The Voice, Mar. 4 – The Real Stars

The banter between the coaches on The Voice has overtaken the show. Don’t get me wrong. I dig it. I get into it. But it’s also the reason why I watch the show right now. The contestants, the “voices,” are secondary.

I can’t tell you the names of anyone who has auditioned so far this year. I can appreciate them when they’re singing, but the personalities onstage as the coaches are so overwhelming that they’re what I remember. I don’t remember a single name.

It’s more than just the banter between the coaches. They’re starting to develop a strategy. Usher is waiting until the last second sometimes to push his button for a singer just to throw the other coaches off. The thinking is if he pushes his button earlier, the others might realize the talent onstage is worth it, and they might push their buttons as well to compete with Usher.

Then there’s the banter between the coaches as they fight over contestants they hope to get on their teams. They all go up against each other, but many times it comes down to banter between Adam Levine and Blake Shelton, most likely because they are the only two who have been there every season. They even take to Twitter to air their banter and even switched accounts on one audition night, giving them even more ways to tear each other up.

I hope to get more interested in the contestants in the battle round. Hopefully much more emphasis will be placed on them rather than the coaches. But until then, we still have at least one more week of auditions to pick up more singers whose names I will forget until after the battle round.

The Amazing Race, Mar. 2 – Heartbreaking

Last night’s episode of The Amazing Race was completely heartbreaking. Mark and Bopper were such emotional favorites in their first season, and to have Bopper be told the night before the Race began that he had a disease that would prevent him from racing, then be told the following day that they had found a new partner for him was a huge emotional roller coaster. This week it didn’t get any easier for Mark and his new partner Mallory.

Mark and Mallory made it out of the Roadblock quickly, overtaking the lead. He put that kids’ car together in record time. He knew that going into it, though, that if it was putting something mechanical together, he had it. But their lead didn’t last long.

Since Mark had to carry the huge kids’ car, he asked Mallory to carry his backpack for him. She did, and once they were getting into a cab, she just set it down on the ground by Mark’s feet without saying anything, as if he was just supposed to know that’s what she was doing with it.

Once they had driven away, the two realized they didn’t have Mark’s backpack. Mallory wanted him to just forget about his backpack. He insisted on getting it back, as he had medications in there, not to mention all his clothes. She made the mistake of leaving the backpack there, then expected him to do without. I’m sure she would have felt differently if it was her backpack containing all her makeup.

Mark and Mallory continued on and delivered the kids’ car, then went back and got the backpack, then went to the Detour. They had a chance, as there were still teams working their way through a game that was called Featherball. Groups of people would stand in a circle and kick the shuttlecock back and forth. The challenge was to create a volley of ten kicks without it falling on the ground. Mark and Mallory had a chance, but couldn’t get it going in time and were the last to come in and were eliminated.

Luke and Margie continue to do well. He’s still pulling her along, yet on the car-building challenge she rocked. She put that thing together very quickly. She must have some experience from Christmas when Luke was younger. That was always the worst part to me. After your kids open everything up, then you need to put it all together.

Flight Time and Big Easy, aka the Harlem Globetrotters, did well. Any time a challenge involves the word “ball,” they’re probably going to do well. They just needed to pretend the shuttlecock was a basketball and do the same type of tricks, but we didn’t get to see too much of them playing Featherball.

Jet and Cord went from first to last at one point. While they came in first last week, and started first this week, they misunderstood a local’s hand signals. He was telling them it would be a fifty-minute walk to the Roadblock, but they thought he was saying fifteen. The Cowboys ended up arriving at the challenge as the last team.

Brendon and Rachel continue to do well. They went from second place to being first on Phil Keoghan’s mat this week. I know many people don’t like Rachel, but you’re probably in it for the long haul with her. The girl is a big competitor and keeps playing until she wins. And hey, there was no crying or whining this week.

Caroline and Jennifer could have been stuck in last and saved Mark and Mallory from being eliminated, but instead they finagled the second Express Pass from the Cowboys. The guys really didn’t want to have to deal with it and don’t see the country singers as threats, so gave it up to them. However, then “the blondes” ended up reaching the pit stop before the Cowboys.

Dave and Connor are in the middle of the pack and doing well. They weren’t the focus of this episode at all, as he still has two good ankles.

Jessica and John were struggling in the car-building challenge. Actually he was doing the Roadblock, so he was struggling. Meghan figured hers out, then came over to help him. It was pointed out that they helped each other out back in season 22 as well.

Joey and Meghan are in last place, but they’re still in it. They could have been up at least one spot, but she helped out old pals Jessica and John. Good karma will hopefully keep them around.

