So after weeks without a fresh episode of Top Chef (and endless re-runs of the Top Chef holiday special), we're welcomed back into the kitchen - only to witness what I think is the beginning of the end for what used to be one of the only decent reality competitions around.
For a few seaons now, we've put up with blantant product placements, challenges we knew would end in disaster, and contestants chosen solely on hairstyle. Maybe it was the short hiatus, but coming back to this episode just left a sour taste in my mouth (pun intended). Here's why:
It's A sugar-free dessert challenge sponsored by DIET DR PEPPER. Called the DIET DR PEPPER ULTIMATE SWEET TREAT CHALLENGE, in which Ariane uses DIET DR PEPPER in her dish (she's become the model contestant). Followed by a faux informercial starring Stephanie (for shame!) about DIET DR PEPPER. Immediately followed by an actual commercial for DIET DR PEPPER. Later, back at the apartment, the chefs are seen drinking DIET DR PEPPER (the producers probably filled the fridge with it). Did I mention this whole thing was sponsored by the popular sugar-free beverage DIET DR PEPPER?
I'll just say this about the actual challenge: Dessert is an indulgence. It should have sugar. Let's move on.
The challenge, in theory, is actually pretty refreshing (not unlike the cool refreshing taste of DIET DR PEPPER): the chefs can cook anything they want and the tasting will be blind, meaning the judges will not know who made what. There are 2 rounds of cooking, and the chefs not cooking in each round will be tasting their fellow chef's dishes. The contestants can watch the live reactions on a TV in the kitchen.
It's a great setup, until new judge Toby Young opens his mouth and ruins all the integrity Top Chef ever had. Toby (whose wikipedia page probably received a record amount of hits Wednesday and Thursday) is the author of several books about his failures to make it as journalist and screenwriter. One of his books, How to Lose Friends and Alienate People, was recently made into a movie starring Simon Pegg as Young. Although he's held a few food-review related jobs, he's known less for his food saavy and more for just being a jerk.
The dishes come out and the judges (and other chefs) start tasting. I'm not that familiar with Young, but I'd like to think he's a little smarter than Bravo makes him look. Top Chef clearly wanted their own Simon Cowell, so every comment he makes is a) way over the top and b) totally irrelevant. "The avocado sorbet was like Tom Cruise's cameo in Tropic Thunder: an unexpected treat." Really? He really just said that?
The only thing worse than his lines is watching Young painfully struggle through them, having clearly rehearsed them (albeit not very well) before taping. The nail in the coffin is Tom's reaction to Young. He looks embarrassed to be on the show. I'm starting to feel embarrassed for watching.