Hi. My name is Joshua David Stein and I can't believe Padma Lakshmi can't afford clothes. Top Chef Las Vegas premieres Wednesday night on Bravo. I'm quivering with excitement. Let's peek over the trench together.
Three things weigh heavily on my mind as August 19th draws closer. First of all, the familiar yet nearly forgotten bristle of joy and discomfort that accompanies hostess Padma Lakshmi's every appearance. Some things are simply too beautiful to behold. Thus Moses beholds the burning bush but not Yahweh and thus, from the same principle but less manifest, do we shiver when Lakshmi smiles or the camera tilts slowly down from her eyes to her torso, as if following an invisible bead of sweat. (Happily the potency of her beauty is somewhat dissipated by the lens of the camera and screen of the television.) Between last season and this, Lakshmi has signed to a NBC food-related sitcom called Single Serving, a show whose all but assured crappiness is all the more welcome since it may, in some small way, humanize Ms. Lakshmi. A goddess with a laugh track somehow seems a little more approachable.
Secondly, I've missed the small bitter ids of the Top Chef contestants, crouched in the corner of their mental kitchen like dibbuks, jealous, zealous, too rich in tactic and short on strategy, bent not on achievement but on sabotage. That shit is mad fun to watch. Top Chef Masters simply has too much bonhomie and competency. Messrs. Bayless, Keller, DuFresne and Ms. Lo are too good-natured, talented, and mature for real drama. Let's face it: Top Chef Masters was a bit of a snooze; it's good for the world but bad for Bravo (the same can be applied to all Bravo television programming.) On August 19th, a raft of try-hardy famewhores will beam into our living rooms, each one eager to establish him or herself, to appease the wrathful writhing ambitious worm inside them. They'll be put under intense stress in situations designed to confound and to sift out from their unprocessed ore, all that makes them human, leaving only the nasty golden nuggets, sandwiched between Glad Family Product advertisements and light molasses and lovely honey rich shots Padma Lakshmi. Unlike other lesser reality television shows, the cheftestants on Top Chef are nominally there to cook and it is through this filter that we see their Machiavellian jockeying. Unlike the newly neutered Project Runway, Bravo is under no obligation to soften the edges and make the show feel-goody. It's all cynical manipulation here, chef-against-chef, producer-against-viewer, chef-against-viewer. Like a john and a painted lady, we all dance the ritualized tango of coyness and submission, enacting roles written long before August 19th, before even the birth of Bravo and I can't wait.
Lastly, this is the the sixth season of Top Chef. Like the sixth season of the Real World (who can forget Genesis, Elka and Syrus!?) by this point the reality television industrial casting machine should have—in tandem, effected and effecting the fame-headed public—crafted the ultimate reality show cast. These are the people who the producers want. These are the people who want the fame and know exactly what they need to be successful. A quick look at this season's character bios is highly enlightening. First of all—in line with other Bravo reality shows—the amount of tattoos has increased noticeably. One guy, annoyingly, has a knife and form tattooed on his hand. He'll be out by the third episode, I think. There are two plus-sized heavily tattooed women (Jennifer and Jesse. One guy with a beard and an Austin Scarlett epigone named Mattin, for whom a beard would do no help. Following Bravo's half-hearted stab at inclusivity, there's the black guy, the latino and the asian too for good measure. There's also a guy in a bow tie named Ash Fulk (rhymes with Ass Fuck!) A finer cast of characters more ready to exploit and be exploited one couldn't ask for. Though we may know something about these chefs' bios, we would do well to forget them. For that was their civilian life. Now they are part of something larger than them, than the truth. They are part of theatre, glorious theatre, and the curtain rises Wednesday night.