Leo and Jamal are in the middle of the pack, and weren’t focused on in this episode at all, which is quite a change of pace for them. Usually there’s a big focus on the Afghanimals.

There was no big travel to erase leads. The teams stayed in China. Their first clue had them finding a group practicing tai chi. Once they found the master, he stamped their next clue onto their foreheads. This left the teams asking locals for directions to what was stamped onto their foreheads.

The forehead clue sent teams to the Chinese version of a Chuck E. Cheese to build a child-size car in a Roadblock. The thought here is that it would be hard to concentrate with screaming kids all over, but it really didn’t trip up too many people other than John.

The teams were then sent to another business to deliver the car they built and get another clue. This took them to a park to play Featherball. It seemed very frustrating for them, as sometimes they would get as far as nine volleys, then they’d miss the tenth one and have to start over. Once they made it, it was a quick run to the pit stop.

By the end of the episode, though, it was just an overall feeling of heartbreak for Mark and Mallory. It would be hard to compete in this Race with someone you just met. You have to rely so much on communication, quick communication. Much of it is accomplished by knowing what your partner would want to do or is going to do. But to go out because she left his backpack behind, she really should have told him, “Here’s your backpack,” instead of just leaving it at his feet. And worse than that, she couldn’t even take ownership for her mistake. This elimination rests solely on her.

What did you think of the episode? Do you think it was Mark’s or Mallory’s fault? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.

Survivor Cagayan Premiere – Eps 1 and 2 – If They Only Had A Brain

They could wile away the hours/Conferrin’ with the flowers/Consultin’ with the rain/And their heads’ll be a scratcin’/With crazy thoughts they’ll be hatchin’/If they only had some brains.

The Scarecrow knew. And now Survivor knows. If you only had a brain.

On behalf of nerds around the world, I would like to formally apologize to the Survivor community. You can put six super smart people in a room and ask them to do anything other than play a smashing game of D&D and it will fall apart. The ego of always being the smartest person in the room usually gets the best of them. And as for Survivor skills, well, most brainy folks are indoor people. The skills that made you a nuclear engineer, chess champion, undefeated litigator or president of a baseball team usually meant you were not outside exercising or shopping for cosmetics at the mall.

What we witnessed in the Survivor premiere was what happens when too many brains are thrown together – and it ain’t The Big Bang Theory. Although in this case it provided a big bang alright. A big bang of pathetic.
What the show has tried to do with the Brains vs. Brawn vs. Beauty idea is to not just put together the high school cliques we all know and don’t love. What it tried to do is also flip the stereotype on its ear. That’s why you get a totally physically ripped brain (Garrett), and a very smart brawny cop (Sarah), and a physically fit beauty (LJ), etc. Sarah the Cop said it well after she Boston Robbed the Brains on the puzzle challenge – are we sure she was placed on the right tribe?

Before we begin to lament the fate of the four remaining Brains, remember that Denise and Malcolm were the last two left on their pathetic Russell Swan-led tribe and they managed to make the Final Four – with Denise winning and Malcolm likely to have won if he won that last challenge. So there is hope for Spencer and Tasha – both of whom I have begun to have instant affection for – and the other two. Let’s go into the insanity of the Brains for a bit before we do a bit on the others. I want to get this column in at a reasonable word count, but boy, CBS, thanks for not helping with a double episode full of crazy.

Instantly, the Brains were off to a horrible start. Probst had each group select a leader – a ridiculous thing the show has done before – based solely on what they saw in front of them. The Brains picked Miami Marlins President David Samson because he was wearing a blazer. On Survivor. To me, that’s not a leader, that’s bad planning. He then had to select one person from the tribe who was the “weakest.” He had no idea why, unless he had actually watched Survivor: Tocantins. So, instead of the skinny woman, or the skinny man, or the older lady, he chose the huge muscular guy as the “weakest.” He then actually verbalized why – because he was playing ahead for the last 2/3 of the game. And he did so without a shred of remorse for having to make such a stupid decision so early. He also forgot that in order to get to the back 2/3 of the game, you have to get through the first third! You are a tribe of brainy folks – keep the burly guy around if you think this is an impromptu elimination. And for a brainy guy, let me ask, have you ever seen a season of Survivor with only 15 people?

So we start off with a mistake. However, everyone knows a nuclear engineer is the same as a, well, a building shelter engineer, right? Oh yeah, it’s not. So J’Tia has stepped up to project manage the shelter building. Of course, she has chosen to do this is in the worst possible way – barking orders and not lifting a finger. In a perfect metaphor for the tribe, their shelter collapsed instantly.

