Last night's episode of Top Chef was perhaps the least satisfying and most miserable episode yet. It's like we had been reading Stendhal's Le Rouge et Le Noir, a novel full of tender moments and human weakness, and all of a sudden we're in the middle of Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi plays, a profane, syphilitic cesspool of misery. This had a lot to with the challenge: the eight contestants were asked to create a restaurant in 24 hours, a mission that all but ensures failure. But it also had to do with the fact that one of the "secret" judges was food blogger Andrea Strong whose rambling Sex-And-The-City-ish newsletter, The Strong Buzz, coagulates daily in our inbox. It is a mess. And she was just mean.
Still! She seemed the sole arbiter of taste at the judge's table. Padma slowly recited her words (she had sent in a written report) like some Holy Scripture. "The maitre d' at Restaurant April had a serious sweating problem," she wrote. Real trenchant stuff that. But it just got worse, as Ms. Strong seemed to prove the adage those who can't cook write, those who can't write blog, those who can't blog send e-mail newsletters and those who can't do even that end up as a guest judge on Top Chef.
But the other demoralizing aspect of the show was the Baghdadian lack of rule of law. Contravening the explicit and implicit framework of Top Chef, no one was eliminated. Sure ,the two chefs on the chopping block—sweaty Bryan and shonda fur dir straightem Dale—didn't really deserve to be sent home, but the implicit contract the network has signed with the viewers stipulates that someone must be sent home. To apply this selectively not only violates the main premise of the show but the trust of the viewers; for more on the problem of selective enforcement, see McCleskey v. Kemp (No. 84-6811). [Ed. Note: Josh? Are you okay?]
This sort of thing has happened before on the show, as well as on other shows, of course—but each time it occurs, a little bit of trust has been broken; a bit of the validity of the judges' decisions erodes. Entrusting the bulk of the decision making to someone like Andrea Strong only hurts us all more.