Top Chef Episode 8: Disillusioned

Let me state this right off the bat: I absolutely hated this episode.

There is a tendency to lump together all unscripted television shows as 'reality'. This isn't quite right. A true reality show has these characteristics:

  • It brings participants together in an unrealistic and artificial situation.
  • The action is periodically manipulated by manufactured injections of drama and tension (a.k.a. 'twists') by the show producers.
  • The main objective is to try to entertain the viewers mindlessly, not educate or serve any similar lofty purpose.

Top Chef is, after all, not really a show that is really interested in food, cooking or even about being a chef in real life. It's just another manipulative reality show. Mind you, I like some reality shows. But I suppose I had higher hopes for Top Chef in the food sense. No longer.

There were many things wrong about this episode. I guess we can start with the unfairness of making the contestants plan and present their menu without telling them that it would have to be prepared in less than 24 hours. And then dropping that particular bombshell on them, at around 10 in the evening!

Then there was the inclusion of a celebrity wedding planner as the guest judge. I cannot believe she had the gall to suggest that the chefs were inferior since they could not produce the kind of food her services provided to her clients. I wonder when was the last time she had to plan, prepare and serve a wedding banquet for 100 in under 24 hours, with a kitchen staff of 5, including making the wedding cake. The shallowness of her view was quite evident when she was oh so impressed by the sweeping motion of the waiters presenting the dishes to the diners. Sheesh.

Lee Anne "won" the menu challenge by presenting an attractive and ambitious menu. If she and the other contestants had known of the totally unrealistic time constraints, let alone the fact that they would have to procure their supplies from a supermarket, would they have come up with the same menus? Would Tiffani have even suggested 100 little cakes? Tom Colicchio suggests in his blog that they should have adjusted the menu based on what was available (by using a fish other than salmon). Wasn't it inferred that they had to stick to the original menu very closely? What if they had made adjustments...would they have been penalized for it? Given the nature of shows of this type, if I were a contestant I would be afraid of that.

Stephen got kicked off. I suppose he deserved it, but the whole premise of this episode was so unfair to all of the contestants that I can't really dump on him. As much as I've been critical of him I never really disliked him. His biggest failing is that he is young and rather full of himself. He is certainly not untalented.

My enthusiasm for the show is quite diminished at the moment. Because of this the lesser flaws of the show, such as the monotonous, robotic delivery of Mrs. Billy Joel, are starting to bug me now (hi Aoife, you're right!) Hopefully the remaining contestants will survive with their dignity intact.

Finally, I hope that Scott and Scott are 1) a real couple, not actors or something, and 2) very happy. They were so cute...the only bright part of this sorry episode.

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