Breaking Down The “Top Chef” Finale

Injustice in the kitchen, again

By Drew Magary
|  Thursday, Dec 10, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 AM PDT
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Breaking Down The “Top Chef” Finale

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Even if "Top Chef" keeps getting its winner wrong, there's still at least one good reason to watch: Padma Lakshmi.

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(NOTE: Post contains spoilers if you didn’t watch last night’s finale.)

Okay, let’s get it out of the way right now. Kevin got screwed. On last night’s “Top Chef” finale, everyone’s favorite bearded king of pork drew the two crummiest sous chefs, and was bounced at elimination so that Bravo could, at long last, have their Voltaggio brother vs. Voltaggio brother showdown.

It was a decision that echoed last season’s selection of Hosea as “Top Chef” over the clearly superior Stefan. Like Stefan, Kevin dominated the regular season of “Top Chef,” winning five elimination challenges and establishing himself as the rightful favorite. But the judges ignored his body of work to select Michael Voltaggio, aka The Evil Brother, as the winner. Then Michael feigned humility for seven seconds and received an abnormally long hug from Gail Simmons.

I don’t need to tell you this decision was met with great disdain with the show’s fan community. I perused the message boards and blogs lat night saw words like, “bulls—t,” “ripoff,” and “bulls—t” a few more times. A handful of people said it was just as bad as the Hosea victory, though I disagree. The final three of last night’s finale were the strongest the show has ever had, and Michael Voltaggio would have easily crushed everyone in his path if he had been a contestant in Season 5 and not Season 6. Also, the whole “Mike is a jerk” angle is wayyy overplayed. Michael told Robyn to get out of his way once and talked some smack about Kevin. That’s about it. He wasn’t some serial killer. He was just more ambitious and competitive than the rest of the group. BFD. I’ve worked with chefs. Most are far bigger jerks than Michael ever was.

Michael was more than worthy of the title, just not as worthy as Kevin. And the decision to crown Michael is doubly perplexing in light of the fact that the judges clearly agreed that Bryan Voltaggio had the best dishes of the final challenge. Michael was also the only one to truly botch a dish last night: his overcooked dessert.

No matter, Mike Volt’s supposed boldness and creativity is what carried him to the win and left people with a bad taste in their mouths at the end of what has been probably the show’s finest season. What can the show do to avoid something like this the next go round? A couple suggestions.

1. Stop bringing back the losers for the finale

I hate this. The winners go to Napa, and then they immediately are presented with all the crappy old chefs who got kicked off in earlier episodes. Worst of all, in this finale, the three chefs had to draw knives to see which two crappy old chefs they’d have to babysit while they worked on their final challenge. And Kevin got SCREWED. He got Ash, who stinks, and Preeti, who was booted so early no one even remembers her. Meanwhile, the Volt brothers drew Eli and Jennifer each, giving them a four-mile head start. These people were eliminated for a reason, you know. I don’t want to see them again. There’s a whole hourlong reunion show next week. Stick the losers there.

2. Stop picking winners based on “drama”

“Top Chef” is one of the few shows where I truly do not care about personal drama. All I care about is the food. That’s it. That’s the star of the show. Showing me Eli and Robyn arguing takes away from my weekly intake of food porn. I don’t care. And I really didn’t care if the finale came down to a sibling rivalry. That’s like watching Serena and Venus Williams play a Grand Slam final. It always sucks. A win by Kevin wouldn’t have been shocking, but that’s the point. He was the favorite because he proved he was the best chef of the lot. And that’s who I’d like to see win. I don’t want to be shocked. I don’t want to be all like OOOOH WHAT A TWIST! at the end of the year. I want to see excellence properly rewarded.

3. Give them more time at the end.

It’s the finale. Why are they still being forced to cook a meal in three hours? On “Project Runway,” the finalists get months to prepare their lines. I don’t want these guys timed and forced to work with some magic box of ingredients for their app, like the contestants on the Food Network’s “Chopped.” One of the diners last night said it best: “It’s a gimmick.” You don’t need it. These three chefs earned the right to have a finale where they were allowed to cook whatever they wanted, and given enough time to cook it. Three hours isn’t enough time to marinate certain items or slow cook certain things. Give them the full ability to make a real statement of what they can do.

In the end, the three finalists will all likely end up having stellar careers. (They all had strengths. Bryan’s food was the most refined. Mike’s was the most ambitious. Kevin’s the best tasting.) But if Bravo wants people to keep watching “Top Chef,” they’ll ignore the manufactured drama and stick to the food.

Drew Magary is a writer for deadspin.com

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