Top Chef Seth’s uncomfortable breakdown: “The Red Hots are for my mommy”

Two episodes in to its debut season, the Gail Simmons-hosted spin-off Top Chef: Just Desserts had its moment: A multi-part psychological breakdown of a contestant, Seth Caro.

His first breakdown came during the quickfire round, when Seth couldn’t get his sorbet frozen in time. He started crying and collapsed, basically, causing guest judge and Top Chef Masters participant Elizabeth Faulkner to hug him and give him a pep talk. (Video of this would be nice, but of course, Bravo’s shittastic web site has only a teaser clip.) That gave us a new iconic reality TV line, which was even subtitled: “The Red Hots are for my mommy.”

I’ll admit that I laughed out loud when he said that. Hilarious! But because Seth’s mother’s medical condition and–we learned later when he blew up at the other contestants as they selected ingredients–financial problems, it seems like Seth has issues outside of the show that are really impacting him. It reminded me a bit of Kelly’s meltdown on The Real Housewives of New York City that was so awkward and off-putting that even the drama-hungry cast pulled back because they knew something wasn’t right.

Judge Dannielle Kyrillos, who wasn’t on the second episode, writes on Bravo’s web site that “no one could have predicted Seth’s meltdowns. Unfortunately, they happened. … I so wish he had been able to hold it together, and that kind of behavior is never justifiable, but Seth just doesn’t seem equipped to handle the pressure. The chefs are up and working and being interviewed from the crack of dawn until late at night. They hardly sleep, they don’t have a second to themselves, and they are working harder than they ever have. No excuse, but it gives some perspective.”

Add emotional turmoil outside of the game to that and it’s no wonder he’s melting down. Then again, as Yigit pointed out, everyone has things going on outside of the competition, and that certainly doesn’t give Seth the right to verbally attack other contestants or be an ass. And Seth’s behavior seems awful in general, as does his attitude. He races around the kitchen and disturbs other people–and actually wrecks their food, as he did to Zac, knocking a tray to the floor and then sitting in a fetal position in shame.

It seemed like Seth’s meltdown was his ticket home, but on Top Chef, it’s always about the food, so he stuck around. We’ll see if he calms down next week. For his emotional well-being and that of his fellow contestants, I hope so, but I’m guessing we’ll have a few more red hot mommy moments.

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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.