Top Chef Just Desserts is nearing the end of its second season–the finale is next week–and while I’ve been watching, I haven’t been completely engaged or excited. Sure, they’ve had fun challenges, like the Willy Wonka one, and a few crazy contestants (though nothing like last season), but it just seems to lack the spark the first season had.
When was thinking about why that’s the case, it struck me that the show feels more formulaic than any Top Chef has before. Certainly, this isn’t the only show that follows a pretty clear pattern every episode, and a formula is necessary for most competition shows. But here it seems like fill-in-the-blank week after week after week, and what’s getting filled in the blanks isn’t enough to counter the predictability of the formula–especially since so much of the formula is repetitive.
To test that theory, I created a Top Chef Just Desserts template. You can create your own episode–perhaps having friends act it out or, if you don’t have any of those, using finger puppets–by just filling in the blanks below. Enjoy!
Act One: Quickfire Challenge
Scene at the house with contestants in various states of undress exchanging small talk, an attempt to briefly humanize and/or sexualize them.
Chef, in an interview: It’s hard being on this show because of [complication] which reminds me of [biographical detail].
Chef, in an interview: Winning this competition would be really helpful for me to [solve problem just mentioned].
Cut to kitchen set
Chef: We walk into the kitchen and see [guest judge] who [empty compliment that sounds producer-fed].
Gail: Hi, chefs. I’d like to introduce you to [guest judge] who is [list of superlatives/bullet points from resume].
Gail: For today’s Quickfire challenge, we want you to make [dish] but with [twist].
Guest judge: The [thing you are about to cook] must be [exactly standard that proves I'm an expert].
Gail: The winner of this challenge will get [reward].
Chef featured earlier: I could really use [reward] because of [biographical detail/complication we just heard moments earlier].
Gail: Good luck. Your time starts now.
Chefs run around the kitchen grabbing things.
Chef: [Time limit] to make [dish] with [twist] is impossible.
Chef: I decided to make a [specific dish] because of [reason that loosely relates to twist but often sounds like an excuse].
Chef: I really want to win because I [need the reward/haven't won yet/am super-annoying].
Chef: I think my [dish] with [ingredients] will be amazing because [reason I'm amazing].
Chef: Trying to [deal with challenge] is challenging.
Chef: [Time the producer just told me to scream out loud] left!
Chef: There’s only [time left] left, so I [compromise my standards/fuck up].
Gail: Chefs, hands up, tools down.
Gail: Hi, chef. I’d like to introduce [chef she just introduced minutes earlier]. Tell us about your [dish].
All chefs: I made [dish we've been seeing the chef make].
Chef: Having [guest judge] taste my food is [intimidating/uninteresting because I have no idea who this person is/caused me to poop my pants].
Guest judge: This [component of dish] is [praise/criticism]. Thank you.
Gail: So, [guest judge], tell us how our chefs did.
Guest judge: They did a good job with [twist]; some did better than others. My least favorites were [chefs/dishes] because of [obvious screw-up/extremely picky detail].
Chef: [Mocks guest judge/expresses anger about their own fuck-up].
Guest judge: My favorites were [chefs/dishes] because of [criteria I defined earlier that they did right]. The winner is [chef].
Gail: Congratulations, [winning chef], you’ve won [prize], furnished by [sponsor].
Act Two: Elimination Challenge
Gail: Chefs, for your elimination challenge, we’re [doing something that sounds unrelated].
Chef: Why are we [doing this thing]?
Gail: We’re [reason why we're doing this thing] and you will be making [dish] with [challenging aspect].
Chef: This is going to be challenging.
Chefs run into a grocery store
Chef: I’m making [dish], so I’m grabbing [ingredient] and [ingredient], which [complication].
Chef: [time producers just asked me to scream] minutes left.
Chef: I think if I do [slightly unusual thing] it will help me win.
Chef: I’m making [dish], which [biographical tidbit designed to get us to care about someone who will be in jeopardy later].
Cut to kitchen, where chefs are cooking
Chef: [Restriction] makes it really difficult to make [elimination challenge food].
Chef: Growing up in [place I grew up], I [did something loosely connected to what I am doing now. Please care about me because I will be gone soon].
Chef: I’m making [dish that isn't going to win or lose because if it was you would have heard me talking about it earlier."
Johnny Iuzzini: Hello, chefs. I'm going to come around and ask questions with my skeptical face.
Johnny, with skeptical face: Hi, chef. Tell me about what you're going to fuck up so I can mock it.
Johnny: What will really impact the judges' decision is how well chefs can [do something].
Johnny: Can you really do [task] in [time left]?
Johnny: [Chef] is really [doing something hard] and I’m not sure [she/he] can do it. We’ll see.
Chef: Johnny [is crazy OR made a good point], and I am [going to do it anyway OR making a change].
Johnny: [Chef] is doing something that [restriction] makes really difficult and I don’t know if they can do it. We’ll see.
Act Three: Final cooking and presentation of dishes
Scene of chefs at the house briefly discussing how much work they have left.
Chef: Our challenge is to [do something you already know we're doing unless you just tuned in, in which case you don't really like this show so why are we spending time updating you and wasting the time of actual viewers?].
