Ellen's Design Challenge ends with plagiarism controversy
An anonymous tip led to the disqualification of an HGTV talent reality competition's winner, creating a controversial end to what was set up to be a light and fluffy six-episode furniture design competition produced by Ellen DeGeneres.
Ellen revealed that on her talk show today, when she talked with the person who won "Ellen's Design Challenge" and then had his win taken away. Tim McClellan was disqualified for essentially plagiarizing the design of his final piece.
Tim's desk, which resembled a stack of lumber but unfolded to reveal secret compartments, looked almost identical in form and function to a desk created by a European designer, Simon Schacht.
Tim said on Ellen's talk show this afternoon that "in my recollection, I have never seen his piece of furniture before" but also admitted that "the similarities of the two pieces are quite compelling, and I understand the decision made and accept and recognize Katie as the legitimate winner of the show."(Here's his full statement from the talk show.)
That last part is important, because while runner-up Katie Stout received the $100,000 as the show's newly declared winner, she's been the target of angry fans who wanted Tim to win. The ire comes in part because she appeared to have been saved mid-competition, when Ellen showed up to judge. Instead of judging, Ellen decided--in totally predictable form--that no one would be eliminated that episode. It seemed likely Katie might have exited the competition that episode without the save.
What Tim didn't address and what Ellen didn't mention this afternoon was a critical part of the finale. Early in the episode, while talking to his carpenter after learning about the final challenge, Tim said he needed to make something that "still looks like I designed it, not like it was designed by some–some designer in some other country, it needs to look like it came from me."
That seemed like a smoking gun, except in all-too-typical reality TV fashion, the sentence also lacked context, and it wasn't clear what he was talking about.
Neither the producers nor the judges noticed the similarity between Tim's piece until after he won. Had he actually confessed to plagiarism on camera, you'd think the producers would not have needed an anonymous tip to clue them in.
That kind of editing was one of several ways the show felt off-brand for Ellen. Even though "Ellen's Design Challenge" didn't have much of Ellen in it -- she appeared by video to introduce some of the challenges, and also showed up once in person during the judging of one of the challenges -- her face was on the logo and it was constantly framed as her show.
The brief season was entertaining, and allowed us to watch the creative process and construction, in addition to the collaboration between the designers and their carpenters.
However, it was noticeably was produced by the same production company responsible for "Kitchen Nightmares," which itself is a nightmare of manipulative, out-of-order editing and sensationalism. Besides that sentence in the "Ellen's Design Challenge," the show sometimes felt like it was trying to create drama where there wasn't any.
But that's also what Ellen did. She teased the finale's ending as a twist, even though it was not a twist, it was very serious. Tim celebrated his win of $100,000 with his family and thought he won until the tip led to his prize being taken away because he was accused of stealing another designer's work. Her show's Twitter account even called this "the most talked about moment in furniture design show history."
Never mind the fact that there isn't exactly much "furniture design show history" (though there is another show airing right now, "Framework" on Spike). That kind of response seems like celebrating a house catching on fire. Whether Tim intentionally or accidentally plagiarized, or whether Katie deserved to be the winner or even the runner-up, it's not exactly the ideal time for excitement.