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Why Tournament of Champions is the best Food Network competition

Why Tournament of Champions is the best Food Network competition
Guy Fieri hosts Tournament of Champions III, the third season of the bracketed competition (Photo by Food Network)

The days of Food Network as a prime-time destination for culinary instruction are as distant a memory as TLC’s days of being a channel that features learning.

We are in the era of reality TV cooking competitions, which come in many different flavors, and Tournament of Champions is the best of what Food Network now has to offer, in several different ways.

As Tournament of Champions III immediately demonstrates, both it and its contestants excel at cooking competitions. This is the food reality TV competition for reality TV food competition competitors.

Host Guy Fieri and Tournament of Champions' randomizer, which determines what and how the chefs will cook
Host Guy Fieri and Tournament of Champions’ randomizer, which determines what and how the chefs will cook (Photo by Food Network)

Tournament of Champions (Food Network, Sundays at 8) is outstanding television for many reasons, starting with its brilliantly and perfectly simple format: A bracketed competition; two chefs competing head-to-head; randomly selected ingredients, methods, and time; blind judging and numerical scoring.

Among talent competitions, it’s the most-fair, most-trustworthy structure I’m aware of. The judges don’t even know who is in the competition.

The format also produces excellent food and entertainment, from the randomizer’s curveballs to the suspense of the chefs watching their food be judged from their trailers (“This is nerve-wracking AF,” Eric Adjepong says).

While TOC 3 has doubled in size—32 chefs, not 16, are competing, now for $100,000 in cash (which sits on the set like Survivor: Borneo’s treasure chest)—its format remains unchanged.

Justin Warner and Simon Majumdar still take notes and present dishes to the judges; Hunter Fieri still roams backstage, searching for a place in his father’s shadow where his awkwardness in front of the camera and stilted delivery won’t be noticed.

Guy Fieri still hosts, of course, and as he does on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives, he centers the talent, not himself, which I wish some other TV chef/hosts would do.

He’s the perfect MC for TOC; after all, he’s basically the face of the network during this era of competitions, and he even got his start on another Food Network competition, Food Network Star.

Alex Guarneschelli competes on Tournament of Champions
Alex Guarneschelli competes on Tournament of Champions season one (Photo by Food Network)

In the same way The Challenge keeps expanding to create a universe out of both its own players and people from other reality TV shows, Tournament of Champions has become the place for reality TV cheftestants to compete.

For years, Food Network ignored other networks’ cooking competitions, leaving it off the resumes of its judges and contestants, perhaps thinking that even mentioning another show would somehow give free advertising to its competitors and cause viewers to flee. But is finally and wisely acknowledging when contestants come from other shows, whether that’s Bravo’s Top Chef or Netflix’s Final Table.

Even the mere mention of other shows improves Tournament of Champions’ credibility, just because TOC becomes the place where other shows’ contestants—even winners!—want to compete.

It also allows for fun mini-competitions, such as a rematch between Top Chef 16 winner Kelsey Barnard Clark and runner-up Eric Adjepong in the first episode.

While Top Chef’s contestants are talented, they’re generally unknown. The opposite is true on Tournament of Champions, which has acclaimed chefs known to us because of their appearances on reality TV shows.

The bracket structure allows for those who are the least well-known chefs to become more well-known, whether that’s because of their personality in the kitchen or the judges’ evaluation of their food. In the two previous seasons, an eighth-seeded chef has upset a number-one seeded chef.

Last week’s Guy’s Grocery Games had a play-in competition between three chefs, with its winner getting to compete on TOC III, which served as both an advertisement for TOC and an opportunity. I think there’s additional opportunity to slot in a few winners of other championship-style shows, whether that’s Holiday Baking Championship, Chopped Champions, or Channel 4’s The Great British Bake-Off. But the current approach, doing so sparingly, is the best.

This casting means an outstanding, well-known chef goes home nearly every round, and the format guarantees multiple people win and lose in each episode. It’s an efficient show with very little filler.

Instead of producing season after season, Food Network has wisely stuck with one spring competition, making all of this special. If it was on weekly, like Guy’s Grocery Games or Chopped, it’d lose some of its strength.

Fieri introduces Tournament of Champions at the start of season three as “the greatest culinary competition in the world,” and I’m not yet convinced of that. But when Marcel Vigneron calls it “the biggest title in culinary competitions,” I think he’s on to something: among culinary competitions, it’s the only one with such a diverse slate of reality TV culinary competitors, and that makes winning a sort of meta-victory.

Watching Tournament of Champions III convinced me that Netflix’s forthcoming attempt to reboot Iron Chef is completely unnecessary. The stars of the food world already have TOC, a showcase where some of culinary reality TV’s best battle the best, on Food Networks’ best platform.

Tournament of Champions

Tournament of Champions is the best of Food Network competitions, and the food reality TV competition for reality TV food competition competitors. A

What works for me:

  • The casting and match-ups
  • The format, from the randomizer to the judging
  • Basically everything

What could be better:

  • A little less repetition of key facts about contestants
  • Hunter Fieri

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

Discussion

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Happy discussing!

Bianca Neve

Monday 18th of April 2022

I am a loyal FN viewer for at least 15 years now and I have watched all three seasons of TOC. I will never tune in to this show again. I feel that it is completely staged and the randomizer is rigged. If u are a male chef- why would u EVER compete on this show?? U have ZERO chance of EVER winning. Oh and BTW - I am a 52 year old FEMALE. Very disappointing….

Elanor

Wednesday 13th of April 2022

I agree with you. Hunter can definitely need improvement. He adds nothing to the show as a backstage correspondent.

Crohnsironman

Sunday 10th of April 2022

I agreed up to this week. Fans want to see these guys prepare dishes we would want to eat. This crap on the randomizer is just not fun to watch. Sorry.

Donna

Sunday 6th of March 2022

I love tournament of champions but there are some things that disappoint me the first would be Brooke won the first championship and she got the belt she lost the second championship which means she lost the belt so why in this third tournament is she carrying the belt onto stage that’s not fair to the to the winner of the second tournament she’s the champion not Brooke . As far as the judges the season I love Alex but the other two especially Giada I have to go I don’t know what gives Giada any right to judge anybody when was the last time she was in a competition and competition she does is flirt

Chuck

Thursday 3rd of March 2022

This is one of my favorite cooking competition shows. Even though it's hosted by Guy. It's really the only show I enjoy watching with Guy as a the host. I also noticed they started recognizing other channels and the cooking shows. It's nice that they're realizing that other shows don't necessarily pull away from theirs. I think most reality competition shows should be blind judged. It just makes it easier for the judges to be real and they don't have any pre-conceived expectations.