Chef Race U.K. vs. U.S.: the most painfully awful show of the year

BBC America’s Chef Race: U.K. vs. U.S. ended last Tuesday, and I finally got around to watching the finale this weekend, which is to say that I could find absolutely nothing else to watch and decided to give it a shot because I’d suffered through several, though not all, of its episodes–and because I really wanted to figure out why it was so terrible.

It’s the worst show I’ve seen this year, and this is the year that gave us Here Comes Honey Boo Boo. But that show, for all that I dislike about it, is actually well-produced and watchable, if that is your thing. A food competition with a travel component is my thing, but this show unnecessarily fumbled its balls on every level.

The premiere episode was promising: two teams of chefs given nothing and told to cook their way to Las Vegas. It was reminiscent of early Amazing Race, but perhaps even more difficult because it was so open-ended. I was intrigued and excited.

But there was something off. About everything.

At first I just thought it was the show’s Britishness that made it awkward. There’s a different rhythm and feel to many shows that come out of the UK, which are less sensational and less desperate for our attention; Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares is like a sparkler compared to Fox’s Kitchen Nightmares nuclear explosion.

Then I thought that maybe it just wasn’t over-produced and formulaic, like so many competitions have become.

But that wasn’t it. It’s just that so many–so, so many!–of the elements of the show were just terrible. The odd challenges with disproportionate rewards/punishments. The abrasive cast with no attempt to humanize them. The exceptional amount of dialogue added in post-production/ADR. Host Claire Robinson (oy vey).

Sure, we’ve seen those things before. But there was so much more. The random inserts of establishing shots in the middle of a scene. The weird camera angles. The lack of any kind of build up to dramatic moments. The sneaking suspicion that some things had been arranged in advance that were presented as spontaneous (which may have just been the editing.) The fact that the entire premise, U.S. versus U.K., was abandoned to even out the teams for no reason, or that they’d just magically be transported to a new place. The absurd casualness with which everyone did everything, like this was rehearsal for something that’d happen later. The awkward act breaks that led into commercials.

I’m not quite sure those lists capture how weird and just bad the show was. Perhaps the most unexpected part was that this came from BBC America, which just finished airing its original cooking competition, No Kitchen Required, a fantastically well-produced series that was better than a similar Bravo series. But that Bravo show, 80 Plates Around the World, was, asshole cast and all, much better than Chef Race.

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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.