And J’Tia? Wasn’t that the Vulcan from that horrible Scott Bakula Star Trek show?

Then we have the challenge, and the Brains can’t figure out how to properly move chains or fit items through holes. They get totally smoked. Between her chain issues and the shelter, Marlins has targeted the Vulcan for elimination. However, Counselor Kass has chosen to tell the Vulcan about this plan. Brilliant! Give her a chance to scramble! And she scrambles. Effectively. In another perfect metaphor for his rebuilding baseball team, the Marlins President is in last place.

American Idol, Feb. 26 – Something Different for a Change

It turns out we didn’t just get new judges this year on American Idol. We got a whole new show, or at least what seems like a new show. Gone are the tired out Whitney Houston, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, Stevie Wonder songs, replaced by Matchbox 20, John Mayer, and Pink. Sure, we had songs by those artists once in awhile before, but these kids were told to pick something that explained who they were and instead of picking up something Idol had already secured the rights to, they went off the board. It made it like a whole new show.

Dexter RobertsAw Naw I don’t usually listen to country music, so this was a song I’v never heard. This definitely told us he’s a country dude. Success all around.

Malaya WatsonRunaway Baby She chose this Bruno Mars hit and had a hard time with pitch, but there’s just something damn likable about this girl in the braces and glasses.

Kristen O’ConnorBeautiful Disaster I need to start out by saying I’m always highly critical of anyone performing a Kelly Clarkson tune. But even forgetting that it was a Kelly tune, she seemed to have a difficult time with pitch.

Ben BrileyFolsom Prison Blues He did Johnny Cash proud, although Harry Connick Jr. thought he sped up the song too much. Personally I liked it.

C.J. HarrisRadio I agree with the judges that this didn’t really show us much about his skills as a singer, yet it’s probably more of a fun song than something that would have shown his skills.

MK NobiletteSatisfaction This is something different for MK, and I tend to like the other stuff she sings more. Listening to the song a second time, though, I liked it more. Maybe it just needs to grow on you.

Majesty RoseTightrope This was really good. She showed some skill with singing the lyrics in the verses that are quick-paced, leading into the melodic chorus.

Jena IreneThe Scientist She had a few pitch problems, only made worse when she belted it out. Nevertheless, overall it was a good performance as the good outweighed the bad.

Alex PrestonA Beautiful Mess Jennifer Lopez looks to get goosies with songs, and I look for chills or tears. Didn’t get it, but came close to tears. This was beautiful, but anything but a mess. He’s unique.

Jessica MeuseThe Crow & the Butterfly Here’s another unique one. It’s hard not to watch when she’s performing. I’ll add that it looks like they gave her extensions.

Emily PirizGlitter in the Air At times she was singing too quietly and you couldn’t hear her. When you could, it was beautiful.

Sam WooolfUnwell I’ll start out saying this is a favorite song of mine. I thought he did it justice. Better than Matchbox 20? No. But justice. No complaints here. I also think it does a good job of saying who he is.

Caleb JohnsonPressure and Time I don’t know if the Idol stage has rocked out this much since James Durbin was a contestant. If anyone doesn’t know who Caleb is after this, they weren’t paying attention. Taylor Hicks in the audience seemed to approve too.

At least eleven of these songs have never been performed before. Beautiful Disaster and Folsom Prison Blues may have been. Better yet, they all did fairly well save for a few pitch issues here and there. There wasn’t anyone on the stage that I thought didn’t belong there, and there isn’t anyone that I am hoping will go home tonight. It was such a refreshing change, especially after last season.

The Voice, Feb. 24 – Welcome back Shakira and Usher

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It turns out they don’t just have spinning chairs on The Voice, they have a revolving door as well. This is the second time Cee Lo Green and Christina Aguilera have decided to sit out, leaving Shakira and Usher to replace them.

Cee Lo announced last week he would not be returning to The Voice at all this time. Some aren’t very broken up about it, but I personally liked the heart that he brought to the show and that he promised to work with the singers even after the show was over.

However, you can’t deny what Usher brings to the table. He discovered Justin Bieber after all. Not that I think he’s an incredible talent or anything, but if you can create a star from what he had to work with there, odds are he can create a star out of just about anybody. But because he has multiple outside interests, he might not be too keen on staying with the show permanently, for the two seasons that air each year.

I’m not overly fond of Christina, so if she wants to use this as an excuse to take an exit, that would be fine by me. I find her far too fake and phony. Besides, she’s getting married and is pregnant, so she won’t have a lot of time. Maybe we’ll keep Shakira and Usher for at least one more season after this one.

