Thursday, January 18, 2007

You Know What? Why Don't YOU Pack Your Knives And Go. Seriously.

Dear Top Chef,

Enough.

Bravo comes up with the classiest, most dazzling version of a reality television show ever -- oh, Project Runway, how I adore thee! -- and then you come along. You're like Project Runway's bitchy little sister. You wear your big sister's clothes and mimick her walk, and then get all pissy when you're not asked to the dance. Well, I got news for you. It's not the clothes and it's not the walk; it's about the bigger picture. It's about the attitude.

And your attitude? It sucks.

Anyone else concerned that I'm writing a letter to a television show? Mm, yeah.

Project Runway did it first, did it right, did it better. Why do you feel the need to alter their formula? Pardon the punnery, but you're messing with a winning recipe, and it's leaving quite a bad taste in my mouth.

Project Runway's formula works:
  • Find contestants who are talented
  • Give them challenges that test their abilities
  • If you give them really difficult challenges, with extra twists and turns, be fair when you judge them
  • Give them someone they can turn to for a little objective advice and support

I'm not saying that the judges on Project Runway are all sunshine and lollipops, but they offer fairly balanced feedback -- even with the disasters -- and recognize when challenges were tricky for everyone. They show compassion.

With the exception of Ted (we love you, Ted! Doo doo doo do do doo doot dooooo*), Top Chef's panels don't do the same. It's as though the judges take an "us against them" attitude. Every time Tom and Gail approach a challenge, they seem to walk into it with the expectation that the contestants will have sucked. "I wonder how bad they'll be THIS time."

They are smug and snide and unhelpful.

They are surprised, visibly and verbally, when contestants do well.

Their critiques are probably correct from an objective standpoint, but they never take into account how challenging the circumstances were. "If this were a real restaurant, we would have left." Um, if it were a real restaurant, it wouldn't have been BUILT IN 45 MINUTES.

Bitches.

I think it's ridiculous that during the restaurant challenge, Tom declared that there WERE NO WINNERS. That they had all failed.

Yeah, hi. Red flag. If a manager, or director, or coach, or CEO sets a challenge for her entire team and the entire team fails, guess who is responsible? (I'll give you a hint, Top Chef: it's not the team.)

Last year, I started off loving the show just as much as this year, but by the end I was just as pissed off. Remember last year's wedding challenge? Let me remind you:

For the Quickfire Challenge, you asked the chefs to come up with a unique and gourmet menu for a wedding. The winning menu would be selected by an engaged couple.

Given the openness of the challenge, the contestants came up with some really creative and difficult ideas.

But when the winner was selected, and you dropped the bombshell: that the winning menu had to be served at a wedding. THE NEXT DAY. You gave them extremely limited time and resources to pull something amazing off, they busted their asses to do it, and you? Rather than acknowledge how impossible the task had been, you GOT MAD WHEN THEY CUT CORNERS.

And then, yes you did, you said they'd all failed.

Don't you think they would have come up with different menus if they'd known they had 24 hours to pull it off, with only one overnight supermarket to buy from, with limited funds? Don't you think you were unfair? Don't you think you could have taken ANY of your limitations into account when judging?

Yeah. I noticed you didn't let them spout off about that during the reunion show.

So in looking back throughout this season and the (again with the punning) "meltdowns" that more than one contestant has had, I no longer thing it's their fault. I blame you.

Of course I think that there are more mature ways for contestants to handle themselves. Obviously they are under a lot of pressure and it's no wonder that they snap and spout off now and then. A reasonable amount of "losing it" happens on Project Runway every season. (Say it again with me: Where the HELL is my chiffon!)

But. As I've re-watched Mia's breakdown (since the first time it seemed bizarre to me), and the Lord Of The Flies-like treatment of Marcel, and Cliff's complete undoing, I can't believe it's just them being sensitive.

I think it's you, Top Chef, and your petulant, hypocritical, compassionless judges.

