Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! All persons having interest in Top Chef Season 7 D.C., are admonished to draw near and give their attention, for the season is now screening. God save deeply flawed competitions and gayface.
During every season of Top Chef, there comes a moment, often an entire episode, of such shoddy construction and inept execution, one's faith in the entire premise of and the prominent position that program plays in one's life is shaken. Traditionally that moment has occurred midway or late in the season. But, yesterday's episode, only the fourth episode, was exactly such a moment of shit satori, a crap safari into suck city. An apostrophe to Magical Elves, with apologies to John Lennon's favorite aphorism: "What the fuck, you fuckin' fuck?"
The episode started off an ardent absurdist call to procreation. A word of wisdom to aspirant cheftestants: Spawn now. Inevitably, there will be some competitive loop-de-loop, filling the thinly veiled need by the production company to mine content with heart warming vendor provided extraculinary montages, in which having a little crawling caterwauling infant will serve you. Love your child. Hate your life. In this iteration, Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi announce chefs must make an adult dish and then, by pureeing it, make it baby food. Because, duh, the way one makes baby food is by throwing adults food in a Thermomix and hitting puree. The reason for this challenge: Padma Lakshmi has a two-month-old girl named Krishna of father unknown, though rumored to be Adam Dell, born before the filming of the show. Tom Colicchio has two kids with Lori
Silverbush, a teenager from a previous marriage named Dante whose adult teeth have probably grown in and a two year old named Luka. These are the sons in Colicchio & Sons.
There were a few problems here. One, show us a fucking baby pic. It's like making us sit through a fucking mini-doc about puppies and never showing us cute puppies like this one or this one or this one or this one, which is actually kittuhs. Secondly, and more gravely, do two month old humans eat anything other than breast milk or formula? Thirdly, why is Padma wearing a T-shirt that looks like it was made from burnt baby dust? The Quickfire challenge thusly distilled all the worst tendencies of Quickfire challenges: It doesn't make any sense. Build me a desk! Now puree it for my nursery! It is biased to contestants who have children and this is deeply unfair to the uninterested and the infertile. There were no cute baby pictures nor cute babies presented.
Also of note: Kenny reveals his wife died which makes him, along with Timothy, a widower. (According to the 2003 Census, there are 300,000 black widowers in the USA so to have two on one show is disproportionate.) There's nothing more really to say about that except it's sad, obviously, and the way Kenny brings it up—in the context of talking about his children—makes me like him even more because it didn't seem exploitative. It just seemed proper exposition.
But let's move into that ever easier expression of hatred over compassion and the curmudgeonly over the human. Let me paraphrase the Elimination Challenge and if I haven't grasped it, please tell me. Fourteen contestants are asked to form teams of two to compete in a three round elimination challenge. In each round, the team that presents the best dish are immune from future elimination and also do not progress to the following round. In the first round—breakfast—all teams compete. Two teams (four contestants) are safe and need not continue. Indeed, they can not continue. In the second round—lunch—five teams compete and again, the top performing teams do not progress to the following round. In the final round—dinner—three teams compete and from these three teams (six contestants), a loser will be chosen as well as a winner. During this whole endeavour they are judged by former Top Chef contestants like Mike Isabella and Spike Mendelsohn, neither of whom manage to murmur anything intelligent or fit their food in their mouths without having little bits and pieces stuck to their lips and beards. They're some genre of Roald Dahl character, I'm sure, distant cousins of The Fleshlumpeater and The Gizzardgulper. Anyway, the competition structurally looks kind of like this:
Clearly the inherent flaw in this schema is that excellence is penalized early on and not given the chance to win. So the top performers in the first round are on much higher ground than the eventual winner. It's only through mediocrity, or worse, ineptitude that contestants gain a chance for victory (and, of course, defeat). Unlike in other challenges or myths (cf. Icarus, Madoff, Robert E. Lee) where at least it is ambition, that great American Miracle Gro, that has led to one's downfall, in this challenge ambition itself leads only to sterility. Usually, I'm saying, the chance to win or to lose is proportional to effort, scope and expertise. In this case, any upward variation led to an immediate draw whereas failure led either, rightly, to failure or, perversely, to victory.
So yes, Bobby from King of the Hill and Amanda Cold Sore/Birthmark/Cokehead are not my favorite people. But, their superlative breakfast should have given them a chance to go to Italy or Spain courtesy of Hilton, (Hilton! Hilton! Hilton!). Instead the failures of whiny Kelly I Don't Liken or Andrea Curto-Randazzo actually led to their senior years abroad, they ripped the peas out of the pod and spent three months in exile in Spain. And poor Gayface Arnold fell upon the al dente sword of Cat Lady Lynne's undercooked pasta. Kenny and Kevin, dark and less dark shining lights, managed to fail and succeed in completely demoralizing fashion and this week's episode—one of the most poorly edited and poorly conceived—came to a whimpering end. May next week be better or at least not worse!