As far as this first night of season six, there weren’t any shocking surprises, and only one big wowing performance. All the performers were good, but the gal who was on last was flat out amazing. She’ll go far in this competition, especially since she picked Usher as her coach after turning all four chairs.

There were a few performers who didn’t get any chairs to turn, but again only one stands out in my mind. This guy thought he was all that and a bag of chips. He thought he was Robin Thicke. He even sang Blurred Lines.

And here’s what talent shows have been telling singers since the first season of American Idol. If you’re going to sing a well-known song, especially a recent one, you have to do it either better or different than the original. And that song is so stylized, that by singing it the same way Robin Thicke does, you’re just opening yourself up to a comparison. That’s what happened here, and this guy couldn’t compare.

I’m looking forward to night two of the auditions tonight. I do have to say the show is more fun with Shakira rather than Christina. She just seems to get a long with the guys more. Christina always seemed like she was being bothered to be there or something and didn’t participate much in their joking around.

What do you think of this coaching lineup and which performances stood out or you? Comment on the post and let us know.

The Amazing Race, Feb. 23 – Illness Sidelines Teammate, but not Team

The Amazing Race is treating us to yet another All Stars season. There’s something about the All Star seasons on this show as well as Survivor. They just seem more exciting. From the looks of things so far, this one isn’t going to disappoint.

From the very start, the season is compelling. The night before Phil Keoghan was to shout “Go,” contestant Bopper ended up seeing a doctor, with a worried teammate Mark and Phil looking on. The doctor told Bopper he had pancreatitis. It’s a bad enough diagnosis on its own, but he also told him that he would not clear him to compete in the Race.

Bopper was, of course, devastated, as was Mark. There was hope for Mark and Team Kentucky, though. Phil offered up a new teammate, Mallory, who had raced before wither dad, Gary. She, too, is from Kentucky. Mark hated to race without Bopper, but decided to continue. Mark and Bopper needed the money badly and don’t hide the fact. I wonder what will happen if Mark and Mallory win. I hope Bopper gets something.

Also racing again are Luke and Margie, mother and son. Luke is deaf, but it doesn’t seem to hold him back. They came in third in their original season and eighth in a previous All-Stars, “Unfinished Business.” He still has to pull her along.

Flight Time and Big Easy, aka the Harlem Globetrotters, are also making a third appearance. They came in fourth place in their first season after taking an ill-advised penalty when they were already at the back of the pack. In Unfinished Business they came in second. Coming in third that race were Mallory and her dad.

Also from Unfinished Business, are Jet and Cord, the rodeo cowboy brothers. They came in second in their first season, then sixth in Unfinished Business. Hopefully that downward trend won’t continue.

Brendon and Rachel, aka Brenchel, are back for their second time. They have gotten married since coming in third and hope to have a baby after the race. I know everyone gets irritated with them, but they were the only ones to rush over and commiserate with Mark and Bopper when the teams heard the next day about Bopper’s illness. There’s some heart there.

Natalie and Nadiya, aka the Twinnies, came in fourth place in their original season. I find them way more annoying than Brenchel. They just have to keep shouting all the time at each other whether they’re encouraging each other or fighting.

Caroline and Jennifer, the country singers, came in fourth place in their season, and are one of four teams originally from season 22. They made a mistake already of teaming up with the Twinnies to find a wedding dress shop. That could have been their undoing.

Dave and Connor, also from season 22 and father and son, are both cancer survivors. In their original season Dave was injured when he snapped his Achilles’ tendon. He tried to carry on, but they had a shortened season nonetheless, ending in eighth place.

Jessica and John were dating in season 22 but are now engaged. They carry the distinction of being the only team to be eliminated with an Express Pass . He didn’t want to waste it, but in essence that’s what he did and it landed them in ninth place. They’re happy they didn’t get it this time.

Joey and Meghan are best friends and are known as Team YouTube as they are successful vloggers. In season 22 they came in fifth place.

The only team coming back after participating in the last season are Leo and Jamal, aka as Afghanimals. The cousins tend to have an annoyance factor like the Twinnies, but not as much. Jamal has gotten married in the time off. Let’s see if it makes a difference. If you look at pictures from the last Race where they came in fourth, it seems Leo is using Rogaine.

The teams traveled to China on two separate flights. Once there they needed to find one of three bridal shops to get their next clue. But each shop only had so many clues. Jet and Cord found a shop easily enough, but the Twinnies, on that same first flight, struggled, as did the country singers and Team YouTube. Eventually the Twinnies were the last team to find the bridal shops, but had to go to the third one before they could find one with a clue left still.

