Top Chef Texas’ big mistake: copying lesser shows

Top Chef Texas has aired two episodes now, but I’m going to pretend that next week’s is the first one, because otherwise I’d be ready to bail on this season because of produces’ horrible decision to copy other elimination shows as it narrowed a large pool of contestants down to 16.

The franchise is in a deep, well-worn, boring rut, as Top Chef Just Desserts‘ second season proved, so I can understand and appreciate the effort to try something new. What we got was pretty much a disaster: two episodes, four rounds, 29 contestants, none of which worked well at all.

The three rounds of challenges were inconsistent in their level of difficulty, and the judging sucked; the judges should have smiled or frowned because that’s about the level of insight we got. But who cares when you don’t even know the person being eliminated? There were so many people and introductions that it was impossible to keep track of them–and why bother, since so many were going home? And when you hear “pack your knives and go” 13 times, it begins to lose its power.

Worst of all were the arbitrary eliminations that happened mid-prep. In the first episode, someone was struggling with butchering something, so Tom Colicchio sent him home. Although this rang very, very false, like they basically knew that contestant would never make the cast, I expect Magical Elves’ productions to have integrity, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. But it’s still ridiculous and clearly about drama to have mid-prep eliminations, especially when they seemed so inconsistent. If they’re going to nitpick that much in challenge number one, they’re not going to have a cast.

These first two episodes had content very similar to what lesser shows have given us, wasting time with a bunch of people we don’t care about, and using them just to squeeze out some drama and humiliation. We’ve seen it on lots of shows, from American Idol to Hell’s Kitchen, and we don’t need it here.

It’s not a bad idea to start with a cook-off, but spreading out so many different challenges over two episodes just didn’t work. If the show does it again, it should be much, much simpler: 29 hot plates, 29 frying pans, a basket of mystery ingredients, Ted Allen, and 20 minutes to cook the best dish possible. Go down the line, taste, eliminate, and start the damn show.

I’m hopeful that the season will find itself next week, though, and I’m eager to see what Texans paid for besides this.

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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.