Ilan and his mother respond to criticism and blame the editing of Top Chef 2

Top Chef 2 winner Ilan Hall is apparently so despised by “presumptuous and cruel” viewers that both he and his mother wrote defenses of his behavior in Newsday yesterday.

Ilan’s mother, Rita Hall, works as “a section designer in Newsday’s editorial art department,” according to her byline. She writes that she “didn’t expect was how much I believed what I saw and how much friends who have known Ilan since he was little reassessed their opinion of him, good and bad, based on the edited version of reality that they saw weekly on the small screen. And how just as involved — though utterly presumptuous and cruel — the viewers in the blogosphere can be.”

In other words: It was the editing. She says that viewers–“anonymous souls who spent so much time discussing and disparaging a person they would never meet and who would have no effect on their lives”–were incorrect in their assumptions about her son, as they “jumped to wild unsubstantiated conclusions and, despite having slavishly watched each episode, made charges and claims that belied what they had seen.”

While she does not admit his behavior made him seem like an obnoxious, immature ass (she is his mother, after all), Rita Hall does have a few interesting things to say about our response to characters on television, nothing that “TV is an intimate medium, in our homes, at our beck and call, reliable and available to keep us company, making us feel connected and part of something larger.”

Ilan’s essay about himself has a similar theme: it’s the editing. “They don’t realize that they saw only a small portion of the story, not to mention we were in such an intense situation,” he writes. “We were sequestered. We had to spend a lot of time waiting, and we were not allowed to read magazines or watch TV.”

Plus, the editors get to have their way, he says. “Being on the contestant side, you have no say in how they portray you,” Ilan writes. “You are sort of signing your likeness away. They can manipulate and mold you into whatever they want.” He offers no specifics or justification for anything we saw on the series.

As to Marcel, Ilan writes that his fellow finalist managed to be keep his cruelty off-camera: “Marcel, was a master at avoiding saying nasty things on camera. When we saw the show on TV, we thought, ‘What about all the stuff he said the second the camera turned away?'”

Most interestingly, Ilan adds, “The portrayal of him is what he wanted it to be.” But wait: Didn’t both he and his mother just say his portrayal was completely out of his hands, that (as he wrote) contestants “have no say in how they portray you”?

Odd that he can’t keep his story straight, even in his own essay. Maybe that was the work of editors, too.

What’s real here? and What you saw wasn’t all of me – it was TV [Newsday]

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.