*even more* Top Chef

Alright now, I know this is ridiculous. But viewers of last night’s astonishing episode, in which Lisa once again narrowly avoided the cut, will understand why I remain fixated on this.

In response to blogly critics and conspiracy theorists, like myself, the stoic Head Judge Tom Colicchio blogged copiously about Top Chef shooting + judging procedure, sprinkled with some very upfront words about his own feelings on the Lisa thing:

I think Lisa, along with a few chefs from past seasons (Dave Martin and Mike Midgley are two that come to mind,) benefited from a phenomenon I call the “lucky-dog-who-keeps-skating-by-effect,” in which a chef of decent, but not stellar, skills gets lucky and doesn’t screw up at precisely the moment that one of their more gifted opponents does. And since we judge each week’s Elimination Challenge on its own merits, we are operating each time under the assumption that everyone still cooking deserves to be there.

Now you may hate us for standing in the “judge each week on it’s own merits” corner, and personally subscribe to the “judge each week by overall performance” camp, but consider for a moment if we did judge each contestant based on their cumulative merits — by whose analysis, exactly? And how do we arrive at a consensus? My idea of how the chefs rank may vary widely from Ted or Gail’s. And what about our Guest Judge — he or she doesn’t know any of the chefs — of what value at that point is their input? The debate would shift from “who won this episode?” to “who’s won the most episodes?” and “should we factor in the Quickfires?” “Does attitude or likability count?” “How about we assign each dish a score, tally them up, and then knock people off by the numbers?” Etc. etc …. It opens a huge, even more contentious can of worms. The “week-by-week” logic may be only incrementally fairer than the “overall performance” argument, but it’s our story, and we’re sticking to it.

That being said, I felt manipulated by the week-before-last’s show — it really did seem like Lisa should have been sent home over Dale. I wrote this in my blog not to sell my fellow judges up the river, but rather to empathize with viewers who are left to wonder, How did that happen?” It’s hard to boil four or more hours of nuanced debate into a few minutes of screen time, and I can see why the results don’t always mesh with what viewers have seen.

I can only resolve to follow my gut each week about the food in front of me, and hope that Top Chef fans stick it out with us and keep writing in. Your thoughts and comments, even when I don’t agree, are an essential part of making this a dish that works.


Wow. I guess it just struck me as pretty cool that he would take time to respond in such a careful, sober way to all of us silly blog types.


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2 Responses to “*even more* Top Chef”

  1. David Says:

    I don’t watch Top Chef, but I’ve heard good things. Erin likes it, or likes to complain about it, or something. I wonder if you could say a word about how they deal with the fact that they are presenting a competition based on a sense that can’t possibly be transmitted to the viewer. It seems to me that fact makes the whole process ripe for chicanery, since the judges have no real accountability for their choices. This is also true of a show we both love, namely Iron Chef. Iron Chef steps around this pitfall by emphasizing the process; the “judging” part is almost an afterthought. How does Top Chef deal with it?

  2. D-train Says:

    Haha, I have sat through this for the past five or so weeks (including the looped re-runs that go on throughout the week!) and feel exactly the same. Bravo does do a phone-in poll a la American Idol….but even when 91% of callers say that Lisa should get the boot, it doesn’t make a difference. They also bring on a guest judge every episode for taster variety. But really, the answer to that question in short is that they don’t do anything.

    Only one more week! 😛

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