PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING!!!
As usual, there's a lot of sneaky intel out there, but I'm endeavoring to keep this blog a spoiler-free zone. This isn't just for the readers, but for me, too -- I don't want to know what happens! As such, anything that's already been broadcast or has been posted on the official Bravo site is fair game for discussion. I will, for example, discuss the preview of next week's show at the end of the post. But if you've heard rumors that one chef has been hosting a lot of dinner parties, or that another chef was spotted boarding a plane to an exotic locale, please keep them to yourself.

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February 13, 2012

Top Chef - S9E14 Power Rankings

Bummer.

I'm still feeling Ed's loss, though that's largely because I just reviewed his exit interview (one of the better ones, BTW). But I can't complain about how it happened, because this was a pretty decent episode, blindfold idiocy aside.

First, though, a quick apology... in playing with the blog's settings this weekend, I discovered that there's a comment spam filter much as there is for an email inbox. Contained therein was mostly spam that had been automatically removed, but there were a couple of legit comments that had been removed as well. Something about them (I can't imagine what) must've triggered the filter. I had no idea this filter even existed. In any case, I restored the few real comments that were in there, so if you were wondering what happened to yours, it wasn't censored. At least not by me. I'll try to keep an eye on it from now on.

Okay, the show. Dumb quickfire. Really dumb quickfire. Like, "I can't believe a car is riding on this crap" quickfire. But it was a quickfire, not an elimination, so I can't get too bent out of shape about it. The first 15 minutes of the show is the time for the dumb stuff, I say. As amusing as it is to watch the chefs bumble around the pantry, and to see that Beverly is just as unaware of the degree to which she's invading others' space while blindfolded, I can't find any redeeming qualities in the setup. Soooooo we're going to move on.

The elimination, on the other hand, was right on the nose. Bring in some meaningful guests for your drama, and when it comes to the cooking, just set them loose. I noticed that given Ed's downfall, there have been some complaints about the elves' decision to use Whole Foods for shopping excursions. I can't speak for San Antonio. But even setting aside a sponsor relationship that's been in place since the show's inception, there are plenty of places where that's your best bet for one stop shopping... Phoenix included. Believe me, I wish it weren't this way. But if you come to Phoenix and tell me I have to cook the meal of my life and I can choose just one place to do my shopping, I pick Whole Foods.

A little side thought... it isn't ordinarily something I even think about, but am I the only one who thinks fan favorite is a total tossup? I think Grayson probably snags it, but really, I wouldn't be all that surprised if Paul, Ed or Ty-Lör got it either. And if LCK weren't web only, I'd add Nyesha to that mix as well. Not the usual TCPR fodder, I know... but I confess to being a little curious to see who takes it.

Okay, let's do this...

The power rankings are not purely a prediction of who is most likely to win, or an assessment of last episode's dishes, or a reflection of the contestants' historical performance, but rather a nebulous amalgam of all three, combined with a little bit of gut feeling, to provide a relative measure of current awesomeness.

Wins
Top
Bottom
1 Paul Quickfires
2
3
4
Last Week: 1 Eliminations
5
7
1

You can't ask for a stronger finish going into the finals than that. Since Restaurant Wars, Paul's been on top of all four elimination challenges, winning three of them. And Gail's blog indicates that the elves heavily downplayed how well his soup was received in the edit. To hear her tell the story, it may have been the best dish she's ever tasted on the show, which is impressive given its simplicity. The recipe might not be entirely complete (as is often the case), but I suspect it's close. Tyson Cole's presence at the end of the regular season is actually wonderfully appropriate, because I think that in terms of public perception, this run of Top Chef has changed Uchiko from a Tyson Cole restaurant to a Paul Qui restaurant. Even if Paul somehow manages to crash and burn in the finals, I doubt it will have any significant impact on people's perception of him. Unlike the other three chefs, this felt like a true passing of the torch, and I'm a little angry that the elves watered that down in the interest of trying to maintain suspense. Seeing that table freak out over the excellence of Paul's dish would have made for much, much better viewing than whatever faux suspense was manufactured at Judges' Table. This has happened before, but rarely in so blatant a fashion. Too bad. In any case, yeah, Paul, number one going into the finals. By ten lengths with a bullet. Nobody's ever a lock for the win (not even close). But I think this is about as close as a Top Chef contestant can come.

