Are the Voltaggio brothers ruining Top Chef with their talent and unresolved issues?

I never thought I’d complain about talent on Top Chef, but here I go: I’m tired of Michael and Bryan Voltaggio and watching their march toward an inevitable win while they play out their unresolved childhood issues by bickering non-stop.

It’s obvious that the two men are extraordinarily talented. Michael, the younger, angrier one who leans forward and wears a backwards-turned cap, and Bryan, the older one who leans back and looks frightened, have collectively won five elimination challenges. Of the nine elimination challenges, Michael has been in the top group seven times, in the low group once, and won twice; Bryan has been in the top group six and won three times. Michael won one quickfire, and while they’ve been in the top sometimes, quickfire challenges seem to be the only place they don’t dominate.

But it doesn’t seem to matter because they’re so much more talented than the others that it’s barely a competition. Only Kevin, who’s won three elimination challenges out of five times in the top, and Jennifer, who’s won one out of five times, seem to present any actual competition; they’re the likeliest candidates to make the final three with Voltaggio brothers. They’re also far more humble.

But last night, Michael won yet again, and received $10,000, and decided to split it with his team, a rare moment for him not being an arrogant dick. He and his brother were 50 percent of the team that lost the quickfire but created the “best restaurant war restaurant we’ve had in six seasons,” Tom Colicchio said.

It’s never ideal for someone dominate a reality show over an entire season; at first it’s entertaining, but then it grows tiresome, like when a Survivor tribe wins challenge after challenge. Worse, they’re arrogant and cocky about it, and I don’t want to root for people like that, even if their arrogance is justified.

I’m also rarely fond of people with pre-existing relationships being cast together, because it’s kind of unfair to the others (they have a built-in support system that no one else does) and it seems like an easy way for the producers to guarantee some drama from the pre-existing tension. That’s certainly what we frequently get from the Voltaggios. “I’m tired of his unprofessional behavior being rewarded,” Bryan said after his brother won, but he’s won more, he doesn’t have much room to talk. They both bicker, and in such a way that seems so trivial that it’s not even that interesting. And then it’s annoying when they go from fighting to emotionally defending one another.

I’m being hyperbolic about the brothers ruining the season: it’s been pretty solid so far, although gimmicky, and not exactly warm or friendly. The Voltaggios seem to the clearest example of this season’s tone, which is something like talent plus attitude. That’s most evident in the constant sniping at Robin, primarily from Eli but also from the others, which is old and feels like it’s pulling the series back toward the tone of its disastrous second season more than it’s ever been since. And that’s the last thing the show needs is another asshole winner, and Ilan Hall is an asshole who can poach in his own juices for all I care, however talented he may be.

The good news is that the editors are showing us all of this, and also maybe turning on the Voltaggios a little bit. In one of Bravo’s smart but annoying mid-commercial deleted scenes, the ones that stop you from fast-forwarding because you think the show’s back but it’s not really, the editors ripped Michael by showing footage of him yelling and being an ass while he said, with all seriousness, “Yelling and screaming and arrogance and things like that: there’s really no place for that in the kitchen.”

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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.