Tournament of Champions IV is back on Food Network, and so are all of its familiar elements: the Randomizer creating unexpected challenges, expert chefs judging dishes blind, contestants dripping with nerves as they watch the judging from their trailers, and 32 chefs I’m excited to see compete against each other for $100,000.
The fourth season’s premiere made it clear that Food Network’s best competition is not changing anything about what works well, and the battles were thrilling and dramatic, even if they weren’t super-close numerically.
The blind judging—the judges don’t even know who’s in the competition—led to the fascinating moment of Alex Guarnaschelli judging her Alex vs. America co-star and host Eric Adjepong’s dish by saying, “I saw this dish and I felt a wave of hostility wash over me. Because this person cooked a wedge of radicchio and dumped a piece of turkey out of the fryer. What? They had a hot date? They could only take 10 minutes to whip us up something?” That’ll be a fun conversation when Alex realizes who she was judging!
Besides unexpected, unscripted moments like that, Tournament of Champions season 4 introduced several changes. It also seemed poised to make a major change, but then blindsided me.
Among this season’s group of 32, as Guy Fieri said, are five James Beard award winners, four Top Chef winners, and two Iron Chef stars. Stephanie Izard is two of those, an Iron Chef and Top Chef winner.
Tournament of Champions winners Maneet Chauhan and Tiffani Faison both returned, though Maneet is somehow a number two seed. What?
The new chefs range from Iron Chef Jose Garces, who hasn’t competed since 2014, to Top Chef’s Ilan Hall (ugh). I was thrilled to see Top Chef’s Lee Anne Wong and Shota Nakajima.
Notable absences include Michael Voltaggio, Marcel Vigneron, and season one winner Brooke Williamson, who is “taking the year off,” Guy Fieri explained.
Guy Fieri’s own seed also seemed to be taking the year off. Yes, the most-notable absence for me, at least as the episode started, was Hunter Fieri.
He was not wandering backstage and awkwardly attempting to interview people during the first round. Instead, the chefs walked backstage and talked to a camera (and, likely, an off-screen producer).
But an hour in, there Hunter was, watching Graham Elliot and Eric Adjepong’s battle alongside Jose Garces in a Wayfair-branded viewing area.
But he said nothing, and just attempted some facial expressions. The editors cut out his response to Jose Garces, and I thought that’s what we were getting: editing around all of the awkwardness. Okay, that works.
And then: 75 minutes in, there he was, “interviewing” the winner of the second battle with insightful “questions” such as, “I mean, you just took out a legend?” He returned again for another “conversation” with the winner of the third battle.
Hunter may be a lovely human being with bountiful talents. But he is not good at this! It’s been three seasons. It’s obvious. We all see it. It is okay! We are not all good at everything! Why keep doing this? If there is a plan for him to take over for his father, I am concerned, because they just do not have the same on-camera skillsets.
TOC 4’s new Randomizer
The other major change is to the Randomizer itself. It still has five wheels, and the first four are the same: Protein, Produce, Equipment, and Style.
But time has been removed; every chef now has 30 minutes, at least during the first round.
The time wheel has been replaced by “Wild Card.” Its options: “Lower Seed Re-Spin,” “Higher Seed Re-Spin,” and “Guy’s Choice.”
Essentially, it doesn’t add a challenge, but allows for one of the four categories to get re-spun, which means that selection could get easier or harder—or stay the same, as it did during one of the premiere’s battles.
In the opening moments of the season premiere, Guy Fieri is standing in front of the Randomizer, and it says “Surf,” “Turf,” “Equipment,” and “Wild Card,” so clearly the other categories will change, too.
(If you want to know more about how the randomizer works, and how it evolved, read my behind-the-scenes of TOC interview with its executive producer.)
Overall, Tournament of Champions IV’s first two hours and four battles were a strong start to an already strong show, and I’m excited for this season.
Tournament of Champions season 4’s chefs
Food Network has helpfully created a PDF bracket for us to print out and follow along and/or predict winners.
And here’s the full list of chefs competing this year, along with their seeding, according to Food Network.
West Coast chefs
- Jet Tila: No. 1 seed, West Coast A
- Shirley Chung: No. 2 seed, West Coast A
- Nate Appleman: No. 3 seed, West Coast A
- Brian Malarkey: No. 4 seed, West Coast A
- Lee Anne Wong: No. 5 seed, West Coast A
- Adam Sobel: No. 6 seed, West Coast A
- Tracey Shepos Cenami: No 7. seed, West Coast A
- Carlos Anthony: No. 8 seed, West Coast A
- Antonia Lofaso: No. 1 seed, West Coast B
- Tiffany Derry: No. 2 seed, West Coast B
- Mei Lin: No. 3 seed, West Coast B
- Joe Sasto: No. 4 seed, West Coast B
- Elizabeth Falkner: No. 5 seed, West Coast B
- Crista Luedtke: No. 6 seed, West Coast B
- Viet Pham: No. 7 seed, West Coast B
- Shota Nakajima: No. 8 seed, West Coast B
East Coast chefs
- Tiffani Faison: No. 1 seed, East Coast A
- Jose Garces: No. 2 seed, East Coast A
- Graham Elliot: No. 3 seed, East Coast A
- Darnell Ferguson: No. 4 seed, East Coast A
- Ilan Hall: No. 5 seed, East Coast A
- Eric Adjepong: No. 6 seed, East Coast A
- Kelsey Barnard Clark: No. 7 seed, East Coast A
- Britt Rescigno: No. 8 seed, East Coast A
- Tobias Dorzon: No. 1 seed, East Coast B
- Maneet Chauhan: No. 2 seed, East Coast B
- Stephanie Izard: No. 3 seed, East Coast B
- Karen Akunowicz: No. 4 seed, East Coast B
- Christian Petroni: No. 5 seed, East Coast B
- Madison Cowan: No. 6 seed, East Coast B
- Jonathon Sawyer: No. 7 seed, East Coast B
- Leah Cohen: No. 8 seed, East Coast B
Sunday 26th of February 2023
Hunter is painfully awful. Guy really needs to find something for his kid to do that doesn't involve being on camera.
Thursday 23rd of February 2023
@Kevin W, If he's doing a gimmick, it's to get camera time with a "look at me" vibe and that makes him even MORE annoying. ;) I bet he'd be cool if he just dropped the act and let his cooking chops speak for him.
Tuesday 21st of February 2023
Haha, I had the exact same thoughts about Hunter! Despite him, I'm super excited TOC is back.
Monday 20th of February 2023
@Chuck S, On these shows, Malarkey is doing a gimmick so that might be why you don't like him on these shows.
I can remember only one time where he was a contestant and dropped the character, and that was Top Chef All Stars 2, when the cheftestants were asked to develop and present a concept w/ dishes for Restaurant Wars - basically what he actually does a lot of.