And before you go defending yourself about "some" cruel judges on "some other well loved reality show" being popular, I'll put it out there for you. I actually think Simon Cowell is kinder to the top 12 American Idol competitors than Tom is to his contestants. Simon has announced on more than one occassion that the contestants have had an off night, but he never calls them all failures. He doesn't always feel the need to qualify good performances. He doesn't go in expecting to be disappointed. And you know? Even when he is tough, he has a different job than your judges do, because he's not the one sending contestants home.

Yep. I think Simon is a more "palatable" judge than Tom. And that is really saying something.

Honestly, I believe it comes down to this: no one wants to watch a show where everyone loses. No one wants to watch a show where everyone is declared a failure. It makes your judges seem mean, and it turns us viewers off. It makes us uncomfortable. And angry.

The show is set up to have us rooting for our favorites, and so we do! And then when you slap them down, over and over, our spirits are diminished, too.

Don't you think that's kind of stupid?

::spoiler::

I do. And I feel like your machinations have left me so that I almost don't care who wins anymore.

Marcel is weird and a little creepy, and obviously egotistical. But exactly who on the show isn't? Every single one of the contestants believes he/she is good enough to be there. Maybe editing has saved me from having to see all the really horrid aspects of Marcel, but he was ostracized early and completely. He's shouldered it pretty well, and he's never really lost his focus. I don't think he's ever even raised his voice, while I can count at least five other contestants who have outright yelled at him. I'm not saying I want him to win, but at this point, why not?

I really like Top Chef (and Project Runway) because the show, at least in pretense, focuses more on talent than interpersonal relationships. Marcel is the only one who has said more than once at the judges' table, "Can we just talk about the food?" Bonus points for that.

I'm surprised Elia is still around, except that I figure they can't very well send ALL the women home and none to the finale. (For what it's worth, I don't think the show is sexist, but I don't think they found very strong female competitors this year.)

Elia is young, and I think she shows it. She has not handled the pressure very well. Her decisions have been very inconsistent -- she's missed the mark completely as many times as she's been spot-on. She is not (yet) a good leader, and has not seemed to make very good interpersonal choices (she has consistently befriended under-performers). She has professed all along to like Marcel, but has been inactive and silent in his defense, especially in the last episode. Overall, I think she's cute, smart, interesting, multi-faceted and talented...but still learning. She comes across as too timid and unsure of herself to be a good leader.

And I don't think someone who tried to flambe with red wine should be Top Chef.

Ilan is now my least favorite, and I really liked him in the beginning. He's clearly a talented cook with sophisticated ideas and tastes. However, his complete inability to get over his dislike for Marcel is childish and annoying. If he were Top Chef material, he'd stay above the fray. As it is, he seems way too preoccupied with Marcel. Why is that, hmmm? Obviously, Ilan feels threatened...I wonder if it's because he's afraid of Marcel's talent, or if it's because Marcel hits a little too close to home? I suspect Ilan is afraid of being everything he accuses Marcel of.

And his crush on Elia is cloying.

Did anyone not think Sam would win from the very beginning? I mean, the winner might very well be an upset (because this whole season has gone south and who's to say anymore, really) but he's clearly the favorite. Unfortunately, he, too, can't seem to get over his hatred for Marcel, and it makes him seem petty. Harold -- last year's winner, who Sam certainly resembles in many ways -- kept his mouth shut and his focus on executing flawless challenges. Sam has not been able to do that. He's also off-puttingly cocky. A degree of arrogance is required, I think, but if he were really THAT sure of himself, he wouldn't feel the need to constantly put Marcel in his place.

Eh.

In the end, Top Chef, I want to see the personalityless-(but-oh-so-much-better-than-Katie-blink-blink-Joel)-Padma turn to Gail and Tom and, quoting them as often as possible, thank them for their time but tell them they have been a complete failure. That waltzing in at the end of a challenge to offer nothing but smirks and raised eyebrows is in poor taste, and that they should have been able to offer more. That shaking their heads disapprovingly and laughing at your contestants is unnacceptable. That you don't understand why their feedback was never more balanced.

And then tell them to pack their knives and go.

Short of that, at least (pleaseohpleaseohplease) let Ted serve as Top Chef's Tim Gunn.

Let me know what you think,
k


*That'd be the theme song from Queer Eye, obviously. Duh.

