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Ranking the Shows That I Watch – 24: Top Chef

8 Sep

I love Top Chef.  It’s the only weekly airing non-scripted show I watch (exceptions made here for Daily Show and Colbert Report) regularly (I’m a sucker for the occasional Pawn Stars and I love No Reservations but don’t watch it weekly) and that says a lot about how compelling it is.  It’s kind of like a sporting event, if sporting events were judged by people who usually are but don’t have to be experts (does Lorraine Bracco have that much expertise in food tastery?) and there was no way you could tell how the players did from home except for by what the judges said.  (Imagine a player hits a ball somewhere on baseball field that no one can see, and then umpire says it’s a double because he feels like that’s what it would be using his expertise and there’s no way can verify that but you just have to go with it).

Top Chef, though, like individual sports more than team sports, is all about a combination between personalities and winning.  Some of the best contestants are the most cocky, like Stefan in season 5, but he was able to back up his cockiness with wins.

Season 6 was indisputably my favorite season – it contained four chefs I pegged as the best from right from the beginning, I really really liked all four, and they all made it to the final, the season playing out exactly as it should.  There’s not much joy in Top Chef upsets generally, as it just means weaker contestants get lucky because of a fluky week.

There was something really gratifying when Richard Blais won Top Chef All Stars last season.  It was one of the moments that happen in sports all the time, when you can’t believe how strong you’re rooting for someone until the event actually happens and you’re excited and anxious and, for me, loud.  I would do weekly Top Chef Thursday morning quarter backing (can’t think of a proper equivalent for cooking quickly) with my friend and we would discuss both how we thought the results should have gone, as well as our continued praise for Richard.  It’s interesting to me because in Season 4, the first season of Top Chef I really watched as it was on and became engrossed in, I definitely didn’t feel the same way about Richard, and watching All Stars, I have absolutely no idea why.  Maybe it was because I have an unfair bias against the south; I must not have known he was originally from Long Island.  Either way it’s unforgivable in hindsight because Richard is by far the most similar to me of any contestant I can recall on Top Chef.  Most contestants are either really cocky, or really schmoozy, or really insecure, but Richard is none of these.  He expects to win every challenge, is severely disappointed if he doesn’t, but doesn’t maintain an attitude of arrogance around the other contestants, just a nervously chatty relatively honest analysis of how he feels.  He is harsh on himself when he disappoints, not always agreeing with the judges, but not always disagreeing with them either, which makes it seem more believable when he does disagree.  Immediately after he cooks, he thinks everything he makes is crap and he is petrifyingly nervous after every challenge until the results are given.  This guy is my hero.

Why It’s This High:  It combines the addictiveness and competitiveness of a sporting tournament with glorious food porn

Why It’s Not Higher:  I can’t have an unscripted show go higher – part of what I love about good TV is how intricately it’s crafted, and you can’t craft something like this, which means you get some flops – lack of script is for sports

Best episode of the most recent season:  “Restaurant Wars – One Night Only” – it feels weird to pick top episodes for a reality show, but did any Top Chef fan have any doubt that I’d pick restaurant wars, everyone’s favorite Top Chef challenge (it was either that or the finale), especially when Richard and Dale’s team put up one of the best restaurants ever seen in the show