2 Sarah Quickfires
1
5
1
Last Week: 2 Eliminations
2
4
5

It should come as no surprise that Sarah holds number two. If she's at her best, she'll give Paul a run. But if they're both at their best, she won't win. She seems to have a really nice touch, and the kind of restraint that only comes with a great deal of culinary maturity. That quickfire soup, with corn, mushrooms, chiles, and peaches, certainly looks like a winner, though I'm puzzled that Tom expressed reservations at the combination of corn and mushrooms. Really? Corn and mushrooms? Talk to Mexico. And have some huitlacoche while you're at it. Also, it was the corn and mushroom combo that threw you and not the peach and mushroom combo? Very strange. In any case, so long as she doesn't start speaking to Beverly in a tone so condescending that I wouldn't use it with my five year old again, I'm really looking forward to what she cooks for the finals.

3 Beverly Quickfires
0
3
3
Last Week: n/a Eliminations
1
4
4

And I'm looking forward just as much to what Beverly has to offer. As I've mentioned, I'm highly suspicious of Asian fusion, which is what Beverly's food most closely resembles, but she's really won me over. And though the judges took the words right out of my mouth before I had a chance to type them, let me reinforce the notion that doing a stir-fry for that many people under those circumstances was really, really ballsy. There's a reason stir fry dishes are generally done in one batch, dropped on a plate and sent right out. It requires very, very close attention, split second timing, and isn't at all forgiving to even the smallest errors. Two woks, two batches, composed plates, and from the sound of the comments, zero errors. Ed had it right. Countenance aside, she's a bulldog, and if the break before the finals is all about preparation (see: Mike Isabella), who in this crowd is going to prepare harder than Beverly?

4 Lindsay Quickfires
2
3
0
Last Week: 3 Eliminations
2
5
2

And we come to the enigma. This was one of Lindsay's weaker showings, and though I waffled a bit on whether to put her or Beverly at number three, this bit of wilting under pressure combined with Bev's strong reentry (coming in second to Paul's best dish of the season is easily overlooked, here) makes me feel as though this is where she belongs going into the finals. But I really don't know what to expect from her. Perhaps it's just the edit, but other than the witch's stew, I'm having a hard time coming up with a dish of hers that the judges seemed thrilled by. Most of her dishes, particularly in the second half of the season, have looked strong. It's clear that she's highly skilled. But when talking about her food, the judges have seemed to emanate respect more than love, and while the former keeps you alive deep into the competition, the latter is what wins it for you. But who knows? I wonder if she's going to pull a Mike Isabella on us, kind of hanging around all season long only to return from the break looking like a completely different chef. I still can't quite peg her style, though she obviously likes to use seafood a lot. Seafood stew aside, has she made anything this season that you could look at and call a Lindsay dish? I don't mean to denigrate someone who is obviously a very talented chef, but am I the only one who finds her kind of weirdly out of place here?

5 Edward Quickfires
1
3
2
Last Week: 4 Eliminations
1
4
6

Ah, Ed, you couldn't hang in there just for just one more challenge, huh? Extended JT made it clear that this decision was more of a no-brainer than the edit let on, particularly since Lindsay clearly thought she was toast when they were critiquing her dish. Even Ed concedes in his exit interview that his dish was probably too busy, though he's mum on the oyster issue. As discussed in the comments, I suspect the issue isn't that he didn't use fresh oysters. The issue is that it tasted off to the judges, and of all the reasons your dish can be off, "I couldn't find the fresh ingredient I wanted so I substituted a packaged version instead" isn't one that's going to cast you in a favorable light. I don't know packaged oysters from Adam. I have no idea if this was a terrible call. But it didn't play out. We've seen this story countless times before. If you can't get what you need, don't try to force it with a substitute. The chances you'll get away with it are slim, particularly in the final rounds. A shame, too, since the move with the pork casings was a brilliant bit of thinking on his feet, and nearly won him the quickfire. I assume he would have taken the car over immunity, so we'd still be wishing him well. But at least he'd have a car.

WARNING : MINOR EPISODE FIFTEEN SPOILERS AHEAD

Well... if the elves are trying to combat the growing sentiment that Top Chef has jumped the shark, I'm not sure having the chefs cook in moving gondolas, chip their ingredients out of solid blocks of ice on snowy mountaintops, and compete in a culinary biathlon complete with rifles is the way to do it. I'm all for working in the locale, but c'mon. Still, I strive to keep an open mind, and my hopes up.

Finals Part I Postmortem on Wednesday night... discuss!

