Top Chef & Underdog Theory

After last night’s episode of “Top Chef,” which Diana and I really enjoyed, I pointed out that C.J.’s team had it coming. C.J., who CHOSE his team, made a classic blunder: he chose the beautiful people, the most likable people, the most popular kids in the class. And as anyone who’s seen an 80s movie knows, when you’re the last to get picked in gym class that means you’re going to score a touchdown at the end of the movie.

The underdogs, in this case, were a rag-tag bunch–Sara, Hung, Howie, and Dale–a motley crew of social outcasts: various minorities (Jamaican, Vietnamese, shlubby, gay) and various personality types (controlling, obsessive, self-deluded, obnoxious) shoved together and forced to make good food. And guess what? They did. They made awesome food. Why? Because they had something to prove: when you’re picked last (and, believe me, I know from experience) you want to win in a very deep, very real way. Again, C.J. had it coming.

Plus C.J.’s team was super bland–like members of a high school Student Council all grown up. Charm, looks–CJ’s team had it–but they lacked talent. Tre’s dish disgusted the judges, Casey couldn’t chop onions to save her life. Did they look great while they cooked? Sure! But would you want to eat their food? No way.

Enter the Underdog. It’s not a coincidence that the great artists of the world are NOT the most popular kids in high school. Have you ever heard the expression, “Separate the artist from the art”? That’s because most talented people resemble Howie far more than they resemble C.J. Again, when you have something to prove–when life isn’t automatically easy, when people don’t like you because of your looks or personality–you work harder, you grow, you become excellent at what you do. Sara, Hung, Howie and Dale all embody this truth: they were picked last and then, at the end of the episode, they hit their home run. Now the only question is who will win the whole season? I’m betting it’s one from their number, an underdog. I’m hoping Hung.

11 comments

  1. I still think CJ should’ve went home. When the judge’s asked him why he didn’t back up his team mate, he just looked around like an answer would come out of thin air for him. And Sara? I thought she was a show off, but I guess whatever floats the Judges boats.

  2. Agreed! It was definitely a problem of overconfidence, like Chef Colicchio said. While I knew it was coming the whole time, I was sort of shocked that Tre was kicked off. I mean he had it coming not bringing the team together as an executive chef, but I really think the rest of his team played even weaker roles. I really thought Tre was going to make it to the finals, along with Hung! If it were up to me, CJ would have been out.

  3. I is sorry that Tre was kicked off because he is so *blush* good to look at. After all, I’m not eating at the show, I’m watching it. But really, he couldn’t make a good bread pudding? That’s not Cooking 101, that’s pre-school cooking!

    Casey has been darn lucky — she’s so often in the bottom three, but never the worst — I wonder when her luck is going to run out?

  4. Sara a show off? Were we watching the same program?

    Sara took charge of her team, point in case, when Howie’s food was ready to go out, she tasted it or didn’t like something about it and told him to “do it again”. She personally checked everything before it went out. Yeah, Howie wasn’t too happy, but in the long run, that’s an Executive Chef’s responsibility.

    Did the other team do that? Seems to me they all took the easy way out, and I too think CJ should have gone home because for 1, he made ONE DISH! Tre made THREE! Huh? How did that happen? Pull your weight, then again, it’s the Exec Chef’s job to ensure everyone is pulling their weight and Tre didn’t do that AND to have the Exec Chef’s “back” as it was also pointed out.

  5. CJ is a gigantic (literally) babe.

    For eye candy’s sake, I’m glad he’s still on.

    More excited for your book than I was for Harry Potter.

    That’s HUGE.

  6. Am I your only reader that doesn’t have cable?

    And don’t want it, either?

    I have better things to do with my time than wath television. Like read food blogs, smile.

  7. O.k., me too, I don’t have TV, but I think the message of this post does not necessitate having seen this particular episode of this particular reality TV show. Your point is a good one and very important in some interesting ways. We are looking for the “story” in the “reality” of these kinds of shows. In the end, we want to pinpoint who’s the villain, who’s wearing the white toque and we want to feel good about the ending (that last part because we’re American, we’re conditioned that way from birth). In the end, this is a show about food, so let’s hope the focus stays there and the good looking people do not win out over the culinary quality.

  8. @Vicki

    I don’t have satellite or cable either – but I do have iTunes in which Top Chef is available.

    Am I the only one that thought Tre getting bumped off was appropriate? He completely screwed up two restaurant wars in a row.

    Oh well – I am too relieved that the group of misfits managed to get together and take the day. Misfits take criticism and actually listen to it.

  9. But didn’t CJ choose people who (while also “popular”) had more restaurant line experience? So I’m not sure you can fault his logic there.

    And every team with Howie on it prior to this has lost. So who would want to go there either?

  10. Sara a showeoff?! Have we become so soft and pc that we cannot recognise leadership when we see it. Sara was not one of my favorites, but in the restaurant wars, she SHINED. She acted exactly like a true chef should perform, watching every dish and setting a standard of excellence. And cute though some people may think TRE may be, I want the food to be smoked spiced and cooked correctly, which despite his outstanding bio, he did not do.

    His food with the exception of his scallop apparently ranged from unoriginal (beef) to poorly cooked (bread pudding) to terrible (salmon, which was called inedible and the worst dish I have eaten in some time by various judges)

    And the group he was supposedly overseeing, both in the kitchen to out front didn’t do their jobs.

    I suspect the poor cooking in his kitchen was partially incompetence, partially lack of attention, and possibly purposful to “get” Tre. But he should have overseen his underlings. That was his job, to be the boss, not a friend.

    You don’t eat the bio, you eat the food.

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