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And with a sputter and whir Top Chef: Tippity Tippity to the Tip Tip Top and You Don't Stop All Stiggity Star edition came to a close. As is often the case, it came down to a duel between pride and prejudice, head and heart, sense and sensibility, eggs and bacon, and a boring schmo and a human cankle.
But before we get to the final showdown between mad scientist Richard Blaise and intergalactic warlord Pizza the Hutt, we have to talk about their sous chefs. Every season this show brings back former contestants (or famous chefs) so the final contestants will have some help and so that they can wring some drama out of the proceedings. This finale was boring enough, but how boring is one person cooking in the kitchen by themselves. Unless that person is high on bath salts and trying to avoid electricity that's chasing him while flipping pancakes with his fingers while blindfolded, that shit is pretty boring. Therefore there must be the choosing of the sous chefs.
Padma walks into the kitchen and it is glowing bright white. There stand fourteen shades, barely translucent bits of air that are a collection of ghosts. They are all of our past contestants, loosened from this mortal coil and gone onto the great beyond, which seems to resemble some sort of all inclusive resort in the Bahamas. Not such a bad deal! Floating above them all, her vast gown billowing in a breeze that doesn't exist is Antonia, who just recently joined them in heaven and is the ghostiest of them all. She looks down on them with her arms outstretched like a guardian spirit or a great mother.
"Listen up, asshole ghosts," Padma says. "You all have to cook an amuse bouche and feed those other two assholes who are still in the competition. If you don't, well, you're already dead, so I don't know what I'll do to you, but it's going to be mean. So get cooking!"
Cook, cook, cook; boring...wait, we don't even get to see any of the cooking. What the fuck!
Mike and Richard walk into the kitchen and see all their friends there, glowing like a bulb underwater in a pool on a California evening and flickering back and forth like seaweed tossed by the tide. It's all very wet and murky.
"Listen up, jerks. Pick which of these are your favorites and those will be your sous chefs. And one of you better fucking pick Marcel and one better pick Jamie, or else the finale is going to be boring and then we're not going to win another motherfucking Emmy and it will be your fault. Not mine! I won this motherfucking show an Emmy already. This is in your hands, and if you fuck it up, I will show up at your house, pull your balls off, and turn them into a ceviche. Got it?"
Richard picks first and he gets Spike, who is kind of an asshole, but not that bad. He is, naturally, wearing some sort of jerk bonnet of epic proportions. Mike picks White Tiffani, not horrible, but not great. Richard picks Angelo, who is wearing huge glasses because apparently they don't allow dorky socks in the Bahamas. "Really? Richard picked me?" He says, his lip quivering and a storm rolling over his face. He shuffles around the long way, behind Mike and whispers, "Sorry, honey. I let you down," as he grabs Mike's ass. He's cooking for the enemy now.
Next Mike draws Jamie. "Aw fuck," she says. "I don't even really want to be here. Gay Dale told me he wasn't coming because they don't allow homosexuals in the Bahamas. This is what I get for coming. Now I actually have to work. Fuck this. I hope you like soup!" This is just what the producers were hoping for. Then Richard picks the ghost of a contestant once known as Antonia. She flies over to Richard who tries to give her a hug, but it's like trying to catch a cloud and pin it down. "Are you sure you're ready for this?" Richard asks her. "Yes," she says. "Let's get that fucker."
Mike gets the final choice. Three producers are hunched behind a monitor with clip boards in hand, crouched over hoping for a great outcome. "Marcel! Marcel! Marcel!" they chant. No dice. Mike picks Carla, Princess of the Owl Clan of Yosemite. She flaps her wings, cranes her neck, and lets out a giant "Hootie-Hoo!" the warrior call of her proud and noble people. It's great to have her back.
"OK, assholes," Padma says. "Thank god this is the last fucking time I ever have to see any of you again. You have to cook four courses for the judges and a bunch of other people who we don't give a fuck about. You have 17 minutes, get to work."
Cook, cook, cook; boring, boring, boring, and suddenly the judges are deciding how they're going to go to the restaurants. They have so many guest judges they have decided to pull the classic Scooby Doo move and split up. Padma assembles her coterie of cooks and says, "Come on, Simmons, you're with me." Gail blanches to the color of a creme freche pearl and stands still, quivering a little bit.
