Thursday, June 05, 2008

Top Chef: That's not kosher

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?

12 comments:

Matt Brown said...

It was most unfortunate that no apparently no one said to Richard during the big break, "Dude - get a real hairstyle. Like, NOW."

Eric Fingerhut said...

I agree with you--that format may make for more drama at eliminations, but hurts the show overall. But I believe the judges (or at least Tom) have said that the reason the judging is week-to-week instead of cumulative is because it parallels the restaurant business--if a customer takes his first visit to a restaurant, and he gets a horrible dish that night, he's never coming back. Thus, you can't ever have a very "off night" as a chef, and they're reflecting that with the week-to-week format.

Chris said...

Hey Alan, based on what I saw, what made me scratch my head wasn't the style of judging where past performance isn't considered, but that Antonia's sins were somehow worse than Lisa's tonight. She had undercooked beans and combined everything onto one plate - that was it. If I recall correctly, they said that the food for Lisa didn't focus on the pig, and they didn't like someone else's food? At the end, Tom alluded to there being lesser crowds for Antonia's table, but that was difficult to see given the editing...

Rand said...

I'm pretty pissed by the call too. I'm a Keralite, and we vigorously mix everything, so I'm a bit pissed that they labeled putting everything on one plate a culinary sin. Moreover, unless those served fill out cards and such, the judges virtually never consider how appealing the food was to the crowd (not that that's a good thing necessarily, but at least let's be consistent).



This whole season I've really felt like they've been trying to build up drama, so I'm wondering if they just wanted the more dramatic person to stay. Lisa certainly fits that bill, however as even the 3rd best chef... I think the reason Lisa was so pissed in the end is because she knew the wrong person went home.

bill said...

I played around with accumulative scoring, just for the fun of it, and pretty much every way I twisted the numbers, Antonia is a solid #2 behind Richard. Even though I think Stephanie is a far better chef than Antonia, I had Stephanie finishing fourth, behind Dale.

At the end of week #7, Lisa was in 4th, 3 points ahead of Jen, 4 points ahead of Antonia. But that's where Lisa started her slide and by the end of week #8 only Nikki and Spike were below her. Even if she won the contest next week, Lisa couldn't catch Nikki.

AB and the Bear Suits said...

I feel like cumulative scoring would take care of a lot of the problems Top Chef has. Unfortunately, it could be argued that it might also rob the show of it's "drama". In defense of cumulative scoring, I think that it would motivate the cheftestants to work harder to win, as opposed to trying not to lose.

Lindy said...

I think cumulative scoring might actually increase the week-to-week drama. Early in the season it wouldn't make much of a difference, but by the time we got halfway through, we could get interesting scenarios like a poorly performing chef knowing he/she really needs to make Top 3 this week in order to avoid being sent home.

Cumulative scoring would, however, make Judge's Table for the losers kind of irrelevant, unless two of them were tied for least points.

I wouldn't even be thinking about this if I wasn't severely bummed that the loathsome Lisa has now made it to the finals by being the second worst almost every single week. For those who've seen Project Runway, she's definitely Top Chef's version of Wendy Pepper.

Anonymous said...

Antonia's past performance indicated that she should have done better, but did you see her? Girlfriend looked rough. Her decision to open a restaurant, work 100 hours a week, never see her daughter, etc, has taken an obvious toll on her. She looked like I remember looking just after finals: drawn, bad complexion, weight gain. Her mind was elsewhere. I gress trying to open a restaurant (big deal) and trying to win a competition like this (ditto) at the same time wasn't possible, and that's jus

Girl Detective said...

I think the end result will be the same--it's between richard and steph, with the third person (whether it was Lisa, Dale or Antonia) a distant last. I'm not defending Lisa--I think she looks like an unpleasant person to work with, and she's squeaked by almost exclusively by being the second suckiest. But I also think our armchair quarterbacking is severely hampered because we can only hear and see the edited version--and the food's about taste and smell. I detected an absence of comment for some of Lisa's dishes, which could have been praise. And Nikki noted that Antonia seemed off her game, which reminded me of Casey last year.

Taleena said...

I wouldn't say Dale carried Stephanie, it seemed like they were tossing out alternative ideas and she latched onto the pork skin with the fruit salad because it was quick, easy and wouldn't take too much meat from her other dishes.

Also note that Stephanie said she had known Dale 10 years so i think that they are in a good way to bounce ideas off each other.

Stephanie, Richard and Dale were my top three at the beginning of the show so I am happy to have picked two of three, but honestly how much did I love Richard and his bronze medal comment? I think I blew a kiss at the TV screen.

I'd like to blame editing and stress for folks coming off like a jerk or hotheaded, certainly it accounted for a great deal of my irritation with Spike. Lisa, though, geez, you just know she is just that antagonistic and defensive all the time.

Melissa said...

I agree that Dale didn't carry Stephanie. Much as I love Dale and was sorry to see him go, he originally suggested that they still use the left-out meat (or at least seriously consider it, as he sniffed and moved it around a bit). The competition has never been solely about the taste of the food but also the decisionmaking and leadership that go into a great dish. Stephanie shines in that regard, and it really showed in this challenge. She quickly assessed the situation, realized that the serious risk of food poisoning was not one worth taking and moved on in a productive manner. I'm not sure there is any other cheftestant on the show who, in the face of that type of adversity, would have held up as well (especially, Dale and his temper if he was the EC rather than the sous chef). It seemed like the judges may not have even known about it at the judge's table (although that could be editing) -- which seems like the way it should be for someone worthy of winning the entire competition.

Jenn. said...

Another problem that I noted on ALOTT5MA is the fact that the judges don't seem to consider (except in group challenges) the qualities of a chef other than cooking---leadership, keeping a good atmosphere in the kitchen, etc. Can anyone seriously say that Antonia's other chefly talents far outweigh Lisa's?

Richard's bronze medal comment was fantastic. Someone on another website also pointed out that his reaction to the car was "Holy smokes!" but to Lisa, "F---." Yeah, that about covers it. I also loved Steph's "Oh, sorry, congratulations if you insist upon it."