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Monday, 25 of May of 2020

Top Chef DC – New Theory: Genius Political Commentary?

Queen of Mediocrity--and winner?

Okay, I have finally figured it out. You see, Top Chef sucks this year on purpose. It is part of their master plot to issue a gigantic commentary on politics. No really, I mean it. This is the only explanation for all the nonsense this season. You know you want to hear more.

When Top Chef, DC has attracted critical attention this season, it has attracted unpleasant attention. See my own prior post here.  Myles McNutt wrote about this season’s downhill slide after the highs of season 6, “the bigger problem is that the show’s production is undermining several cardinal rules of reality competition programming, rules which Top Chef used to follow with expert proficiency.” James Poniewozik of Time wrote about last week’s episode, “I was sad to see Tamesha go, though. I’ll take the judges’ and contestants’ word that the rhubarb and long-pepper sauce with which she plated her scallops burned like the unquenchable fires of Gehenna, but the fact is, on its face, that was one of the few dishes that interested me enough to actually order from a menu.” And there’s the rub—questioning the judging undermines the effectiveness of a reality show. But I think I’ve finally figured it out—maybe there is method to the Top Chef madness.

Something else that Poniewozik wrote last week has stuck in my head, and now it has erupted into a full fledged theory: “This season on Top Chef, however—maybe because of the Washington location—there seems to be a greater emphasis on the interpersonal politics of the game.” True that, Mr. Poniewozik. (And…the spoilers begin NOW). For the fourth week in a row, a good chef has left the show. Tamesha, Timothy, and Arnold likely would not have won (though I think Arnold had more talent than he was able to display), but none of them was the weakest chef on the show. The minute challenges stop highlighting the strengths and exposing the weaknesses of the chefs, you know your show has a problem. Now, with the departure of Andrea, I am beginning to think these departures are quite purposeful.

“Cold Wars,” the episode last week, allowed the contestants to pick the worst dishes of the challenge. Strategy entered the picture, and a top contender, Kenny, ended up as one of two chefs on the bottom. The idea that Kenny could have been kicked off undermined the integrity of the other contestants, of the challenge, and of the program itself. This week, the challenges were less blatantly unfair, but they still offered a bit of politics.

The egregious offense of “Power Lunch” revolved around the mystery of the disappearing pea puree. Alex, a chef that has proven himself to be inconsistent, finished his day of prep without a clue as to how he was going to prepare his salmon. That night, he hears about a pea puree that Ed prepared. The next day, Ed’s puree goes missing and, magically, Alex serves a pea puree that is highly praised by the judges and helps him win the challenge. The editing throughout the program repeatedly reminded the audience that Ed not only lost his pea puree but also never found it and had clear suspicions as to its whereabouts (on Alex’s winning plates).  They show’s producers’ must have wanted to undermine the legitimacy of Alex’s win, right?

The possibility that Alex cheated and lied suddenly lit the light bulb in my head. Could it possibly be that all of these seeming failures of the program are in fact quite intentional? Is this season a subtle commentary of Washington? Based on this theory, the lessons I am learning from Top Chef, DC include the fact that talent is less important than political savvy, that catering to the middle is more effective than taking chances, and that the judges want us to see what happens when the power of voting is offered to the masses (be it a group of interns, a young senator, or the contestants themselves).  If this is the case, then I am actually deeply impressed with the way Top Chef, DC is challenging the American notion of meritocracy. But that means I better prepare myself for an Amanda win.

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