A quick review of last night's "Top Chef" coming up just as soon as I freeze things so I can smash them...

Again, because Liane Bonin's been doing regular recaps of the show for our Monkeys as Critics blog, my "Top Chef" check-ins are going to be irregular. I would've written about last week's episode - which featured one of the most thoughtful and entertaining elimination challenges the show has ever done - except I was taking a few days off mid-week. But though I didn't like "Advantage Chef" as much, I probably have more to say about it.

Specifically, I'm bothered as hell that Jamie has now survived two separate eliminations in which either didn't make or didn't serve a dish to the judges.

There are certain quirks to the judging system, wherein great chefs can go home relatively early, and/or mediocre chefs can last a very long time simply by making the second-worst dish week after week (Lisa from season 4, I'm looking at you). But that's just the way the show works, and if the judges really are only considering that week's dish, that sort of thing is going to happen on occasion.

This feels different, though. A few weeks ago, Jamie bailed on the elimination challenge because she cut her finger, and while that's an understandable move, she still didn't help make a dish, and we've seen in the past, and in this very episode with Carla, that the cheftestants are used to slapping on some duct tape and barreling through. But Jamie went to the hospital and got a pass from the judges.

This week was even more annoying, as the challenge was designed so that every chef wouldn't necessarily have to serve a dish. And by hanging back and consistently refusing to serve her undercooked beans, Jamie got to duck elimination in a week where she seemed to clearly have the worst dish. And that just doesn't seem fair. If the judges ate it and felt that Spike's shrimp was still worse, so be it. But one of the things that distinguishes "Top Chef" from many other reality shows is that every contestant is supposed to be judged on their work every single week. It's not supposed to be like "Survivor" where someone can sit out tons of challenges and just keep hanging around. If a challenge is constructed in such a way that one or more chefs won't have to serve a dish, then that challenge should be scrapped or reconceptualized until everyone has to go. (Had the other team gone on a 4-0 sweep, then a bunch of the losing team wouldn't have had to serve.) I'm not actually that broken up about Spike's elimination on its own. He always struck me as someone who was cast more for personality than for talent, but it would sit much better if he'd gone home because his was the actual worst dish on his team, as opposed to the worst dish that anyone bothered to put in front of the judges.

Beyond that, it's interesting to see that the field is so deep that there isn't a clear favorite, or even a clear handful. For a while, it looked like Blais was going to run away with the contest, and the other chefs still seem to view him as the one to beat, but he hasn't stood out for a couple of weeks. Angelo's the only repeat elimination challenge winner, but one of those was a shared win with Richard and Marcel, and I'll be curious to see if the reputation for sabotage eventually bites him. (I didn't watch his season, but if he's really done this a lot? Ugh.)

What did everybody else think? And how are you finding the All-Star season so far?

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