The teams were then sent to look for an apparatus with bubbles on it. It was basically a Ferris wheel with enclosed circular cars. Some of the bubbles had clues inside, but some just said, “Try again.” What made it tough was that after a few seconds inside to check the clue, if it wasn’t right, you had to ride all the way around to get out and get in a different car. The teams in the middle had it the best, as they knew to get in the bubbles they saw teams running from, headed to the next clue.

The Twinnies struggled here as well. One sister wanted to take the same bubble they saw another team leave from, while the other insisted all the bubbles would be the same. They got in and found a Try Again, then argued the whole way back to the top on whose fault that was.

After this was a Roadblock. One member of each team had to dress in a hideously tight costume with a flame design in orange and yellow and be hoisted high in the air. While supported with wires, they had to do five back flips. I give Margie credit for doing it. I don’t know if I could at this age. Flight Time pointed out that it was a good thing Big Easy didn’t do it.

The finishing order of the leg was mostly determined by the bridal shop search and bubble ride. Only one person at a time could do the back flips in the Roadblock and everyone completed it the first time up. The pit stop immediately followed. Jet and Cord won the first leg and now have two Express Passes – one for themselves and one for another team. The Twinnies were last and were eliminated.

This could be a really good season. There are a lot of really good teams. They’ve all done really well on their previous times racing, many of the teams came in second, third or fourth in at least one of their seasons. Dave and Connor left earlier than that but were doing well before his injury. Jessica and John were doing well, too. That’s why he didn’t think they needed to use the Express Pass. It would be interesting to see what would happen if the Cowboys offered their second Express Pass to Jessica and John. Would they even accept it?

What did you think of the season premiere? Chime in with your thoughts in the comments below.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 15 – Uncle Emeril And The Last Day In The Big Easy

Top Chef’s New Orleans season lurches to a close this week as we re-connect with the chefs next week in Hawaii for the two-part Finale. It’s funny, I took notes during this episode. Then, of course, my insane life got in the way, and as I sit down to write this column I realize the episode left absolutely no impression on me whatsoever. I watched it. I was entertained. Good food was cooked. An elimination made. But nothing actually jumps out at me as a point to bounce a column off of – the episode was just kinda there.

The Nick as a villain angle? Meh. I killed that last week. Chung as the underdog and frontrunner – a hard combo to achieve? Well, I guess. BB as one of the best chefs in recent years who hasn’t really done anything on screen to be remembered for? I mean, she’s good. Really good. She’s rarely been on the bottom in any challenge this season. Even this week when she made a rare error, it didn’t cost her a thing. Carlos? What has he done this season other than annoy Nick and cook Mexican food regardless of the challenge?

I could focus on Padma’s hotness. That’s a great fallback position. I could comment on how cold the Quickfire room must have been because its effect on Gail was noticeable. That was fun for me at least – perhaps not for Gail. Tom and Emeril? They’re always great. Tom is amazing on this show – and Emeril seems to have found his role finally. He’s essentially become the Paula Abdul of this show. How? He’s become Uncle Emeril. The chefs look at him as their ally. He’s become the Good Cop. It’s a role that suits him. Just the way Puck embraces being hard on the chefs – Bourdain too. Emeril seems to relish being Uncle Emeril.

We even got a “kick it up a notch” from him this week.

The challenges were solid – a two-part Quickfire where they indulge Gail’s love for amuse bouche. One bite on a cocktail fork. And a second part where Tom’s love of veggies are exposed. And where Tom reminds us of the amazing challenge from a few seasons ago where we watched him cook a Quickfire meal in 8 ½ minutes. The Elimination is a variation on an old Top Chef theme – how did the host city inspire you? A solid theme challenge – but one that didn’t produce a lot of interest this time. Carlos cooked Mexican food. Of course. BB made her rare error – and in fact, the dish didn’t even need the element she forgot to add. Nick made an overly complicated dish and barely survived the week. And Chung continued her hero’s journey through the bayou by continuing to find her voice and cease being a Shadow Chef.

