By People Staff
Updated September 04, 2009 12:00 AM
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Credit: Quantrell Colbert/Bravo

For Project Runway fans wondering what distinguishes the L.A. season from the past, Thursday’s episode provided a sunny answer: the beach! The 14 remaining designers met up with Tim Gunn (in flip-flops!) on a sandy spot overlooking the Pacific to receive their surf and swimwear-inspired challenge. Split into seven teams of two, with one designer randomly selected the leader, the cast met with surfers to receive instructions and inspirations. The teams (with team leader’s name first) were:

Shirin with Carol HannahLogan with Christopher Nicolas with GordanaMitchell with Ra’monAlthea with LouiseQristyl with EppersonJohnny with Irina

It’s a Match: Team challenges always bring the drama, but in the case of Logan and Christopher; Althea and Louise; and Shirin and Carol Hannah, the pairings worked. True, none of these duos produced a winning look — or even made it to the top 2 — but their work qualified them to move on to the next round.

It’s a Clash: But Qristyl couldn’t stand her ground as team leader against Epperson, who thought he knew better than her. The two squabbled over fabric selection — and basically their entire concept. Equally ill-matched, Mitchell and Ra’mon, who seemed like best buds last week, had problems making it work. Actually, it was more like Ra’mon had a problem with Mitchell, who was happy running around the workroom and making jokes while his partner did the heavy lifting — er, sewing. “I think in this situation, the word ‘frustration’ is a huge understatement,” Ra’mon said.

There’s a Twist: In the eleventh hour, Tim surprised the designers with unwelcome news. In addition to their beachy look, they would have to create an avant-garde outfit that complemented their original design.

New Faces: With Michael Kors absent again — come back! — designer Max Azria stepped in as a guest judge along with actress Rachel Bilson. But both took a backseat to chattier Heidi Klum and Nina Garcia.

Highs & Lows: Despite his frustrations, the judges adored Ra’mon’s work and awarded him a well-deserved win, especially for his bright, flirty green avant-garde dress. Mitchell, meanwhile, admitted he had little to do with the craftsmanship. Cue Heidi’s disdain. “I don’t know how am I supposed to judge someone if they actually didn’t do anything,” she said. Also in the bottom: Qristyl and Epperson. Max Azria summed that pairing up succinctly. “She’s weak and he took advantage,” he said.

Three Strikes: Ultimately, though, Mitchell Hall was auf’d after a third consecutively poor performance. “Mitchell we’re disappointed and confused,” Klum said. “Never in Project Runway history has a team member for a winning design been eliminated, but three strikes and you’re out!” For his part, Hall exited gracefully. “I didn’t try hard enough and that was a mistake,” he said. “It was a wonderful opportunity and I don’t regret being myself. And in the end, I’m going home with a smile on my face.” –Brian Orloff

Tell us: Are you enjoying the competition this season? Did the judges make the right decision? Whose look would you wear?Quantrell Colbert/Bravo