20 comments:

  1. aweet jebus...you've said everything I've been saying since I started watching Top Chef- that the restrictions on the challenges are nigh-insurmountable, and that the judges' feedback is inconsistent and unhelpful, and that the only thing Sam is Tops at is being Top Asshat(there are others, of course.)
    Also, even though I can see how Marcel could get annoying, it's the kind of annoying that MOST OF US(Looking at you, Ilan, Sam, Cliff) worked out how to handle in or before ninth grade chemistry class. Marcel is a hilariously nerdy mad scientist and self-described outcast who exhibits the social skills of a slightly backwards turtle- but that doesn't mean he should be assaulted (Yeah, Bravo- I said the word. All the "You put your hands on another contestant" double-talk in the world cannot distract me from the fact that I was duped into watching televised Assault and Battery under the guise of a show that is nominally about beautiful food.)
    I'm disgusted, but I'll be watching the finale to cheer on poor socially awkward Marcel, to boo Elia who managed to piss me off almost as much as Cliff, and to check out what his hair looks like when he hasn't been abiding by production rules that say not to cut it. Season Three has lost my interest- I'll be watching Alton Brown for my food-porn fixes from now on.

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  2. I swear on a stack of kitchen gadgets that that said "Sweet jebus" when I was typing it up. Boo typos.

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  3. ohmyfreakinggod...imagine my happy surprise, that when i come to your blog to see if there's anything new and wanting desperately to burn a little time online...and you've written about top chef. i can not thank you enough...anyone not interested in a long rant please skip ahead...

    my general reaction to this season is "harold, harold, wherefor art thou harold."

    marcel is not nearly as bad as he's getting killed for. what the fuck was sam so pissed about when marcel said he couldn't help plate his dish because he was busy with his. hello - it's a competition and marcel clearly needed absolutely every moment to get his damn salmon ready. but somehow he's the dick? i was gleefully excited when betty, that hokey two faced cheating hypocrite, bought it after feuding with marcel. not that he's a peach, for god's sake, he's not the worst guy ever. and he is one of the only competitors, along with sam, elia and elan, who consistantly has produced interesting and complex plating techniques, even if the food hasn't been always great. bottom line - he belongs, what's the fucking deal?

    i am so pissed at the judges it's hilarious (in that, why do i care so much kind of way). two weeks in a row without a winner, and this week they clearly raved about sam's scallops as well as elan's clams. but no winner? because nothing was "romantic?" what the fuck planet are you from where a sensual scallop dish, that they praised, isn't romantic. scallop is one of the sexiest, most sensual foods out there (yes, i really do believe that, it has that oh so slightly seafood tang that...well...you fill in the blanks and if you think i'm a perv for thinking of food this way you're the one with the problem because cooking is all about using the olfactory sense, our strongest linked to memory, to call other experiences into our appreciation of food). i just don't get it, those smug fucking bastards.

    i can understand the restaurant no winner thing. both teams made really fundamental execution errors that didn't have anything to do with the time limit. the lack of olive plates and the overcooking of food, the horrible front of house coordination, all that should not have been overly affected by the time limit. but this last week is embarrasing for the show.

    and as a side note, elia is really pretty hot with the shaved head. elan also looked pretty good, but a little geeky. sam is a total lameass for not following through.

    i think the clearest evidence the judges are snarky, smug, worthless punks is that for the most part the celebrity judges are pretty positive in the quickfires. they get 30 minutes or whatever to produce a gormet bite and do some cool things - and the judges are usually pretty positive with a number of them. and then somehow every elimination challenge they go back to being horrible? and when they like something they almost always say..."this is actually pretty good..." what does that mean, you intentionally cast people with no taste or talent? of course it's fucking good, did you notice the resumes of these people? clearly tom is more interested in parlaying this into his own celebrity chefdom than being a good judge. but say what you will about the cooking chops of flay, battaglia, lagasse, ciarelli, et. al., they're all human and nice and we like listening to them. tom is self-serving, pompous and drains the fun out of food like that wine expert at a party who tells you you're not allowed to like what you're sipping because wine spectator wasn't a fan.

    deep breath.

    at this point, i'm rooting for marcel just to spite everyone else. elia probably has the most raw talent but is inexperienced and doesn't lead well. elan is a petty prick, who's pretty good but seems to play it pretty safe. and cliff...what happened? where's the sushi quickfire cliff? i had high hopes.