So we head to Maui next week for the Finale – and something I have hated before on the show. They are doing a double elimination heading into the final showdown. Ugh. I don’t like double eliminations at this stage in the game. Early on, when there are about 200 chefs in the game, that’s fine. But in the Final Four? It feels unfair. It may not be unfair, but it feels that way to me. Just do a Final Three for the title at this point instead of taking down two next week. That feels better to me. In fact, I would like a moratorium on double eliminations until they start choosing to not eliminate a chef because of a nitpick. Using Cmar’s elimination as an example – why cut someone who did well when you don’t have to? Keep her and tell the chefs that two go in the next Elim. If it happens again? Take out three the next time. Just adjust on the fly.
So, we have a Final Three – and a fourth to join them soon. I would say Chung is the frontrunner right now – but we have the Finale dynamic about to come into play. Perhaps if they played it immediately – meaning no weeks/months long delay between New Orleans and Hawaii – which is what they normally do, then her momentum would mean something. However, the fatigue that could be dragging down the others will be gone. The rust will be there – another reason a double elimination stinks – and I think all of the success Chung has had to get her here factors in very little.

I would put BB as the likely winner – with Chung a close second. I think Nick’s tendency to get in his own head is going to hurt him badly in the Finale. I don’t think Carlos has the skills the others have – and he’d have to branch out from Mexican food to get there. Louis is the interesting one – if he beat Carlos in the final LCK to get back, that’s amazing. But the winning streak to get him there would potentially have given him Chung-like momentum. But he loses that as well. But lets see if Carlos’ mahi mahi (Mexican style, of course) or Louis’ yellowfin tuna gets them in the game.

I guess we’ll find out shortly – perhaps Kish and Steph will have another woman in the Top Chef Ladies Room soon during winners’ get-togethers. I am sure they happen all the time too.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 14 – The Shadow Chef And The Fake Villain

So, I’m mad at Top Chef right now. I would love to blame the lateness of the column this week on my anger at Top Chef, but that would be a lie. I’m just crazy behind on everything in my life. However, I am going to go with a portion of my lateness as being part of the fact that I hated this last episode. And that makes a few episodes in a row where I’ve had a gripe. C’mon guys. You’re too good for this.

First item. Stop fabricating stupid rivalries. It is clear that the show is editing it to make Nick look like a villain. But really, this is ridiculous. The “rivalry” between Nick and Carlos is moronic in the first place, but really, if you had to pick a side, how could it not be Nick’s side? Carlos called him out for no reason to the judges. Carlos used his knife and didn’t clean it. And now, Carlos seemingly started to move Nick’s pots from the burners. Nick is a bit of a hothead and bubbled over. Does that make him a villain? No. To me, I am amazed he didn’t snap earlier if you factor in the pressure of the show and the lack of sleep that comes with it.

And as for the oven incident – the show tried very hard to make it seem as if Nick was implying sabotage, but at no time did we see Nick accuse anyone. He just said that he didn’t know how the heat was set so high on the quinoa. Haven’t we all done something like that before? We’ve all accidentally set a timer incorrectly, or an alarm, or chosen the wrong setting even though we were certain we did it correctly.

It is poor form for these shows to try incredibly hard to fabricate a villain – and to me, incredibly unfair to the person on screen to have that happen to them. There are enough times on these shows where someone chooses to Johnny Fairplay things and embrace villainy. But there are tons of other cases where the editing is done and the contestant is surprised to learn how they are portrayed. Granted, Nick’s Philly buddy seemed as if he would be the villain this season before his early exit – and maybe the two combined would have been too much. But from what I have seen this season – Nick is no villain. He just wants to win. And is there anything wrong with that?

The other thing that bothers me is the Roy Choi Quickfire routine. Roy Choi the Boy (go to my column from the last time he appeared on the show – the nickname makes sense) is the King of the Food Trucks and someone who made something of himself after a life of poor choices. He is a great role model for down and out chefs everywhere. The Quickfire is for the chefs to make their own take on a po’boy sandwich – a New Orleans staple. And that’s great; he wanted them to tell their story in this sandwich. However, I didn’t get a sense of how clear it was made to them that this needed to be straight from their souls – in 20 minutes.

Anyway, Nick made fried shrimp, Chung had catfish, BB made fried mahi mahi, Huskey went with lobster and Carlos was inspired by the Mexican taco. The Boy told them they all messed it up. They didn’t find their souls in the sandwiches. In 20 minutes. He slammed all of them – Carlos’ lacked flavor, Nick’s was too salty, Huskey’s Korean flavors were not found, Chung’s was pedestrian and BB’s didn’t pop.

Chung earned the default win and immunity. That’s another thing that bothered me. With all of the crap sent to Nick last week, now we are giving a pass to the Final Four based on a pedestrian dish? What if Chung was horrible in the Elimination – would she be pressured to give up immunity? At least last week’s immunity win for Nick was based on an excellent dish. Grrrr.

