Monday, April 4, 2011

Chopped the Suspense

The Food Network aired the finale of the 5-part Chopped All-Stars tournament last night. The whole thing was kind of a train wreck from the beginning.

Episode 1
The first episode pitted four chefs who had been past contestants on The Next Food Network Star. As none of them had won the show, they were by definition not "stars" and therefore were a funny choice to have as contestants in an "all-star" competition.

Episode 2
Billed as "four Food Network superstars", the 4 chefs were all hosts of Food Network shows, except of course for Duff Goldman who's show Ace of Cakes has been canceled. This was the most enjoyable episode, as Anne Burrell kicks ass and beat the fired-in-disgrace-then-mysteriously-rehired Robert Irvine.

Episode 3
This episode in many ways epitomizes all that is wrong with Chopped and its seemingly inept producers.

Let's start with the lineup of "Four renowned chefs". Basically, they were four chefs with some sort of Food Network connection the producers liked for some reason.

Then we move into "Nate Appleman as Superman". When Nate Appleman competed on the Next Iron Chef he was the villain. He got "the bitch edit", to use reality TV parlance. Nobody liked him. Clearly, however, he was destined to go far in this tournament as the producers clumsily tried to make him more likeable by endlessly showing him talking about how he's playing for a charity that fights Kawasaki disease, a disease which afflicts his son and how he's doing it for his son, HIS SON. WON'T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!!!

Nate Appleman might be a nice guy. I've never met him. But on TV he comes off as having the charisma of a member of a prison gang who's about to cut you with a shiv. Having a psychotic man talking about his love for his son does not make him come off as any less psychotic.

Then we have the inherent flaws in the Chopped judging structure. The appetizer and entrée rounds are judged individually. After the dessert round, they take into account each chef's entire meal to choose the winner. How is this flawed? Because it created a situation where Anita Lo went into the dessert round against Nate Appleman with no chance of winning. Why? Because she had failed to plate all of her appetizers. Normally that would have been an automatic chopping, and she would not have made it out of the appetizer round. She was saved by the fact that Jacques Torres pulled a bag of cocoa nibs out of his pocket to use in the appetizer round. This is apparently also against the rules.

Except of course that no one tried to stop Jacques Torres from using the cocoa nibs. Clearly they saw him pull them out of his pocket as they had a close-up camera shot of it and the judges commented on it. But rather than say "Freeze Jacques! Put the coca nibs down and back away", they just let him cook with them.

So he got chopped, and Anita moved on. Then Anita had a better entrée than Beau MacMillan, and because they don't look yet at the whole meal, they moved her into the dessert round even though her only hope of winning was if Nate didn't finish plating his dessert.

Riveting TV.

Episode 4
The moment we've all been waiting for: four Chopped judges competing against each other. Some clumsy editing made it seem as though Maneet Chauhan was safe heading into the appetizer judging (Aaron and Geoffrey had bones in their fish!), only to have her shockingly chopped because her sauce was too spicy and the tequila in her margarita too jarring. Clearly the judges can't handle their tequila.

Then after an inspiring speech about being a woman in a male-dominated industry, Amanda Frietag (the last hope for a second woman chef in the final) was chopped because her entrée was too rich. Except of course it was rich on purpose because it was meant to follow her light, acidic appetizer, but the judges didn't take that into account because of the aforementioned structural flaws.

So in a competition featuring 7 male chefs and 5 female chefs (42% women), the final consisted of 3 men and 1 woman (25%). Way to continue propagating that male-dominated industry there Food Network.

Episode 5
The finale, of course, pitted the four winners against each other with the winner's charity getting $50,000. Episode 1's "non-star" was predictably the fist to get chopped. Then Anne Burrell went home for some bullshit reason and we were left with Chopped judge Aaron Sanchez vs. Nate Appleman in a final with about as much suspense as a reading an obituary. If you couldn't tell the outcome from the continuation of the "Nate Appleman as Suprman" edit, you just had to realize that a Chopped judge was not going to win this tournament. It would look bad. So, of course, Nate won.

Apparently another All-Star tournament is already in the works. Hopefully they'll do a better job next time and give us what we all want to see: The Iron Chefs competing against each other on Chopped.

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