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  4. I agree, the challenges are ridiculous. The episode that I thought was particularly unfair was the beach breakfast, Asking someone to come up with an innovative dish without letting them know what, if any, cooking utensils and equipment will be available is just insane. Woud it really have made the challanege less interesting if they'd told them they had to make it on ther beach, in a fire pit? No, it would have made it more interesting, because then we'd get to see how they responded to that restriction, instead of watching them try to guess what the situation would be.

    I used to hate Marcel but now I'm almost rooting for him due to the way he is handling everyone else's childish behavior.

    But the one thing that bothers me more than anything else about the show is Padma. She's so smug and superior, and she looks like she never actually eats anything. It makes sense to have someone who looks like a fashion model on Project Runway, but not on Top Chef.

    I just imagine how much better the show would be in Anthony Bourdain was hosting.

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  5. Yay! For all your feedback!

    I think it's safe to say that the show is obviously a GOOD SHOW, and we wouldn't care so damn much if it weren't so close to being one of the best on television (if not THE best).

    One point I don't think I got across really strongly is that I really think it's indicative of the show (more than the contestants) that so many of these poor chefs are losing their shit, you know? Not that I'm excusing their behavior, but I think the circumstances are even tougher than we can gauge. 7, 8, 9 weeks of intense competition and almost NO positive feedback is rough.

    Project Runway just seems somewhat understanding of its competitors' needs.

    Top Chef seems punitive. Contestants are constantly being reprimanded.

    Nate - to your point, here's the FIRST SENTENCE of Tom's blog:
    "Finally," I thought to myself. "The chefs are cooking some really good food."

    Echoing that Tom seems to have an expectation of poor quality. And Gail is *constantly* saying "It was ACTUALLY good..."

    I reiterate: if the entire cast is a disappointment, that's not the cast's fault.


    MJ - I agree. I don't get why a model -- even one who is a cook -- needs to be the host for this show.

    They can all bite me. Har, har.

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  6. Oh, I'm just so happy right now, and clearly y'all should've been watching this with us ALL SEASON so that we could cry out together when the judges ONCE AGAIN contradict themselves.

    I'm only able to chalk so much up to editing when they give contrary advice IN THE SAME CHALLENGE.

    I am additionally pissed at the last episode that they chose to air the Cliff/Marcel episode. Whether or not Cliff's meltdown was acceptable, Marcel was a victim. And to SHOW HIM AS A VICTIM ON TV is unacceptable, morally. I mean, for chrissakes, the guy hasn't taken enough flak? Now the world has to know it, too?

    I could go on for days, but will leave it at that.

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  7. MJ - I agree. I don't get why a model -- even one who is a cook -- needs to be the host for this show.

    I'm guessing their reason were:

    1) She wrote a cookbook, apparently
    2) She's Salman Rushdie's wife
    3) Eye Candy

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  8. Lol... I love that the comments are just as insightful as your post. Unfortunately, I cannot offer any insightful comments since I have never even seen this show (although I'm considering it after that rant!), but I just wanted to say that that was a great post. I think you should send it in to the show's producers, actually!

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  9. When I saw this post, I had to immediately close it, as I had not yet watched this week's Top Chef. However, I caught up on my DVR this week, so now I know what you are talking about.

    So I tend to like Sam, and even though Marcel is creepy and squirrely, I think he is doing not as bad as he was. I started out liking Betty, as she seemed normal and down to earth. By the time she was kicked, I was ready to pick her up myself and escort her to the airport.

    As for the Cliff thing with the holding down Marcel, it's similar to when Tina punched Beth on the RW/RR challenge this season. A shame to see someone go for that...but satisfying to see it happen just the same.

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  10. I LOVE THIS SHOW.

    I have, however, hated Gail from the beginning. She's negative and arrogant, and I don't think she gives them the benefit of the doubt. In a word, she's a bitch. It seems as though she really likes having negative things to say.

