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How is Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen filmed? Why don’t Survivors use their torches to light fires?

How is Top Chef Last Chance Kitchen filmed? Why don’t Survivors use their torches to light fires?
Tom Colicchio in the intro of Top Chef Houston's Last Chance Kitchen

In today’s edition of Ask Andy, two questions about two different reality competitions: A question about the filming schedule for Top Chef’s version of Redemption Island, Last Chance Kitchen, and a question about Survivor why players need flint to light fires at camp once they have a lit torch.

Have a question about reality TV? E-mail me, and I’ll do my best to answer.

When and how is Last Chance Kitchen filmed? Is it immediately after a chef get eliminated? The potato challenge was incredibly specific and thought out after Sam got the boot. What’s the time frame? —Matt

Top Chef Houston chefs Sarah Welch, Ashleigh Shanti, and Leia Gaccione are judged by Tom Colicchio during Last Chance Kitchen.
Top Chef Houston chefs Sarah Welch, Ashleigh Shanti, and Leia Gaccione are judged by Tom Colicchio during Last Chance Kitchen.

I’ve had this same question while watching Last Chance Kitchen, which I referred to as Top Chef’s version of Redemption Island back when it premiered in as part of season 9.

Since then, it’s morphed and changed.

Most significantly, the winner of LCK initially rejoined the competition toward the end of the season. But as of season 15, Top Chef: Colorado, one of the eliminated chefs rejoins mid-season, while another wins their way back in toward the end of the competition.

Last Chance Kitchen has also been used to give chefs from previous seasons a chance to win their way into the current season, which I’m glad has gone away, because I thought that contributed to Last Chance Kitchen spiraling out of control.

At the start of Top Chef Houston episode 6, Ashleigh Shanti rejoined the competition, having defeated Leia, who won the first three. As you mention, the challenges are often tailored to give the eliminated chef a chance at redemption for the mistake that led them to pack their knives and go.

So how and when are Last Chance Kitchen episodes filmed?

Top Chef's Tom Colicchio
Tom Colicchio, Last Chance Kitchen’s sole judge (Photo by Tommy Garcia/Bravo)

First, Last Chance Kitchen uses the regular Top Chef kitchen, but the lighting is different, dimmer and more dramatic. Our perspective on the kitchen is also different, though that’s a little more obvious this season, thanks to the very distinctive HOUSTON doors and windows which are behind the eliminated contestants as they cook.

For the schedule, a Bravo spokesperson told me this: “We film Last Chance Kitchen in batches in between the regular episodes.”

Those batches mean that the competitors are filming back-to-back challenges, which makes streaks like Leia’s even more impressive. It also means they’re not being filmed immediately after an episode, giving the producers of Last Chance Kitchen time to construct those challenges.

Top Chef Kentucky contestant Brother Luck—who joined the competition in episode six after winning in LCK, and then was immediately eliminated—told Parade’s Mike Bloom that all five of his Last Chance Kitchen episodes filmed on the same day. Here’s the exchange:

On that note, you went from cooking a three-course meal right into the Elimination Challenge. Do you feel fatigue may have contributed to your ultimate loss?
It was actually a full day of filming 5 Last Chance Kitchen episodes consecutively, a three-course finale, the Whole Foods Shop and prep, and then elimination day. That was one of the hardest 72-hour stretches I’ve ever put myself through and felt totally incoherent by the end. Who knows if I would have made a better decision with a little rest?

Five back-to-back challenges in one day is a lot! Never mind then jumping right into an elimination challenge.

Top Chef Houston itself filmed 12 episodes in five weeks in Houston, which is just under three days per episode. And the Last Chance Kitchen episodes were included in that.

At the start of LCK’s sixth episode, after Ashleigh returned, Sarah remained in Last Chance Kitchen, but none of the previously eliminated chefs were there as an audience, suggesting to me that this was the start of a new batch of episodes.

Why don’t Survivors use their torches to light their fire?

Rather than continue to snuff torches, Jeff Probst should have snuffed this entire season of Survivor.
Rather than continue to snuff torches, Jeff Probst should have snuffed this entire season of Survivor. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

If everyone comes back from tribal council carrying their lit torch, why do they even need to worry about flint? Can’t they just start a fire with a lit torch? —Scott

Alas, no. The Survivor players don’t actually return to camp with lit torches.

While their torches stay at camp with them, they carry unlit torches to Tribal Council, and the torches are lit right before the tribe enters the Tribal Council set.

There’s a considerable amount of down time before Tribal Council begins; the players individually see medical staff, and also get lavalier microphones, which are concealed in their clothing.

Natalie Anderson, Ben Driebergen, Michele Fitzgerald, Tony Vlachos, Denise Stapley and Sarah Lacina at Tribal Council during the Survivor Winners at War finale.
Natalie Anderson, Ben Driebergen, Michele Fitzgerald, Tony Vlachos, Denise Stapley and Sarah Lacina at Tribal Council during the Survivor Winners at War finale, with their lit torches behind them. (Image from Survivor via CBS)

Likewise, the torches are put out off-camera once the tribe leaves. So it’s not just the person who’s voted off who has their torch snuffed!

There’s a very practical reason for this: Unlike in Survivor: Borneo, when players actually hiked across the island to the Tribal Council set, players are now transported, sometimes over significant distance, between their camp and other locations.

In Fiji, the players are transported by boat; in land-locked seasons, which now seem like a thing of the distant past, the show uses vans with blacked-out windows. Neither mode of transportation would allow players to carry lit torches with them.

Andrew Torrens, an Australian Survivor player, commented on Reddit that the process is similar for that version of the show, too:

After your first tribal where you light it in the fire, the torches come with you to tribal and are lit while you’re in the holding area getting mic’d up and waiting forever, then they give you a lit torch to take into the tribal set. Once done at tribal you walk out with the lit torch, place it in the same area you picked it up when it was lit, go back to the holding area then the unlit torches go back to camp with you.

Basically, the torch is a symbolic prop for Tribal Council only, and thus the flint is very important!

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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.

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Happy discussing!

Matt

Thursday 21st of April 2022

I believe that Top Chef question was mine. Thanks for getting the answer, all makes a bit more sense now.

Andy Dehnart

Thursday 21st of April 2022

It was indeed! I sent you a note, but glad you saw this! Thanks for asking it.

Melissa

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

All very interesting, thank you!

Ralph

Wednesday 20th of April 2022

they should do a season where tribes have a map and need to take them self by foot or long canoe to tribal or challenges.. add a little more realism to the show again of survive the elements, challenges, and the tribe.