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Next Level Chef 2: Why is this Fox’s post-Super Bowl choice?

Next Level Chef 2: Why is this Fox’s post-Super Bowl choice?
Next Level Chef judges and mentors Nyesha Arrington, Gordon Ramsay, and Richard Blais on the post-Super Bowl premiere of Next Level season 2 (Image via Fox)

Starting with an episode of Lassie in 1967, TV networks have used the post-Super Bowl slot to launch new TV shows, putting them in front of what’s typically television’s biggest audience.

But it’s only been since 2001 that reality TV shows have been in that mix, a tradition that continues tonight with the 90-minute premiere of Fox’s Next Level Chef season two.

A three-level kitchen set behind three people
Next Level Chef mentors Richard Blaise, Gordon Ramsay, and Nyesha Arrington (Photo by Michael Becker/FOX)

While the Chiefs/Eagles game is the 57th Super Bowl, only seven post-game shows have been reality TV. There were some newsy and tabloid shows—60 Minutes in 1970, 1980, and 1982; 48 Hours in 1992—but incredibly, never any unscripted entertainment: no game shows, no reality shows.

That ended January 28, 2001, when CBS gave the to Survivor: The Australian Outback, and 45.37 million people watched. In 2020, the last time there was a post-game reality premiere, 27.3 million people watched The Masked Singer season three, all of whom I hope will get their children vaccinated anyway.

Incredibly, all but one of the post-Super Bowl reality shows is still on the air. The one that didn’t make it: CBS’s The World’s Best, which turned out to be the world’s worst knock-off of America’s Got Talent. (Undercover Boss seems on the bubble; its 11th season premiered last year and it has yet to be publicly renewed.)

That list of post-Super Bowl reality TV will grow by one today, as Fox uses the timeslot for the season-two premiere of Next Level Chef, Gordon Ramsay’s latest overly dramatic culinary competition.

Why did Fox choose this? When it announced the season-two renewal last March, Fox said the show was “the #1 new entertainment series on television this season,” with a “premiere [that] ranks as the highest-rated debut of the season.” Additionally, it “was the #3 most-streamed FOX unscripted debut ever, drawing 3.3 million viewers across Hulu and FOXNOW.”

So, it did quite well! Season one of Next Level Chef also premiered after an NFL game, which earned it 5 million viewers, though the season kept fewer than 2 million of them—ended with 1.8 million viewers. Tonight’s premiere will probably get far more than 5 million viewers, but how many will stick around?

Update: Fox said the episode had 15.5 million viewers, “becoming the most-watched cooking series telecast in television history.” That’s a nice way of spinning reality, because as Rick Porter noted, Next Level Chef’s ratings represented “a low for a program airing immediately after the Super Bowl”—not since 1975 has a post-Super Bowl show been so ignored.

Is Next Level Chef season 2 better than season 1?

A person with their hands clasped looks peppers, cauliflower, and a lump with a sign that says 'canned meat'
Preston, a contestant on Next Level Chef season 2 (Image via Fox)

How well it does in part depends upon season two’s quality. I thought Next Leve Chef season one wasted its potential, particularly with the three-story kitchen set.

While I understand the metaphor—chefs start at the bottom and work their way up—I did not understand why that conceit was immediately abandoned, because teams are assigned to kitchens randomly at first, and then based on how well their team did. Not until episode eight did the show drop the teams and then move individuals between kitchens based on their performance.

Ultimately, it just seemed like a standard cooking competition, providing ample opportunities for Gordon Ramsay to swear and grab his hair and otherwise do the same thing he’s been doing on Hell’s Kitchen for 18 years.

So, has season two improved? I was eager to see, and Fox made the season-two premiere episode available to TV critics.

However, the advance screener episodes were labeled as “FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY.” That means it cannot be reviewed in advance, which is generally a sign of a network’s strong belief in a show’s quality.

So, here are some spoiler-free informational facts about Next Level Chef season two that I learned information about while watching but not reviewing the premiere:

  • There are three more contestants than last season.
  • There is immunity this season.
  • One of the contestants, Mark McMillian, played for both the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs, though not during today’s game. His eight seasons in the NFL started in 1992, three years before Patrick Mahomes was born.
  • One of the contestants, Chef Tucker, wants “to be an inspiration to young gay girls who want to find their way in the culinary world, because representation super-matters. Until you see someone like yourself doing it, you don’t really know that you can do that too.”
  • Top Chef alum Nyesha Arrington and Richard Blais both return. Blais replaced Gino D’Acampo for season one, but himself has not been replaced.
  • Instead of selecting teams during the premiere, the teams have been selected, so team-based cooking begins immediately.
  • The mentors mentor by offering advice such as: do not overcook food.
  • There is fire.
  • There is blood.

There was also some information I am not sure qualifies as facts:

  • Gordon Ramsay takes a pan that is on fire and runs across the kitchen with it, which is not what you are supposed to do with a pan that is on fire.
  • “The only way to move to the top is to rise to the top,” Gordon Ramsay explains, and then six of the contestants start at the top.
  • This is a show “like you’ve never seen before,” Gordon Ramsay says, which does not appear true because it is the same as the first season.

Next Level Chef season 2’s chefs and teams

A person holds a frying pan at face level and stirs; a blender is in the foreground, along with utensils, a bottle of oil, and a small sign that says 'scallops'
Tucker, a contestant on Next Level Chef season 2, during a challenge (Image via Fox)

As with season one, Next Level Chef 2’s contestants are a mix of professional chefs, home cooks, and those who cook on social media. Here they are, along with the professional labels Fox has provided them with:

Team Arrington

  • Alex Morizio, 48, home cook, Miami
  • April Clayton, 39, home cook, Muscle Shoals, Ala.
  • Nuri Muhammad, 22, professional chef, Upper Marlboro, Maryland
  • Omallys “Omi” Hopper, 39, social media chef, Providence, RI
  • Pilar Omega, 38, professional chef, Los Angeles
  • Shay Spence, 32, social media chef, Key West, Fla.

Team Blais

  • Christopher Spinosa, 29, professional chef, West Palm Beach, Fla.
  • Darryl Taylor, 42, professional chef, Atlanta
  • Kamahlai Stewart, 42, home cook, Pittsburgh
  • Matt Groark, 44, social media chef, Medford Lakes, NJ
  • Mehreen Karim, 27, home cook, Brooklyn
  • Tineke Younger, 20, social media chef

Team Ramsay

  • Cassie Yeung, 28, social media chef, South Brunswick, NJ
  • Mark McMillian, 52, home cook, Henderson, NV
  • Michelle Calcagni, 30, home cook, Washington Township, NJ
  • Preston Nguyen, 19, professional chef, Arlington, Texas
  • Tucker Ricchio, 31, professional chef, San Francisco
  • Vincent “Vinny” Alia, 42, home cook, Westminster, Mass.

Correction: This story originally included Hard Copy in its list of post-Super Bowl premieres, but that 1987 post-game premiere was of a scripted show, not the tabloid news show that followed a few years later.

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Sunday 2nd of April 2023

I enjoy the contestants. I mute this show so I can watch to see when they will be judged, as I find the loud, intrusive jumping around, Ramsey-like hand gestures and comments by the 'judges' to be annoying. That Blais is starting to look like Ramsey isn't a compliment. That I was turned off last season when Nyesha tossed a frying pan over the side screaming. I think I will tire of these antics sooner than later. Much prefer TOC with blind judging and less interference and of course that evil Randomizer.


Monday 13th of February 2023

I like that they already chose teams. I would have thought that with an expanded episode, they would have time to at least show all the chefs, but as I read your list, I have no idea who half of them are.