Top Chef Texas: Reunion and Wrap-up

First, a report card.

What I liked about this season:

The two preliminary weeks of selection. The main benefit was that I had most of the competitors’ names ingrained before the actual competition began. Usually it takes weeks. And I wouldn’t have missed Stone, Tyler Stone for anything. I have to admit, though, it probably didn’t really prove anything. I suspect any of them could’ve had a bad day and gotten eliminated, and I’m guessing a few chefs lucked out and got themselves through.

Last Chance Kitchen. I hate that this was Internet-only (though it was On Demand as well), but aside from that, I thought it was a great idea. It took the sting out of some of the eliminations, since the chefs didn’t disappear from the face of the earth. And several of them deserved a second chance. When the chefs were asked if they liked the idea, predictably, the ones who went through the process did, and the ones who were finalists anyway, didn’t.

The truly creative challenges: And there were really only two, the Evil Queen and the Fire and Ice, but they were the best by far. And you could tell who went for it and who did what they knew and invented a story to go along with it.

The Winner. Nothing’s worse than watching a whole season, seeing a little great cooking, and then having the apparent “best” chef lose to someone who hasn’t been all that stellar. Such as Hosea, aka “Hootie… who?” (I forget who came up with that phrase, but alas, it wasn’t me – someone on TWoP, I think). So congratulations, Paul: a Top Chef to be proud of.

What didn’t work for me:

The Amazing Race / Fear Factor challenges: Just stop it. Knock it off with the bicycles, the 24-hour-cookathons, biathlons and ice picks, the cook-until-you-drop-of-heat-stroke stuff. If you must include nonsense, at least relegate it to the Quickfires, and keep it to one or two episodes at most. What they put the finalists through in Whistler tinged the whole season as a farce.

Texas: Now, I’m sure Texans loved this series, and I’ve heard all about what they paid for the exposure (though I think they were rooked – Texas did not come off looking particularly good). But let’s say the chili challenge made sense. Let’s say the barbecue challenge made sense; after all, there’s always a grilling episode, so why not turn it into a true barbecue instead. That leaves the waste-of-time steak dinner and the Quinceanera as too much. It should’ve been either barbecue or steak, and either chili or Quinceanera. And they turned the Alamo, which is supposed to be a shrine, by the way, into a joke.

Whole Team Eliminations: ok, singular – the Game dinner that knocked Nyesha out for Dakota’s undercooked meat. It’s a stupid way to ratchet up the drama.

The usual drama: What if there was no hostility towards Beverly? That really was the only longstanding drama this season, and without it, she still would’ve been interesting, and it would’ve been a lot more pleasant to watch. While it can be fun – in small doses – to watch respectful archrivals compete intensely, it isn’t fun to watch someone get beat up on week after week.

In summary: more cooking, less crap. I want to know more about the process they go through to choose what they’ll make, and how they overcome culinary obstacles (a forced ingredient, time limitations, etc) not who hates whom and who best rides a bicycle. But a lot of us have been saying this since Episode One, and it seems someone thinks drama is the road to success. The editing has improved – we can tell the arugula was not going to eliminate Paul; Tom just looked like an idiot harping on it – but there’s still too much focus on suspense and not enough on what happened. Since we don’t taste the food, we need to hear what the judges say, good and bad, and if there isn’t anything bad, say that. And stop it with the Trophy Kids approach: “Everyone did a super job so we’re splitting hairs.” Arugula is splitting hairs. Overcooked custard and lumpy polenta is not. Leave that for the truly slight differences, things people disagree on: was the chicken undercooked? Was the fish on the edge of over? Tell the truth, that’s all. Tell the whole truth.

The Reunion:

1) Winner Paul barely said a word after his round of congratulations. And boy, was he nervous. Love him.

2) Outtake from Pee Wee Herman: “This is your Jump the Shark episode, right?” Yeah, but they brought jumping the shark to new heights in Whistler.

3) An interesting round with Sarah about a comment she may or may not have made to one of the judges right after the announcement of the winner. Emeril ends up the class of the night, bringing it back to the food.

4) When asked if he went home for buying pre-cooked shrimp, Keith says something like: “No, I went home for the dish I cooked, but the shrimp was like a fart in the air, I kept trying to go around it but there it was.” What a perfect way to put it. Love him.

5) Grayson reel. Love her.

6) Gail reel. Love her.

I didn’t stick around to watch the Fan Favorite announcement, but I hear Malibu Chris won as expected. I don’t get it, not at all. Apparently he did a lot of campaigning. Fine, be that way, but Grayson is still the Queen of Hearts.

Now let’s see what Cat Cora’s got up her sleeve.

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