    I love Sam. I hate Marcel. Marcel, Ilan, Elia - not leaders. Despite Sam's dislike of Marcel (which I agree is petty), I think he can work with him, help and generally be a leader. I hope he wins.

    I was just thinking about this yesterday - I love watching the pressure, the cooking, etc., but I would never in a million years eat it. I don't like my food pretty. I don't want it served on spoons. I don't know what "foam" or "ceviche" means. I don't like all those fancy fish dishes. Give me Mac & Cheese any day.

    I'm sort of rambling; sorry. Love the show, hate Gail, mildly dislike Tom. Padma is kind of dumb and harmless; I'm ambivalent.

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  11. Wow, you summed it up wonderfully. It is disheartening to hear the judges being so negative week after week when they compliment food as they eat it, then slam it at the judges table (and vice versa, almost as frequently.) I personally love Sam, and have since the beginning, but then again, Sam is smoking hot. Perhaps I'm biased. :) Project Runway is a genius show and chose brilliantly to have Heidi Klum - whose laugh must give angels their wings - as hostess and Tim Gunn as the voice of reason, constructive criticim, and support for people who need that guidance (duh - otherwise they'd already be famous and successful in their field.) Gail is evil, Tom is a dick, and Padma is the worst-dressed "supermodel" I've ever seen.

    That said, I am still addicted to this damn show!

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  12. I find this show a little fake, as if the producers keep some people just to keep the tension of the drama going rather than for any other purpose.

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  13. Hi, I like they way you created and manage your blog. As long as I have time, I will try to keep visiting. And if you ever need Live Chat solutions for business, please search for LIVECHAT ContactCenter! Bye!

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  14. Gosh, sakes alive! Even Live Chat likes your blog! < /Rumsfeld >

    For all who don't already check them, the Blogs on Bravo are pretty interesting, especially Harold's. He was the winner last year, and he's not pulling punches. (For instance, week before last he had *nothing* good to say about guest judge Mike Yakora from Le Colonial. Basically said he was an egomaniac who couldn't cook.)

    I would love to see this format in the hands of the Food Network people. Alton Brown as the host? Mario Batali as the Tim Gunn figure? If only, sigh...

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  15. I don't agree with any of your statements about the show. One thing I do agree with is what Neil said above. Newsflash---it's a tv show made to evoke reaction and exaggerate personalities for ratings. Looks like you fell for it.

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  16. anon 1:53,

    1. That's fine that you disagree with me, though I'd like to hear what your thoughts are.

    2. It's a tv show made to do a LOT of things; evoking emotional response is one of them. But I love this show and Project Runway so much because the contestants are clearly talented, and it's amazing to me to watch people under extreme pressure do talented things (especially since I have no such talents).

    Are these the MOST talented people they could find? Or are they the most talented they could find who ALSO are interesting and who will create drama and intrigue?

    It's obviously the latter. However, I think it's ridiculous for the show to pick potentially-less-talented contestants and then give them incredibly difficult challenges and then blame them for not performing up to snuff.

    However much they manipulate and edit the show, the contestants still create amazing dishes, and the whole spectacle is fun to watch and dissect. I just think the show could do more to be fair (or at least appear that way) and close some of its discrpancies.

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  17. I totally thought I was the only one that got this pissed off about this show. But I don't even like Marcel, he is that guy who instigates but stating a like for something that he knows that the other person has strong passionately negative feelings about, and then is confused when he gets jumped for it. "what did I say?" I have one of those at work and I could just throttle him on a daily basis. But yes, I am way too involved in Top chef.

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  18. Gordon Ramsey kicks Top Chef's ass.

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  19. Anon - I don't think any of us "fell" for anything. Of course it's just a meaningless TV show made to elicit resonse and emotions, that's why it's so fun to rant about.

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  20. so what is wrong with me that i love boyfriend tom??!?! sigh.

    last night i thought of your post when the judges were all "you are all winners" and heaping praise with a shovel for a brief moment. i was on the phone with the man asking if he thought you actually sent your post to bravo.

    i really enjoy your writings. keep up the great work!
    :)

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