Anyway, all that being said, I would have just shrugged off The Boy’s outbursts as a diva moment or something – until Jon Favreau came out to present the Elimination Challenge. He is working on a new movie called “Chef.” In it, the hero losses his voice and cannot connect with food anymore, so he gets a food truck and travels with his son to find his voice again. Hmmm. Interesting.

I am throwing the penalty flag here. It is too much of a coincidence to me that an Elimination Challenge based on finding your voice, showing your cooking soul, and showcasing a turning point in your career comes on the heels of The Boy’s scolding of the chefs for not showing their souls in the Quickfire. It feels really contrived and done to elicit drama and accentuate the Elimination Challenge. It just left a bad taste in my mouth – and I wonder if that’s what really happened. The chefs seemed universally surprised by the criticisms they got at the Quickfire – and all of that combined makes me think that they would have been scolded for effect no matter what. And I don’t like that kind of skepticism.

I prefer to think that these shows are as legit as possible. I know that they are TV productions and some liberties are taken with things from time to time. But don’t Real Housewives it for me – let drama happen naturally, don’t force it down our throat with staging and editing. Is that what happened here? No idea. But it sure came across that way.

Quickfire Challenge – Does it really matter? They all were below standard and Chung won.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 13 – To Quit or Not to Quit

Let’s discuss the most important thing that occurred during this episode. No, it was not the ludicrous discussion about whether or not Nick should elect to quit the competition to save Cmar or Chung. But yes, we will be discussing that. No, much more important…

Yellow dress on Padma. Holy moly! I had to watch the Quickfire all over again because I had no idea what was going on because that yellow dress had all my attention. Yowza!

But anyway, enough of my unhealthy obsession about he stunning host. This week came down to a dynamic inherent to all competition reality shows that incorporate immunity. What happens if you want to get rid of the immune? Unless you are on Survivor and can trick Erik or Brandon to give it up, you can do nothing. You adjust. Many contestants on these shows have been axed despite not deserving it. This is just one way of having it happen.

Nick said it best – he earned it in the previous challenge. So despite his dishes dragging his team down, he earned immunity. He didn’t do anything malicious to Cmar or Chung, he took big risks that failed badly. The ladies also didn’t push him to not make those choices nor did they seem very concerned during prep. Cmar mentioned the bad bird nest, but didn’t push very hard. Plus, even without the drain hair, as Tom called it, I am sure they still would have lost based onto the rest of Nick’s dishes. No doubt about it. The other team was solid, but unspectacular and so that win for BB and the team was a bit muted. Nick was just that bad.

But no friggin way does he volunteer to go home. No. Way. Even suggesting it on the part of the judges was ridiculous. Why even have immunity otherwise? Immunity is earned in order to protect yourself from this kind of screw up. Sure it sucks for the other two, but that’s the rules of immunity.

There were certainly other options. One easy one to avoid the dynamic of one bad immune chef and two teammates who don’t deserve elimination is to not do three on three challenges. Another is to not allow for immunity this late in the competition. Another is to not eliminate Cmar or Chung if they don’t deserve it. Have an American Idol/Project Runway save for Tom. Eliminate two chefs next week. The show has done this before – and in my opinion, not often enough. Cmar didn’t deserve to get cut. She knows it. Nick knows it. Tom and the judges know it. And we know it. So don’t cut her. Don’t put it on Nick that she’s out – the judges chose to do it. Next time, don’t knife someone who didn’t deserve it when the only one who did was immune.

At least we got a break from the Nick/Carlos madness for a week. Sadly, it seems to blow back up next week over moved pots. Sigh.

In my defense of Nick I have sadly overlooked the tragedy of Cmar’s departure. She turned into one of my favorite chefs from any season. That wit deserves its own show. The Cmar Show. I’d watch it. I am going to miss her going forward and I hope she gets a second chance to be on a future season.

Meanwhile, we are down to five chefs. Which means one from Nick, BB, Chung, Carlos and Huskey is winning this – or Louis, as he still remains viable after defeating Cmar and continuing his run through LCK. Personally, I can’t see anyone other than BB or Chung winning based on past performance and editing. But who knows. This odd season rolls along – lots of likable chefs and solid challenges – but kind of dull. The chefs are nice, but not as charismatic as a lot of past seasons. Now with Cmar and her dry wit gone…well, not really all that excited about the end game. I hope the show picks up, but right now New Orleans ranks in the bottom half of Top Chef seasons. At least in my opinion.