Comments

According to the fan favorite page on the Bravo website, Chris "Malibu" C. is in the lead for fan favorite. By a landslide. I'm not sure if that page shows who's in the lead overall or only reflects the votes coming in from the website, but either way that's absolutely ridiculous. At least when Sam Talbot won fan favorite, he was a semi-finalist and one of the best chefs in the competition.

Sorry, maybe I should have added a spoiler alert to my last comment? I'm not exactly sure what the protocol is for information listed on Bravo's website.

@TXGriff, the orange text says the website is fair game. But yes, the website says Malibu is winning. How on earth can that be true? I like the guy fine, but he wasn't exactly notable in food or personablity. He used to be fat, he says, and now is thin. Good for him, but that's it?

Forgot the most important part: but, yes, I agree with Dom, Grayson should win going away after that whole meatball v. chicken salad throwdown, but maybe I'm misreading how that plays in Peoria.

"Okay, the show. Dumb quickfire. Really dumb quickfire. Like, 'I can't believe a car is riding on this crap' quickfire. But it was a quickfire, not an elimination, so I can't get too bent out of shape about it."

The problem with the quickfire is the immunity into the finals (which Sarah perfectly reasonably jumped at). That's the part to be bent out of shape about. If it was a car or cash, I would have had much less of an issue with it.

Why is Malibu winning fan favorite? Because he's just soooooo pretty. Seriously, that guy is beautiful. And if he wins fan favorite, that kind of answers the question of what we always wonder around here, which is how much of the audience is made up of foodie fanatics and how much of it is Bravo reality TV fanatics.

For me, Grayson wins big for the Frog song, but I really enjoyed Ed's sardonic humor.

I can't recall much of anything about Malibu, either in terms of food or personality. Heck, I found Chuy more memorable based on 2 episodes than Malibu.

My vote would be for Grayson. She had me at "ummp-ACK!"

They have been showing the current leader in the fan favorite voting each week on the broadcast, leading into or out of a commercial break. It has been Malibu Chris for at least the past three weeks (which is the first time I noticed who was on top). I assume that the voting reflects not Chris's widespread appeal but a couple of fans with nothing better to do than to than vote for him repeatedly all day. I'd have to say that Ed is my favorite, in terms of personality, but then I haven't bothered to vote.

Malibu winning is not a surprise....remember that Fabio won in season 5 instead of Carla.....it's who watches Bravo.

"Malibu winning is not a surprise....remember that Fabio won in season 5 instead of Carla.....it's who watches Bravo."

Yeah, but Fabio was hilarious. He had fan favorite locked up by episode three.

Also note that Carla turned the tables on him in season eight.

Heh: "Talk to Mexico." Didn't Tom once get weird about another food pairing that could have been all "Talk to Africa"? I want to say tomatoes and peanuts.

Marjorie - I believe you are thinking of Stephanie's tomato-and-peanut butter dish during the 'cheap meal' challenge during her season.

I had one comment held up in moderation a while ago. I think I used some mildly off-color language. No worries.

Another time that I felt they covered up a dish's awesomeness to this extent was Susur Lee's opening round in Top Chef Masters, where he got something like 19.5 out of 20 stars, and we really had no idea that was happening until the judges started giving ratings.

dmantell -- that's it!! Thanks.

He has his bugaboos, our Tom.

Malibu Chris has been leading Fan Favorite by a landslide almost since the beginning of the show. I believe he must have a lot of friends with nothing better to do than robo-text him for fan favorite.

I am really looking forward to seeing the chefs cook the final meal. The next-to-last episode often holds a gimmicky challenge that makes me groan. But this season it seems really over the top.

Chuy's dad should win fan favorite.

I don't know why whoever on Bravo blog and you, Dom, decided that Tom was wondering about mushrooms and corn in the same dish. Unless I'm really missing some extra footage. Padma asked about the mushroom-peach combination, and on announcing the winner Tom mentioned that the peaches overwhelmed the corn a little.

I'm also surprised you think Sarah is so strong. I would put her and Bev about equal, with Lindsay trailing, not based on numbers but on the current awesomeness.

"Chuy's dad should win fan favorite."

This. A thousand times, this.

Ally... I'm trying to find it. Based on the order of my notes, it must have been later in the show. My wife remembers it too. But now you've got me wondering.

Sara is going to win. Tom has a total hard-on for her. In this interview he puts her in the same level as the Volt bros and Kevin. Even Paul who is clearly the best chef this season is just an afterthought:

http://newyork.grubstreet.com/2012/02/tom-colicchio-still-loves-top-chef.html

It's been obvious since the beginning that Tom wants either Sara or Lindsey to win because he's friends with Tony Montuano and Michelle Bernstein and the show wants a female winner with a pedigree. I just hope they go with Beverly instead and just feel bad for Paul because he came on the show in a season where he can't win no matter how good he is.

