I rarely watch the boob tube.
When I do, it’s usually the news. But lately, the news has gotten so intolerable that I’ve shut that off too.
When it comes to television culture post-2002, I’m rather clueless. With the tee vee shows I do like to watch – The Big Bang Theory, for example – I wait for the season to street on DVD and run through them marathon-style.
But there is one show that I’ve watched on a weekly basis for a few years now: Top Chef.
I rarely, if ever, think twice about or comment on television shows. Movies, yes. Live theatre, yes. Radio shows, yes.
But last night’s season finale of Season 6 of Top Chef gave me a trite morsel to ruminate over. I’ll write my thoughts down here before they go to File 13.
WARNING: If you haven’t seen the season finale, the following will spoil.
Working off the unstated-but-apparent-m.o. from previous seasons, all signs pointed to Bryan Voltaggio as the winner last night.
Well, he was the only cheftestant that didn’t have any glaring execution errors in the final elimination challenge.
So his mystery box fish dish was boring (“one-note” as Gail Simmons described it). But boring food is probably better than overcooked food, which both of the other cheftestants served.
And, Bryan’s sardines were accused of being bland. But bland is a subjective term, as the The Drama Brit pointed out.
I won’t regurgitate the analyses. You watched the show. You know what the judges said (at least what the editors at Bravo TV allowed us to see/hear).
It became pretty clear that, in this sixth season, the judges decided to reward ingenuity over flawless execution.
All three of this year’s finalist cheftestants were flexible and technically proficient – something that seems to have been missing in previous seasons among the top three. In fact, this year’s three finalists were, unnervingly, each other’s equals. Any one of them could have won. Every one of them would have been deserving. That made for fascinating television.
Last year, the title of Top Chef seemed to reluctantly default to Hosea Rosenberg based strictly on the merits of that last meal. Rosenberg’s win was met with such deflated interest (not that any of the top three last year were as strong as the finalists in any other year) that perhaps this year, the judges took a different approach to choosing the winner.
In the past, I’ve criticized “Top Chef” elimination results for being too narrowly-based – that is, based solely on that elimination meal and not for the chef’s overall performance. I think this year, they’ve definitely corrected that issue.
Bryan Voltaggio and Kevin Gillespie seemed to win more hearts. They certainly were my two favorite personalities on the show. And each of them had an incredibly consistent record throughout this season’s challenges; they’re both extremely talented cooks. In my opinion, Michael came into this finale with the weakest track record, having had two rather weak performances in the weeks immediately preceding the finale.
But I’ll admit that, over the course of the season, Michael Voltaggio better captured the essence of what I think the winner of a reality tee vee show named “Top Chef” should be – that is, a ballsy, adventurous spirit that’s backed up by mastery over fundamental techniques with a few parlor tricks in the back pocket for a occasional snazzle.
If there was any criticism to made about this year’s final episode, I would aim it at the producers and editors of the show. To keep the audience on their toes is one thing; a smart thing. But to so manipulate the sound bites as to make the judges appear inexplicably partial to a cheftestant is self-defeating. In my opinion, that’s what happened last night. What Lakshmi, Colicchio, Simmons, and Young said at the dinner table and at judges’ table didn’t comport with the outcome. Either Bravo TV didn’t show us the complete picture, or there was a lot of behind-the-scenes lobbying for Michael Voltaggio. If the judges, producers, and editors of the show felt that M. Volataggio’s win was justified by qualities that couldn’t be properly conveyed through 40-minute episodes, they did a poor job of showing and articulating it.
Regardless, Season 6 of Top Chef is, by far, the best one I’ve seen so far (I haven’t seen Season 1 or 2). Having just eaten in Las Vegas at a couple of the restaurants featured in this year’s episodes made it a particularly relevant story to follow.
From this tiny podium in cyberspace, I congratulate Mssrs. Voltaggio, Voltaggio, and Gillespie.