I was talking over "Project Runway: All Stars" with a friend recently and came to the following conclusion - I don't think the issue is the challenges (I still think convince someone in the park to give you their clothes in the next thirty and then go make an outfit is awesome). I don't think it's the judges, certainly the (highly edited) bit of the judging sessions imply that the judges are a little more impressed by explanations than the regular judges, but they are also far stricter about the framework of the challenge, which I like. I don't think it's the mentoring - certainly it appears that the mentor is there far less often, but they are All Stars, in theory they need less outside input.
I think it's the All-Stars. It's an intriguing thing to see people return who already know what stress and insanity they have signed up for, particularly in these days when alums of a show have typically has chances to meet each other even if they were in different seasons originally. But, at some point, it gets down to the work. And while I do admit that some of the challenges have offered ridiculous amounts of time for them to work in, so you end up with a lot of caftans and wrap dresses, in the end there's not a lot about these clothes that says All-Stars. So really, this feels like regular speed "Project Runway" with new judges, new host, and new mentor, and the same old designers. And it's not that I don't love and appreciate these designers, but I can't think of anything (so far) that they have created that looks different from what they created the first time. Now possibly, that is a challenge issue, that within these tight time frames with various silly constraints, this is all any of them can really produce anyway.
The only thing I* have to compare it to is "Top Chef" which has both done All-Stars and Masters. I enjoyed the All-Stars season, and while I, obviously wasn't tasting the food so can't speak to the level of improvement, it seemed to me that some (not all, some) people had come back more ready, more able to handle the things this would throw at them, so it made it interesting. And in Masters, even the original round robin and more recent formats, the Masters have whined a bit that this isn't what they normally do, but in a lot of cases, they whined and then got down to work trying to do amazing things, things that to me at home seemed more interesting or at a higher level than the regular speed might offer.
So, I don't really have an answer for how to fix this. And I do recognize that particularly for "Project Runway" some of the alums who have really gone up in their careers, would now be removed enough from the day to day sewing that it wouldn't really make sense for them to return. But it is an interesting thing that I am hoping that many of these "Project Runway" alums were essentially doing too well to return.
But it is an interesting question that leaves me wondering if the biggest issue is that all these designers had such strong aesthetics that seeing how they apply that to the challenge at hand is not quite as interesting as I thought it might be. I'm clearly still watching. And some of the challenges have made up for it simply by being so intriguing. But I have added my own personal game to try to match up enough of the outfits to designers prior challenge from their own season, and I have to tell you, it's far easier than it ought to be.
*I know other shows have done All-Stars or various other returning contestants things. Of the things that I watch regularly enough, this is what I have to look at.