TX - I have sometimes wondered about the relationship between the contestant, their mentor and TC - like when Bev was eliminated instead of Sarah on the show with Charlize Theron. Twice with bad risotto and she is still there.

But....Jen is Eric Ripert's protoge, and she was cut twice - once very early.

Still, I do not want Sarah to win.

Personally, I love asian flavors, especially Thai and Indian. I hope that Paul wins to further showcase these flavors.

For the uber politically correct Bravo, an Asian winner trumps a female winner, but an Asian female would be a home run. Linsanity in the kitchen.

Meant to say that Bev is my number 2 choice, both for the Asian flavors and as retribution for how she has been treated.

TX: er, what? This is the actual quote:


Who's been most fun to get to know?

Wow, we've had so many really talented guys. The Voltaggio brothers are going to have a long career; Kevin from that season is going to have a long career; Sarah from this season is running one of the best Italian restaurants in the country; Paul is amazing, too; Look at their pedigree. These guys aren't going on the show because they want to go do demos and festivals, they really want to cook.

I do not think that means what you think it means.

Is it fair to theorize that Bravo's audience is predominantly straight women and gay men, and thus the fan favorite tends to boil down to "cutest boy"?

Not that I personally consider Malibu Chris the cutest boy, but I can see it.

But that's not even close to how the voting broke down in previous years.

S3: Casey
S4: Steph
S5: Fabio
S6: Kevin
S7: Tiffany
S8: Carla

I know I'm being ridiculous here - I'm upset over the fake voting on a TV reality show - but the injustice of it is really bugging me.

Danielle- I agree on Bravo's target audience, but I don't recall another season where the "cutest boy" won simply by virtue of looks. I agree with Dom that Fabio's personality won him FF- remember that Jeff (aka "Winky") was also on that season. Or when Kevin won FF in the Las Vegas season, despite the presence of the Volts. Or Tiffany Derry despite Angelo (he of the tight pants). My point is, this is the first season where the FF is most likely going to someone who was not memorable for any reason other than his/her looks (and creepy nudist paintings). It seems like a strange shift.

As for the Tom quote...I agree that the wording doesn't necessarily seem like he heavily favors Sarah and mentions Paul as an afterthought. Still, the fact that he mentioned her at all makes me pause. Her food has seemed good, but other than the stuffed cabbage dish, I don't think Tom has raved about her food the same way he did with the Volts, Kevin, Richard, Paul, etc.

Dom, you still have the corn-mushroom comment in so you must have found it? I had actually looked again because I remembered only a peach comment. Where does he say it?

IG- Malibu Chris is just making himself look as sad as his paintings, because it is so obvious that his numbers can't be just from "fans". Nobody who leaves so early gets fan favorite. I don't know if that's punishment enough. Is there a charge per text? If so, I wonder if the prize is more than the texts, especially after taxes. Ha!

Every week they have a little interstitial thing where they announce the name of the person who helped earn the most points for their favorite chef this week, or some such wording. A few weeks ago I noted that it always seemed to be "Sheila D." So I started to pay closer attention, and sure enough, every week since then it has been "Sheila D." There's an incentive for the person who boosts their "team's" score, so it doesn't have to be someone associated with Malibu; it could be someone who is gaming the system for their own gain.

It will be funny if Paul rallies for FF and takes every last prize this show had to offer this year.

The quickfire looks like a cruel joke this week. facepalms all around.

Did Padma not physically redirect a confused, blindfolded Beverly during a QF that might have led to her getting immunity?

--Since the first day of TC, Malibu has been in the lead, and it is all about looks. The problem is they opened the voting before anyone cooked or opened their mouths to speak.

--looking at the recipe for Paul's soup, I am wondering how it would taste with a little truffle oil? Someone said they rewatched the episode and saw Paul splashing on oil, not listed in the recipe. (of course the judges could taste the truffle oil, but any reference might have been chopped). Ok, so that's doubtful, but what do you chefs think, truffle oil might be tasty here?

--I named my kitten Chuy.


"Did Padma not physically redirect a confused, blindfolded Beverly during a QF that might have led to her getting immunity?"

She did, but somehow Bev had managed to completely miss the pantry. It seems plausible that they decided the intention was to have the chefs spending their time flailing around in the pantry, not flailing around trying to *find* the pantry.