Chef: My [dish] has [specific problem].
Chef: [Time the producer just told me to scream out loud] left!
Chef: Doing [task] is really challenging but what’s helping me get through it is [biographical tidbit you've heard multiple times already, so you're probably starting to hate me]
Cut to place where chefs will present their food.
Chef: We arrive at [place that paid to be included] and [compliment to make that place feel good about paying for inclusion/volunteering their space].
Chef: [Sponsor] is amazing and [some half-hearted bullshit the producer managed to get them to say in an interview].
Chef: The guests start arriving and I still have to [preparation method] my [dish] because I [screwed up/want this to be perfect].
Chef, to diners: My dish has [ingredients] that are [preparation method], and I [attempt to be witty].
Judges arrive, looking as though they hear trumpets heralding their arrival at a ball.
Gail: Chef, I’d like to introduce our [judges who you'd recognize if they appeared on more than one consecutive episode].
Chef: I did a [dish] with [ingredients] that I [preparation method].
Judge: What about the [criticism disguised as a question]? Have you considered [your colossal fuck-up]?
Chef: Thank you so much.
footage of judges eating
Judge: This [dish] is [compliment OR criticism]. I can’t believe [chef] did [so well/fucked up so bad].
Diner: [Chef]‘s [dish] was [attempt to out-judge the judges so footage of them will make it on the show and they won't be embarrassed when they watch the episode with all their friends and they're only visible in the background for a split second].
Chef, in an interview: [Chef we just saw] is [criticism of that chef's food or behavior].
Chef, in an interview: I’m worried about [colossal fuck-up].
Chef: I wanted to [justification for decision judges clearly hate].
Diner, clearly drunk: This is the best [dish] I’ve ever eaten, even though I’ve never eaten [dish] before.
Chef: Well, I’m glad that is over.
Chef: I don’t know what to expect at judges’ table. I came here to win. It’d suck to go home for my [dish OR colossal fuck-up].
Commercial break followed by scene at the house that fakes you out and makes you stop fast-forwarding until you realize it’s a scene that is pretty useless and that’s why it didn’t make it into the actual episode.
Act Four: Judges’ Table
Footage of chefs in stew room
Chef: It’s getting harder.
Chef: You’re fine.
Chef, in interview: I came here to win. It’d suck to go home for my [dish OR colossal fuck-up].
Gail: We’d like to see [chefs who probably won but once in a while did not]. Thank you.
Gail: Chefs, we asked you to [challenge]. You made our [favorite OR least-favorite] desserts. [Congratulations OR Let's talk about why you are so awful.]
Judge: I love [list of things] and you did [list of things], so congratulations on reading my mind.
Gail: [Guest judge], as our guest judge, please announce the winner of today’s challenge.
Guest judge: The winner is dramatic pause [winning chef].
Gail: [chefs who probably won but once in a while did not], you can return. Please send back your colleagues [chefs who lost but occasionally won].
Chef who won, in an interview: I am happy because [biographical thing we've now heard so much we wish they'd been eliminated].
Chef, pointing at winning chef: [Winning chef] won.
Winning chef: The judges want to see the rest of you now. Good luck.
Gail: Chefs, you’ve made our least favorite dessers, and one of you will be going home.
Judge: I think the [element of dish] was [error].
Chef: I thought that was [faint praise of their own dish].
Judge: Why did you [collosal fuck-up] your [element of dish]?
Chef: I really tried to [do challenging thing].
Judge: Your [element of dish] was really disappointing because [thing that bothers me].
Chef: Well, I tried.
Judge: The guests thought [element of your dish] had [the same problem I identified, which I'm pointing out so viewers don't think I'm just an asshole].
Gail: We’ll call you back to when we’re ready to crush one of your dreams.
Judge: I have no idea why [chef] tried to [colossal fuck-up the chef tried to justify].
Judge: Making [element of dish] is so easy I cannot believe [chef] made such an amateurish error. Why am I judging this show?
Chef in stew room, to chef judges are talking about: I thought your [dish] was [amazing OR awful].
Judge: If that [element of dessert] was just [technique], it would have been fine.
Gail: Okay, let’s crush someone’s dream.
Commercial during which annoying Bravo voice-over guy talks into his hand a lot
Act Five: Elimination
Chef in stew room: I really don’t want to go home.
Chef: You won’t go home.
Chefs, to chefs in danger: Good luck OR we love you.
Gail: Chefs, you made our least favorite desserts, and one of you is going home.
Johnny: [Chef], your [dish] was [fault].
Gail: [Chef who is going home], your dessert just didn’t measure up. Please pack your tools and go.
Eliminated chef: I [made a mistake OR cannot believe they eliminated me for this].
Eliminated chef: It’s me, I’m leaving.
Chef, in disbelief upon seeing who’s going home: Really?
Chef: [Expression of true connection/platitude masking their contempt].
Eliminated chef: Bye.
Eliuminated chef, in interview, likely crying: I [heartwarming thing].
Gail: Next time on Top Chef: Just Desserts, the entire formula repeats again.