Giving Top Chef the Top Shaft


WARNING!  Spoilers ahead for season 10, Top Chef Seattle.  You have now been warned.

So this post isn’t about strictly “geeky” TV, but cooking has its own kind of geekery, and indeed, I know not a few chefs who are big sci fi geeks in their own right.  Alton Brown’s love for Doctor Who is well-documented.  Every time I see him on Iron Chef America wearing a bow tie I smile slyly to myself and think “bow ties are cool.”  So I apologize for my lack of geektastic blogging of late, but this is the first thing I’ve felt compelled to write about lately, which is probably unsurprising because I have something else I should be writing, and several dozen other things I should be doing.  Inspiration is a devious bitch sometimes.

Anyway, on with the show.  The show in question is Top Chef, a show I usually love.  One of the things I love most about it is that for being a reality show, it takes pains to focus on the truly important things–the food and the talent and creativity of the chefs creating it.  Yes, the show sprinkles in a liberal helping of drama, and I don’t mind that.  On the contrary, I like it.  It helps me feel I’m getting to know the chefs and joining them on their journey.  So I have no complaint about a little (or even more than a little) behind-the-scenes melodrama.

What I do have a complaint about is when they go too far.  This happens rarely.  Like I said, they generally do a great job of keeping the focus where it matters.  In episode 15 of season 10 however, they went too far, and I mean way too far for me.

One of the tidbits of non-culinary excitement they fed us this season was the pregnancy of contestant Josh’s wife.  During the last challenge before the two-part finale, she was ready to give birth at any moment.  Exciting!  I really felt for Josh and his wife and wondered how it would affect his cooking and his focus during the competition.  This added “storyline” did exactly what it was supposed to–it kept me hooked.


This is where I get complainey.  The last phone call between Josh and his wife was just too much for me.  The poor woman was in the middle of labor!  She was at possibly the most vulnerable she’ll ever be in her life.  She was crying.  She missed her husband.  I did not want to hear that.  At all.

And yes.  I 100% understand how TV works and that they both signed documents giving Top Chef the right to use that footage and audio.  Top Chef is not in the wrong in that way even a little bit.  But the producers and editors of the show still have the ability (and perhaps responsibility) to make a taste-based decision about which parts they air.  I have no doubt they left a lot more of this type of thing on the (nowadays virtual) cutting room floor.  Perhaps they thought they trimmed it down enough that it still landed in the realm of tasteful.

They did not.  It did not.

Now before you accuse me of too much bias here, let me say that I do not have kids.  I’ve never gone through labor.  I never want to.  I don’t like kids.  Not even babies.  So I don’t think I’m bowing to sentiment or any kind of “feminine solidarity” when I make these complaints.  I simply found it distasteful to peek in on someone experiencing that kind of personal and painful experience, whether that person gave permission for it to happen or not.

Giving permission for your life (and possibly dirty laundry) to be aired in front of millions of viewers is standard for the reality TV industry.  And I recognize that capitalizing on this by displaying the most tawdry, base, gut-wrenching, and personal moments is a staple of many reality TV shows–but not mine.  My shows are the ones that stay on this side of the line of decency–the Top Chefs and the Project Runways.  The shows where contestants are creators honored for their creativity, and the interpersonal drama is incidental to the primary drama of the creative process and the creations themselves.

Ok, so I’m not really giving Top Chef the shaft.  I’m gonna keep watching it, but I’ll be watching it with more of an eagle-eye than ever for these kinds of poor-judgement production decisions.

You’d think on a show about chefs, they’d have better taste.

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