Top Chef comes back fighting this week, literally, with an episode that pits the chefs against one another in a double-elimination challenge. And it makes for damn fine television.
It's tough to consider the quickfire when the elimination challenge proved to be so dramatic, but as every episode begins with a quickfire, so must this review. Continuing down the Family Feud list of “things people associate with Texas,” we land on tequila. The dozen remaining chefs pile into the kitchen to find a table filled with bottles. They must choose one and prepare a dish that pairs well with it. I was disappointed that this turned out to be a pairing challenge instead of a cooking-with-alcohol challenge, but I suppose that makes sense if the sponsor really wants to talk about the tasting notes for each one and position it as a sipping liquor. Some chefs end up incorporating the tequila into the preparation, making for a natural pairing. Tÿ-Lör Börïng takes the win with his spicy steamed clams but doesn’t get immunity for this round. For the losing end, guest judge Tim Love says Heather’s dish tastes like a new special at a chain restaurant. This obviously sends her into a mad rage from which she cannot recover.
HEATHER AS VILLAIN IN THREE ACTS
So far this season, Top Chef has leaned heavily on team challenges. With this many chefs still in the game, it’s not a bad strategy—put them in stressful situations alongside teammates and watch their not-so-nice personalities come out. It creates a little drama to entertain us during this early wheat/chaff portion of the season, and helps us get a sense of who we like and don’t. The team challenges thus far, however, have been a little drab. It might have pulled out the chefs' personalities, but it’s done a good job of hiding individual cooking styles. We get that Bev likes to work in Korean flavors and that Chris Jones is a science-cooking guy, but I can’t say I have a real feel for many others. And I keep forgetting that Chris Crary even exists. This week, however, every single glove in the universe came off, and it made for an exciting episode.
Each team is just a pair, and it’s a double elimination in which they must cook game. The kicker is that they’re only preparing one dish together instead of two—so if one person messes up, the other goes home. The chefs all realize the weight of this immediately, and it’s brilliant to watch this play out. This elimination style almost reverses the normal MO of these reality competitions. It turns the “I’m not here to make friends” mantra on its head, because when it comes down to it, they don’t want to be immediately responsible for sending someone else home for their own mistakes. Add to this that they’re also doing peer reviews this time around, and the producers have successfully created a roomful of nerves, backstabbing, and bitchery.
As chance would have it, Heather and Beverly are standing next to each other when the chefs are divvied up, thereby placing the two most incompatible people in the room on the same “team.” The rest of the episode is watching them slowly self-destruct. Or, to be more precise, watching Heather systematically destroy Beverly’s soul, piece by piece, mirroring Beverly’s abusive ex. I try to be sensitive to the way things are cut when shows produce a villain via cuts to eyerolls and the like, but Heather really outdid herself this week. It’s been brewing for a few weeks, and in the beginning, it seemed that Beverly deserved some of the flack she was getting, but her Meekness didn’t really stand a chance this week. She says she doesn’t like the onions Heather prepares, and Heather responds, “This is part of my rustic style, so we're going to have to compromise.” And by compromise, she means, “Just do what I say, Beverly [you Asian-cooking Asian].”
They’re not the only ones with problems, though. Everyone seems so nervous about screwing up their own dish for the sake of their teammates that they forget that they might be screwed by someone else. Nyesha valiantly tries to improve Dakota’s confidence by having confidence in her abilities, when really she should have checked in on the venison earlier to make sure they were on track. Joining them on the bottom were Grayson and Chris J., whose sweet potato/chain-link fence didn’t turn out so well. Just like the burnt-cigar plate he put out a few weeks ago, he puts vision before execution and can’t see when to pull the plug when something’s not working out. Grayson rightly puts him in his place when he starts stammering about things gone wrong before the judges have even tasted the food. The final bottom two were Heather and Beverly because, well, Heather’s a (controlling, mean, power-hungry) train wreck. (Are she and Ty-lör really great friends?)
Judge’s table proves to be one of those rare but awful, make-it-stop, everyone’s-acting-terribly-and-it’s-embarrassing Top Chef moments. Heather first guesses that she’s there because she’s so good that everyone hates her. (That’s not why, Heather.) She then takes the opportunity to trash-talk Beverly, not for this challenge, but for last week’s challenge. (Bev didn’t end up on the bottom, and Heather won, so I guess the opportunity didn’t present itself.) It’s so bad that Dakota has to jump in and defend Beverly.
All of these shenanigans cause Padma to reflect on the stress these chefs must be under, but Tom quickly reminds her that they’re judges, and they don’t care. Their job is to think about the food. To that end, Ed and Ty-lör take the win for their sorghum quail with pickled cherries & eggplant—the only dish of the night that was unanimously praised. Ed’s emerging as my favorite contestant. He tells it like it is, and he consistently cooks up mean dishes. On the losing end are Nyesha and Dakota, whose undercooked venison sends them both home.
- I’m also glad to see a double elimination because it gets us to the finale faster. The show only gets better with fewer people.
- "You promise that shit's gonna be bangin'?"
- During the show tonight Grayson sported a few titles in the lower-third. I thought she was between jobs.
- How not to apologize: “I’m sorry if you think that I hurt your feelings, but that's the truth.”
- Really glad to see Nyesha still in the running, but it’s going to be tough to hold onto that title so many weeks in a row. I’m also digging the seemingly useless peanut gallery of eliminated contestants.
- Ed: “I looked into all those chefs faces and I thought… I did not make an ass of myself.”