Top Chef judges’ credibility-destroying decision wasn’t unanimous

This season of Top Chef Seattle was supposed to be “back to the basics,” with Bravo promising that “the competition goes back to the basics, with culinary challenges that require a mastery of the primary skills of a chef.”

Instead, what we got last night was one of the best chefs this season eliminated not because of her primary skills or her food, but because of drama.

While Sheldon and his team absolutely deserved the win for his strong concept and their well-executed food, Kristen did not deserve to go home because of Josie’s incompetence. It was a crap ending an otherwise smart twist on Restaurant Wars, improving on it by breaking it into two parts and giving the chefs more time to plan a concept.

In response to the backlash over their decision, Tom Colicchio writes, “I share your frustration. I really do,” but lists what the judges knew and says “we were faced with no choice but to send Kristen home.”

Except: no.

Gail Simmons deconstructs the problems with the food before pointing out that she voted for Kristen to stay, but was overruled. (Oh, Padma, what did Kristen do to you?) Gail writes that “it was the most complicated and controversial elimination this season. It drove us all crazy. We were at Judges’ Table arguing for hours.”

From a reality TV perspective, this seemed like someone who understands the game playing it very well. Kristen’s Restaurant Wars part one win set her up to take responsibility for most of everything that happened in part two, which is one of the big problems with this challenge. So, if a team member slacks off and then throws all the blame to a fierce competitor who has so much integrity and/or stupidity she won’t challenge that and thus goes home, oh well.

The editing was clear: Josie was insubordinate and barely willing to work, and Kristen did the best she could with that. Eliminating her because she couldn’t deal with a more seasoned competitor’s game play? That is weak.

Kristen said in an interview, “I would prefer one of the dishwashers in place of Josie,” and she should have made that argument to the judges instead of saying “Hold my tongue. Hold my tongue” under her breath.

Tom made that point as part of his justification for the judges’ decision:

“Kristen refused to fill us in on Josie’s insubordination … as, of course, did Josie herself. It’s frustrating to know that Kristen fell on her sword, but she did… which leads to my second point. Kristen’s assumption of responsibility and refusal to set the record straight when she could have shows a lot of character. It shows, further, that she truly understands what it means to run a restaurant kitchen and be responsible for every plate that leaves it. I commend her for that.”

While this is true, it is also bullshit.

Gail wrote that “we knew there was something going on in the kitchen while we were there. We absolutely knew there was a problem with Josie’s dish too.” So they should have asked more questions, or brought in the other chefs.

Or, try this: Listen to Gail Simmons, voice of reason.

Kristen does go on to Last Chance Kitchen, of course, and without giving anything away, let’s just say that the challenge doesn’t occur in a vacuum and picks up where the episode left off. And at least based on Tom’s explanation of the two dishes cooked during this challenge, I’m not sure I buy the judge’s decision here, either:

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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.