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Four Reasons Why 'Top Chef' Is Becoming Predictable

by Joel Keller, posted Aug 27th 2010 11:00AM
The judges table on 'Top Chef' - 'Making Concessions'If the rumblings of 'Top Chef' fans are to be believed, the group that has been cooking their way through Washington, D.C. this season is the worst collection of chef'testants that the show has ever gathered.

I'm not sure about that. While this group isn't as good as last season's stellar bunch -- who will forget the Voltaggio brothers' showdown in the finale? -- I don't see them as being appreciably worse than some of the previous sets of contestants, certainly not the fumbling casts the show had in its early seasons.

The low opinion of this year's cast is likely due to viewers' high expectations, and those high expectations are being fed by the show's utter predictability.

We're down to the final five chef'testants, and there hasn't seemed to be one major surprise elimination among the bunch (the only elimination that can be considered a mild surprise really wasn't, for reasons I'll explain in a moment). Even Wednesday night's elimination seemed to be inevitable from the show's first seconds.

The quality of the show isn't going downhill by any means; the program is still entertaining, the food is still presented well, and the storylines are still well fleshed-out. But there are a few reasons why 'Top Chef's' success may be leading to it becoming stale: (Warning: Spoilers ahead!)

1. The judges have trained the fans on what's good and what's bad.
Let's be honest here: Most of us have not tasted the vast majority of the dishes that have been created during the run of the series. It's just too many chefs in too many restaurants in too many cities for us to get to them all. So all we have to go on is the judges' opinions on each dish. By season seven the viewers seem to have a pretty good idea of what the judges like and what they don't like.

If something is overcooked, undercooked or both, that's bad. If the flavors don't mesh or are imbalanced, that's also bad. And if the presentation is considered amateurish, then the judges will likely throw the chef to the bottom of the heap. You can just tell by the judges' reactions as they eat the dish how things will go. For instance, Eric Ripert's repulsed reaction at Amanda's grey tuna tartare pretty much doomed her right there and then.

2. Previous seasons have given the chefs clues on how to get by. Chefs have big egos, but the nature of the job requires chefs to always be learning and cribbing from their peers. With six seasons of chef fumbles, mishaps, and mistakes to look back on -- and at this point, most of the people who go on the show are fans -- the chef'testants know where not to take risks and what kind of mistakes will sink their chances.

That's why you don't see many desserts anymore, or see people go too far out of their comfort zones to make dishes. Alex got bounced last week because a combination of his underdeveloped culinary skills and uninformed risk taking led him to make those disastrous veal parm tortellini that Tom Colicchio thought were so bad that he said he had better tortellini out of a box.



3. The marginal chefs are eventually exposed. The way the game is played, with the constant pressure and short amount of time, the chefs that either don't have the cooking skills or don't have the coping skills are eventually weeded out.

Kenny, for instance, positioned himself as the alpha dog of this season and positioned himself against Angelo, who came out of the gate doing the same. But, anyone who watched the two episodes leading up to his elimination should have known that he was slipping; even Colicchio stated on his blog that "so many people seem to have bought into Kenny's one-man PR campaign, and yes, Kenny broke strong out of the starting gate, but he didn't keep it up." Even though he ran a tight ship during Restaurant Wars, his team still lost and he made not one, but two terrible dishes. So it shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that he was told to pack his knives and go after that.

Unless a chef starts to find a groove late, like Carla did two seasons ago, they won't be able to skate by for too long, as the field narrows down to the best of the best. Alex and Amanda found that out over the last two weeks, and Angelo and Kevin are probably realizing that Kelly, Ed and Tiffany are starting to pull away from them at this point.

4. The producers are projecting the results in the editing. Maybe we've been watching too much reality TV in general. Or the formula that the Magic Elves set up first with 'Project Runway' and now with the various versions of 'Top Chef' is becoming too familiar. But there are times when you can predict who is going to win or lose a challenge just from the episode's editing.

For instance, during the Restaurant Wars episode, when Kevin and Kenny constantly griped about how organized their blue team was and how chaotic things were for the red team, right away I thought to myself, "... and that's why they're going to lose." Last night's episode was heavy on Amanda side interviews, and when Angelo called her the "dark horse," I knew she was toast.

Do you think 'Top Chef' is becoming too predictable? How can they shake up the formula?