"What's wrong, Gail?" Tom Cohostio asks.
"Don't make me do it, Tom. Don't make me go with Padma."
"Why? What's so..."
"SHE BEATS ME!" Gail shouts. "She beats me, Tom!" She says collapsing onto his shoulder, letting out a sob that has been stored up for seasons.
"Hurry the fuck up, Simmons," Padma yells.
"No, it's fine, Padma. She's gonna stick with me," Cohostio answers.
"What the fuck?!" Padma yelled and she put her arms out by her sides and thrust her chest and Tom and Gail, still comforted in his embrace. They both flinch and Gail turns back toward Tom, burying her brown in his shoulder. "Oh forget you. Have fun together!"
Eat, eat, eat; boring, boring, boring. Everyone loves everything, except for the desserts, which is pretty much always the case on Top Chef, isn't it? Then again Richard decided to make foie gras ice cream, which is fucking gross. I mean, I've had barbecue sauce ice cream at Momofuko Milk Bar and that was delicious, but I don't even like foie gras when it's foie gras, so why would I want it as ice cream? Cap'n Crunch ice cream on the other hand—I would eat the fuck out of that. Hear that Momofuko? Just a suggestion.
The one smart thing Mike did was that he cooked to the judges. He did things he knew Tom would appreciate so that he would have a better shot at winning. He also made pepperoni sauce which Gail couldn't get enough of. Oh, pepperoni sauce, that is the stuff a thousand double entendres are made of.
The judges bring Mike and Richard in and tell them they love everything, but this was a season called Top Chef: The Redemption of Richard Blais so even though they were giving Mike the win edit, we knew—at least we hoped we knew—that Richard would win in the end. They bring out both of their families and all of the ghosts from the season, wearing long white robes. They're like stoic columns, a Greek chorus watching over the proceedings making sure the reign of the gods goes according to plan, that the skeins of Mike and Richard's destiny unravel appropriately. Antonia is floating over them, he brow furrowed and her countenance darkened.
"Assholes, listen up," Padma says. "Richard wins!" He jumps for joy and all the ghosts howl with approval. Mi'kes face grows slack and angry, like a giant horse dropping ground into the street after a parade. He is sad, and as the crowd rushes to elevate Richard in a giant scrum, Mike is greeted by the ghost of his cousin, Antonia. She billows like a sheet hung on the line and grabs Mike by the hand. "Come," she beckons and walks him toward the light. "We've all had to go into the light, and now you must join us." He puts his hand out, blinded by the illumination and stunned by the realization that he is going to the other side. He doesn't notice that right before his feet a giant pit has opened up and and the tops of flames are tickling out of it. Floating above the ground, the ghost Antonia leads Mike right into the pit, and before he can get to the white light of the other side, he falls into a pit of eternal dispair, his scream both intensifying and softening as he falls further and further away. "Sucker!" Antonia says, before dissolving into the night air altogether. The ground closed shut again, and Mike we never heard from again.
And then there is just Richard. Padma approaches him and says, "Part of your prize is that I am going to touch you for 2.4 seconds above the waist in a gesture some people would call a hug. If you try to cop a feel, I will fucking rip your sausagey fingers off. Got it?"
As Richard hugs her, it finally sets in. The realization that it's over, that he accomplished the goal that eluded him the first time around. He made it all the way through. He won. No longer would he wake up in the middle of the night vaguely dizzy and with his hair less artfully tussled than usual and feel that weight in his legs, giant chains of regret hanging around his knees, dragging him down. No longer would he cook burgers at his restaurant. He could open a real place, with linen table cloths and a cute hostess he'll start banging on the side. No, a string of hostesses, one after the other. Because he's a winner now. In American life, there are no second acts, but there are second chances. There is nothing we love more than a story of redemption. For a second that hero is Richard, who raises his glass with Padma and the rest of the chefs, the bubbles in the champagne, just like him, rising, rising to the surface straining for the top of the flute, edging toward the big world and its huge sky. Those bubbles are looking to reach their potential, do what they're supposed to do. They want to burst forth and join the whole wide universe. They strain for release.