Brief thoughts on the "Top Chef" season finale, part the first, coming up just as soon as I congratulate someone I despise...
I thought of titling this post "The Kosher Cockroach" but worried that it would be too big a spoiler. I am appalled that Lisa has made it this far, and her continued survival illustrates a fundamental flaw in the "Top Chef" judging system.
We're told over and over that the judging is not cumulative, that the eliminations are based entirely on who performed the worst in that week's challenge. In theory, it's a nice idea. It allows the guest judge (who has no idea how things have been going all season) to fully participate in the choice, and it prevents the judges from playing favorites if someone makes a dish that's really egregious. (Anthony Bourdain described the dish that got Dale booted as " the only time on Top Chef that I literally could not take another bite.")
But in practice, it's led to a situation where Lisa has made it all the way to the top three largely by being the second-worst contestant most weeks, just Not-Bad enough to skate by better chefs who had worse days. On a case-by-case basis, you can see why the judges preferred Lisa slightly to whoever got knifed -- last night, Antonia had several more obvious mistakes, while Lisa's stuff seemed at least competent, if not in the ballpark with Richard and Stephanie's dishes -- but there has to come a point where Colicchio or Gail or Ted can just call time out and ask the producers if they can finally send the sourpuss home.
Next season, I'd like to see a slight change to the rules, something that gives the judges latitude to consider past performance -- if and only if the bottom two or three chefs are relatively close in that week's challenge. It wouldn't have saved Dale during Restaurant Wars, but it might have sent Lisa home over somebody else. (Jen, maybe?)
Lisa's survival did lead to that one jaw-dropping moment where she demanded congratulations from Stephanie and Richard, which led to the classic Richard talking head sound byte: "You won the f---ing bronze medal. Congratulations. There you go."
As for the rest of the episode, it was as bland as much of the season has been. I would be annoyed that Dale essentially carried Stephanie this week, except of course he had to do that to make up for his colossal screw-up of leaving the dish out of the fridge all night.
So how do you handicap the finals? Based on everything we've seen to date, Lisa should be a non-factor, as it's now not about who doesn't go home, but who wins. But I think back to last season, when everyone assumed it was going to be all about Hung vs. Casey, and instead Casey imploded and season 3 Dale cooked on a level he had never approached in previous weeks, nearly beating Hung. I'd say Richard has cooked the most impressive dishes this season, but Stephanie's been a little more consistent -- and doesn't have a restaurant of her own to go back to, and therefore might push herself harder than Richard -- and of course there's the conspiracy theory that Bravo wants a woman to win this time.
What did everybody else think?