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48 Comments

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daceymathers

I agree with these reasons.These reasons are absolutely right and i think experience make a person predictable.Nice post.

June 03 2011 at 11:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nscom

I think the main thing wrong about Top Chef is that the judges know who cooked the food, which inevitably leads to a personality thing. Judging should be unbiased to the max.

September 04 2010 at 10:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Midnight

Colicchio is the show....that's what sucks about it. Everybody else is garnish, chopped up parsley...boring and not tasty. If Tom walks for a season, the show gets the fire back.

August 28 2010 at 1:48 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
prissi wilson

Having been a pastry chef for 16 years, I have an interest in this show even though there are no desserts. I would love to see some real challenges for the contestants such as: who can make the best demi:glace or the best consumme or cassoulet. These silly quick fires are just dumb and it does not show their talents. I do think this show has become very predictable from the types of people participating and I don't care to watch them brush their teeth in the morning or whatever else they do.This should be about cooking and not personalities. Maybe, Bravo wherever you are should read these comments.

August 27 2010 at 11:48 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to prissi wilson's comment
krussrn

DITTO! DITTO! DITTO!

August 28 2010 at 12:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John F.C. Taylor

All these shows are sp pretentious. Big deal made out of fancy meals with miniscule proportions. I'm against most reality shows, but didn't mind the cooking shows where they showed decent sized proportions.

August 27 2010 at 7:30 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lisa

Top Chef will never be the same again after the Voltaggio brothers competed on the same season with the also brilliant red-haired, bearded chef. All three would have won if they were on separate seasons. Maybe there is a chance Top Chef could get some brilliant cheftestants together again on a future season, but I feel that magic of the Voltaggio brothers and their pre-existing competitive relationship + the brilliant red-headed chef will never be duplicated again or surpassed. Sad. =(

August 27 2010 at 7:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
krussrn

This season is BORING! Like many others, I too have actually forgotten to tune in several weeks; I eventually saw the reruns.

Each season has progressively gotten worse because the judging format is weak and definitely unfair to say the least. Week after week it seems the wrong person gets the axe.

Even though we all know that Tom Colicchio "only judges the food" and "doesn't care what goes on in the kitchen," maybe the judges need to rethink that strategy. Part of being a leader regardless of profession is being able to inspire others to do their best and want to help in TEAM success. It seems that week after week these judges almost go out of their way to do the opposite. And we wonder why the childlike behavior continues.

TC probably needs to rethink their original concept, return to the pursuit of finding America's newest "Top Chef," and hire new editors. Viewers do NOT want to put their lives on hold for an hour only to watch more of the same thing they've had to endure most days at work (backstabbing; bullying; constant manipulation of the truth).

August 27 2010 at 7:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lisa

I don't know. I like the editing usually on "Top Chef." I form my own thoughts about who should go home as I watch and have been surprised sometimes. I was really surprised Kenny went home. I thought he'd get by that time and be given another chance based on the strength of some of his past dishes. I also thought they might send Angelo home today as a shocker instead of Amanda so I was kind of surprised she finally got cut since she kept getting by even though she overcooked beef on two different episodes. Overcooked beef is not good at all.

August 27 2010 at 7:02 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
wizzlewolf

Top Chef WAS such a great show. Now it is boring and boring and don't forget BORING!!!

August 27 2010 at 6:36 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to wizzlewolf's comment
wizzlewolf

I should also mention one reason it is boring is because the challenges are so stupid and contrived, I just click the remote. It reminds me of when Fonzi "jumped the shark". When I watch Top Chef now, the desperation to be interesting is so forced it is unrealistic, fake, and did I mention BORING?

August 27 2010 at 6:43 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jimmy_MO

Thanks for the civics lesson, Jake, but I do understand the First Amendment. My point is, a blog of all places should embrace differing opinions.

As for keeping the comments on topic and civil, there's nothing uncivil about Kellian's post. He was just making a point, a valid point for some viewers. I'm sure Conservative viewers were unhappy to see Nancy Pelosi in an episode. TV Squad should embrace these differences, not get upset because someone has an opinion they don't like, or other commenters don't like.

That being said, this is a privately-owned website so, yes, they are free to remove comments they don't like. It's just seems counterintuitive to the whole idea of people sharing their opinions in the comments.

August 27 2010 at 6:16 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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