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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A gimmicky elimination challenge and a depressing exit make this Top Chef a bummer

Screenshot: Bravo
Screenshot: Bravo

Because The A.V. Club knows that TV shows keep going even if we’re not writing at length about them, we’re experimenting with discussion posts. For certain shows, one of our TV writers will publish some brief thoughts about the latest episode, and open the comments for readers to share theirs.

  • Guys, I’m feeling deflated. Losing Jim was bad enough, but Jamie giving up his immunity and thereby cementing his fate sent me over the edge. Look, I’m sure Emily is an amazing chef. I’m sure if I ate her food I would gaze at the moon and exclaim it was “amore!” or whatever, but she’s clearly not succeeding here. I honestly can’t remember a Quickfire or elimination challenge where she wasn’t at the bottom. We’ve reached Josie in Top Chef: Seattle levels of “WHY IS SHE STILL HERE?”
  • The Quickfire: As a way for the chefs to show off their personality, they’re assigned a set of ingredients based the elementals that align with each chef’s zodiac sign. When did Top Chef become Wiccan? Jamie wins immunity with a dusted lamb chop and pepper salad. His fellow rookies round out the bottom, because this competition was flawed from the start and Katsuji was never supposed to make it this far, let alone be on the top all the goddamned time. If it’s any consolation, he seems as surprised as we are.
  • Sudden Death Quickfire: I don’t like the Sudden Death Quickfire. It’s another symbol, to me, of Top Chef trying to fix something that isn’t broke (more on that later). The Quickfire losers—Jim, Sylva, and Emily—need to make a dish from the ingredients of the element that wasn’t used already (Earth). They also need to choose what that dish will be, so they settle upon steak tartare (probably because Jim sounded like he was speaking in tongues when suggesting “steak onion rings”). Sylva and Emily seem to find success by incorporating a crunchy element into their tartares; Jim, on the other hand, serves up a threadbare, truly sad-looking scrap of raw beef that gets him booted and me all misty-eyed.
  • Elimination Challenge: Charleston had pirates? I guess? Ugh, this is like when Top Chef: Boston made a bunch of challenges about the Revolutionary War. I’ll touch on the circumstances surrounding the challenge below, but, essentially, the chefs we’re in a race to obtain the best available ingredients. Surprise, the team who scored the best ingredients—Sheldon, Shirley, and Sylva—won, while those who got the worst—John, Emily, and Jamie—ended up on the bottom. Shirley wins, though the episode barely did anything to highlight what made her dish special. Jamie knows his substandard chicken satay helped cement his team at the bottom so, even though he had immunity, the tattooed local boy sacrifices it out of pride and heads home because of it.
  • Top Chef: Texas is definitively the worst season of Top Chef. Does anyone disagree with me on that? Sure, it has its high points, but it’s also overrun with gimmicks, whether you’re looking at the challenge where the chefs had to bike between restaurants in pursuit of cooking stations or a finale that found them chipping through blocks of ice and shooting targets with ingredients written on them. Tonight’s challenge felt like Texas. Use a map to run around Charleston and find “treasure chests” filled with ingredients? “I feel like I’m at my eight-year olds birthday party,” Brooke says snottily, and she’s absolutely right. Yeah, Top Chef does some stupid challenges now and then, but it’s stuff like this that veers into game show territory. This isn’t Wild and Crazy Kids. These aren’t a bunch of teens who were chosen at random. These are legit talents who have, through long hours, low pay, and a shitload of self-sacrifice, become leaders in the culinary world. Fuck scavenger hunts. Let them cook.
  • And that brings me to Sudden Death Quickfires. I understand the concept ups the stakes and hammers home the idea that even the smallest, most minute mistakes can send even the most talented chef home, but they also cheapen this entire endeavor. I’m reminded of a bygone MTV reality show where a bunch of losers competed to be Andy Dick’s assistant. In one episode, Andy yelled for everybody to come to his room. Andy didn’t tell anybody this, but he decided, seemingly on a whim, to send the last person to arrive to his room home. It was dumb and arbitrary, but, hey, it worked on a show built around people who weren’t there to exhibit any discernible talent. Quickfires are, in their own way, a type of blindside. It’s fun to watch the chefs scramble and think on their feet, but, in a serious competition, they shouldn’t be sent home for these dishes. These aren’t fully-formed plates, they’re culinary skeletons, pieced together out of desperation. Small mistakes should only send someone home when everyone’s dishes stand on equal ground; those are always the most satisfying episodes, yeah?
  • Or maybe I’m just sour grapes because Jim’s exit felt insanely anti-climactic. He deserved to either flame out spectacularly or go out on a dish he could still stand behind.
  • Did anyone else think of the New Orleans episode when Tom, Wolfgang Puck, and Emeril Lagasse all urged Nick to sacrifice his immunity and go home because his dish was so bad? When he didn’t, it felt like a betrayal because the person who did go home (Stephanie) had made a good dish. Also, Nick was the goddamned worst. Jamie giving up and going home, on the other hand, was depressing because, according to the judges, Emily’s dish was just as bad, if not worse, than his. All I can think is that they’re setting him up for a redemption story via Last Chance Kitchen.
  • Graham’s finally back and I can’t even get that excited about it because I just know he won’t show up again until the finale.
  • On a lighter note, can we all take a moment to appreciate Sheldon’s dad humor? Dude’s over here dropping “arrrrrrs” when talking about pirates and accusing Jim of “smoking blunts” when scorching his chiles (which was hilarious).
  • John talking about wanting to transform from a vengeful scorpion into a majestic eagle makes me want to hug him so hard.
  • Even better? John trashing Phillip from last season. I’d put that guy in my top five Top Chef villains.
  • Okay, now that I’m thinking about it, who are your top five Top Chef villains? Before you say Marcel I’d implore you to go back and rewatch season two! (Ilan is such a jerk.) Mine are Stephen Asprinio, Mike Voltaggio, Spike Mendelsohn, Alex Reznick, and Phillip from last season.
  • Is Casey, like, really into pirates? She had a lot to say about Blackbeard.
  • Serious Question: Katsuji is to this season of Top Chef what Mike Isabella was to Top Chef: All Stars. True or false?
  • Jim says he’s the least renowned chef on the show. “There are no commercials featuring me,” he says. Something tells me that will change. Dude’s got personality for days.
  • Anybody else remember those Bravo commercials with the Voltaggio brothers where Bryan acted like he was doing the whole thing at gunpoint?
  • Last Chance Kitchen: There were two episodes this week! In the first, Jim and Silvia squared off to see who could cook the best steak and potatoes. Despite slicing his steak too thin, Jim took it home. In the next episode, he faces off against Jamie, who sends him packing in yet another anti-climactic end for our sweet, sweet Alabaman.
  • Meanwhile, Sam “Poochie” Talbot wears something between a tank top and a poncho. He’s also clearly tripping on acid. Here’s him talking about fingerling potatoes.
Illustration for article titled A gimmicky elimination challenge and a depressing exit make this Top Chef a bummer
  • Next week on Top Chef: Restaurant Wars! Also, Emily screams “I’m done!” at the camera and, dear god, I hope that’s true.