Well, clearly most of you know already, as this is getting posted a couple of days after Top Chef: All-Stars crowned its champion. And before I say who it was and get into the nitty gritty in this Finale, let me just say that once in a while it is cool to root for U.S. Steel. That’s an old line from the 50s about how rooting for the New York Yankees is like rooting for U.S. Steel.
It means that it is hard to root for the favorite, for the one expected to win and who has so much already. In 1996, lots of people rooted for the Yankees because they had so many human-interest stories (Joe Torre and Wade Boggs winning their first titles, Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry and their rise from drug addiction, etc.), and in 2001 the whole world outside of Boston and Phoenix wanted New York to win in the aftermath of 9-11.
On Reality TV it is less dramatic as that, as these are for the most part, just regular Joe’s like the rest of us. Blais and Mike are hard-working guys who have paid their dues in the business for a long time. Boston Rob was once a construction worker, and Parvati Shallow a foxy boxer. Chris Daughtry and Carrie Underwood toiled in obscurity like millions of wannabe singers. It is part of the draw of reality TV, seeing the average become extraordinary.
This year we are – at least I am since it applies to all the show I recap – being treated to some of the best of the best showing their skills. The Amazing Race has the Cowboys and the parent-child team of Ron/Christina showing why they came within a hair of winning their seasons. Boston Rob is putting on a How To Play Survivor clinic this season. And Top Chef gave us their best non-winners and most of them produced.
However, no non-winner in Top Chef history equals Blais. In a lot of ways, he is the show’s Boston Rob. Except a lot more likable to a lot more people. He is arguably the best player to never win the show – and Rob has a lot more challengers to that throne than Blais has. This season, after looking at the returning chefs, you had to think that Blais was one of, if not the absolute, favorite to win the whole thing. Lots of pressure and lots other chefs gunning for him.
And Blais delivered. While he did, he showed a vulnerability that the best of the best rarely show. This season it was cool to root for the favorite, most people I spoke to were actively rooting for him to win. He deserved to win his first season, but was out-cooked by both the equally deserving eventual champion, and the far less deserving lucky finalist. Blais choked. It is hard for someone so good at his or her skill to accept that. Blais was probably the first chef to agree to come back for All-Stars, and I’ll be that if they ever do another, he’ll be back for more.
Redemption is a very dramatic theme – Survivor is basing a whole season on that fact. To see someone like Blais get a second chance, and watching him take it and run with it, was compelling to watch all season long. The question is, could he deliver.