic that it takes two hours to administer intravenously. It’s four hours a day that I would have been gone.
You’re very open about being HIV positive on the show. Have you received any feedback from viewers?I get a lot of emails that are really touching from that just found out they’re HIV positive. I try to answer all those and I read all of them and it’s amazing. If I can do a little bit of good in that respect then I’ve won at the end of the day.
What’s next for you as a designer?I’ve spent 15 to 16 years designing men’s clothes so I’m going to stay in menswear and we’ll see where that goes. I’m exploring other options as far as television. It’s a big world out there. A lot of are approaching me with a lot of different things so I have to see.
We hear you’re dating Top Chef‘s Dale Levitski? I always thought he was hot! On my MySpace page there’s this little section that says who do you want to meet? And I put I want to meet Dale Levitski from Top Chef! I just threw it out there into the universe. And so a friend of his saw my page, told Dale, and then Dale messaged me. We started chatting and then we ran into each other at a party in New York City and we just clicked.
Has he cooked for you? He hasn’t cooked for me yet. I’m sure if I asked him he would but I think it’s just the result of doing that all day long. It’s the last thing you want to do when you get home.
Maybe the two of you could do a reality show?Sign me up! –Rennie Dyball Photo: Mitch Haaseth/Bravo