Quickfire Challenge – World class French chef Jacques Pepin joins Padma and her amazing yellow dress to do a skills competition with the chefs. They have to properly prep artichokes, julienne some veggies, make their own cherry tomato, skin and filet dover sole and make a butter rose. The need to make a sauce – and do it all EXACTLY as Pepin shows them how to do it. As we know, immunity rides on this.

Carlos is not classically trained, and is at a disadvantage. Nick knows his stuff – and shares with us the anger with which he cooks these days. Unemployment does that to a person. BB forgets to turn on her stove. Cmar is freaking out – but she always freaks out. Carlos’ plate looks as if a tornado hit it, and has no tomato. Chung is happy, and thinks Pepin is like her grandpa. Huskey’s is a “hot mess” – and he has no sauce, and from what we have seen so far this year, saucing is his specialty. BB ran a lot but got a plate done. Cmar’s is a bit scrambled, and she had all kinds of trouble with the fish. Nick’s is neat and tidy, and is the only one to even start the butter – even if he ran out of time.

Huskey, Cmar and Carlos get the bottom. Nick and Chung the top. BB is obviously third – but not good enough to be singled out, and not bad enough to be below the other three. Nick earns the win – mainly for the tarragon in his sauce – and as we know, really, really, really needed this win.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 12 – Knife Etiquette and Other Issues

So, I guess we are getting more and more of the Nick and Carlos saga going forward. Any regular to this column knows how much I love the chef rivalries from past seasons. And when I say love past conflicts, I mean I really don’t like them at all. They usually feel manufactured and blown completely out of proportion. And really, really overdone by the editing team. It is usually done when there is nothing of much interest going on in the episode to force something to put in the promos and the teasers. It’s Bravo-ification of the show – too many of the network’s core viewers expect the Real Housewives kind of “drama.” Top Chef isn’t about that – or at least, I never felt it was. I enjoy this show for the cooking. For the food. For the regions of cuisine they showcase. For the guest chefs. For the sheer incredible challenge of putting these tasks on the plate in time. I think that’s why the chefs like the show – and why there are so, so many chefs that want to come back and be on the show again. And on Masters. Etc.

So, Top Chef. Just the food. Come on.

Because it happened, I’ll have to talk about it. Nick essentially forgave Carlos for the whole sandbagging incident last week. And then Carlos needed one of Nick’s knives to properly cut his fish for his sashimi. Amazingly, he asked Nick. After the last episode, it is rather ballsy to ask the guy for help after you fed him to the wolves just a few hours previously. And then Carlos is shown in a confessional dinging Nick for not looking out for the needs of others.

Needs of others? This is a cooking competition. Nick and Carlos can’t be co-winners of Top Chef, there is only one winner. Nick was under no obligation to help one of the other members of the Final Seven. The fact that he chose to give Carlos a knife shows just how generous he, and most of these chefs, are during these competitions. That knife was a special knife, and Nick told him so. Carlos chose to not clean the knife after service – or even after use – despite knowing the attachment that the knife had to Nick. Wouldn’t all of you clean it first and hand it over right away? Isn’t that the unwritten rule of borrowing things?

In fairness, I am assuming the vast majority of this bad behavior is the creation of the editing room. Who knows when, and in what context, Carlos said that about Nick. It could have been back from the first day. So, keep in mind, as always, that the context of my reality show criticisms and jabs found in these pages are all taken with a big grain of salt. I’m sure Carlos is a lovely human being. But he’s not being portrayed that way on this show.

Ok, enough of that crap. Carrie sure got into a slump at the worst possible time, didn’t she? Carrie started off so well this season – she seemed as if she may go very far, and I guess she did, but would up petering out in the end. Amazingly, this week was the first time she found herself facing the music of Judges Table. And, it was the last. Granted, she would have been there last week without immunity, but still.

I must say that the show will miss Carrie and her unbelievably pretty eyes. I was rooting for her once she got to LCK, but she became the latest to fall victim to Louis during his improbably run through LCK. I say improbable because he got such little attention while he was on the main part of the show, that I didn’t expect him to get through LCK. Granted, he still may not get back in the game, but still, I’m surprised at how well he is doing. He’s only three wins away.
This week was about seafood. Pairing them. Something about that is complicated, I guess. Here’s where my lack of culinary skills come out and shine through. I really didn’t get it. Two kinds of fish, in a dish, just sounds delicious no matter how you slice it. Especially if you are using Nick’s knife. Carrie got the boot for putting one of hers into a fritter. My only question…really, fritters are friggin delicious. What’s wrong with that?

Somewhere, Tom and John Besh are not reading my column and just shaking their heads at my ignorance and questioning how anyone could allow me to write about anything involving cooking.

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