Funny that Tom didn't mention Richard on his list of favorites. Sure, it could be an oversight, but still.

Ally... I haven't had time to watch the whole thing yet. I added a note. I can't figure how my wife, Gail and I all remember something that wasn't there, but I haven't found it.

Anyone?

Dom: this is why eye-witness testimony without any back-up evidence shouldn't convict criminals. ;p

@Beatrice: Good catch. That is mad creepy.

On the Bev redirection thing, it looked like Tom and Padma were standing at the edge of the pantry door (presumably on the far end of the door from the fridges), I kind of assumed that anyone who missed the door to the fridge and reached them would be re-directed. Sort of like a video game where you reach the end of a world and have to turn around.

Dom - in Gail's Bravo Blog, she mentions Tom commenting on the mushrooms and corn.

http://www.bravotv.com/top-chef/season-9/blogs/gail-simmons/the-best-thing-i-ever-ate

I have always thought that they cut one or two minutes out from the first broadcast to the repeat and on-demand broadcasts. Perhaps that is what become of the footage. Last weeks original episode displayed as being 1:01. The repeat viewing at 10:30 central said 0:59. Don't know why I noticed or remembered, but I did.

Re: fan favorite, I think they started the voting much earlier this season than in the past. They started accepting votes immediately after the top 16 were announced, and even then, Andrew and Janine were included in the list despite not actually making it to the "official" part of the show. I could be remembering incorrectly, but I am pretty sure that in previous seasons, fan favorite voting started maybe halfway through the season, if not even closer to the end.

When the season begins and we don't really know a lot about the chefs yet, I think looks can count for a lot more than food, which may explain why Chris took the early lead... and then I suppose Sheila D took it the rest of the way.

Ally -- I haven't rewatched the episode, but Tom made the comment about the mushrooms and corn when reviewing the quickfire dishes. He said something along the lines of how he doesn't usually think of those two ingredients working together, and then paused and said how she made them work.

Kimberly... He didn't. I've watched it, like, five times. He only mentions mushroom and peach during the quickfire. But based on where it is in my notes (I... um... take notes while watching), the thought occurred to me sometime after seeing Bev in the kitchen working two woks, so I'm wondering if he revisited it at some point at JT? I haven't been able to sit down to rewatch the second half the show yet. It's really, really weird.

Sarah wasn't at judges table, so he can't have been talking to her. She was gone the second half of the episode, pretty much. Just long enough to be ungracious to Bev...

I've watched the end as well to see if he said something about mushrooms and corn. He didn't say it that I can tell. Not a huge deal but Tom gets a bad enough rap without including stuff he didn't say ;)

If someone recorded the original episode, maybe it will show up. Again, this week, the originial episode shows as running from 9:00 to 10:01, Watch What Happens is from 10:01 - 10:31 and the rerun of Top Chef is from 10:31 - 11:30.

I too remember Tom saying something about the corn and mushrooms. I watched the original airing (a rarity for me).

@Beatrice: I noticed that too. But then thought maybe I was just making things up in my mind. Thanks for verifying that I am not crazy ;D

The thing is that I have not voted for FF this season and I will not because they force you to either vote via Facebook (evil data mining to profit Zuckerberg) or enter your phone number (so presumably they can sell it...) No thanks on both counts. So the people voting are social media freaks (no offense to anyone readying this who has voted, this is just a blatant generalization). My point is that TC has cut out a segment of the voting fans who do not wish to get spammed.

You can also "vote" (or earn points for your favorite) by joining a team and performing certain actions on the Bravo.com site, including watching videos, reading blogs, and playing games. No vote limit and no need to enter a phone number. It's all about the page views. Malibu clearly has fangirls running round-the-clock macros out there to rack up the points. That's standard practice amongst rabid reality show fanbases. I've been very tempted to set one up for Grayson and see if she can give him a run in this last week. It's ludicrous that he would win - he brought nothing to the show with his food or his personality, and he's not even vaguely attractive what with those blank shark eyes and skeevy pan-sexuality.

Beth: Do it! I would love to see if you could actually pump up Grayson's scores this way. Also, empirically, Chris is attractive.

It looks like Bravo is trying to steal your thunder, Dom.
Bravo's version of power rankings...

Nikki... Eh. One of the benefits of not doing this for traffic or profit is that I can completely not care :-)

There is no such thing as being empirically attractive. Unlike some here, I didn't find Malibu Chris skeevy, but I didn't find him attractive, either.

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