Tuned In

Top Chef Watch: Family Style

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Quick spoilers for last night’s Top Chef coming up:

So before you all decide that I’m a heartless bastard, let me stipulate that last night’s “Give Me Your Huddled Masses” episode of Top Chef touched me in all the ways it intended to. I did indeed get verklempt at Michael’s memory of his grandmother’s gnocchi (a much-needed redemptive moment for him after the chicken-oyster incident), I ooohed and awwwed over the surprise family reunions (just as Survivor has always made me do), and I smiled at seeing Carla’s husband imitate her game face (as well as giving a great product placement, intentional or not, to match.com).

But guys. Come on. A competition show is about tough choices. Someone’s gotta go home. Judges gotta judge—and more so in an episode that the producers felt merited a 75-minute run time. I don’t think this was just about the panel not wanting to put down anyone’s food in front of the families—they were free to be harsh in private, and I’m willing to accept that all five dishes were, in fact, great. (A corrective to the underwhelming ferry Quickfire; at this point, I think Top Chef has wrung all it can out of the make-something-out-of-junk-food challenge. If all five of those dishes were on sale at the ferry concession stand, I would probably buy a bag of Doritos.)

But such is life. Some of them had to be greater than others, and others by extension less great. Would it have been a shame for anyone to go home on one of these dishes? Sure—but at this point, I think we can all accept that these are five contestants, all of whom are worthy of being among the final four contestants. If you’re not going to have five winners, at some point you just need to pull the trigger.

This is not just out of some need to see someone eliminated for our entertainment or because the episode felt like padding (as far as I know, the nonelimination wasn’t planned to add an extra episode to the season), but for the sake of a finale that isn’t compromised by the need to cram in an extra elimination. Now, presumably, the Bahamas final either incorporates an extra challenge, has more chefs divvying up attention at the end or works in a double elimination—in which case, you may well end up with someone leaving who otherwise would not have, because of the need for a second ejectee.

We’re down to five strong chefs, and it would have hurt to see any of them lose—but all but one of them will. At some point, you just gotta prune the family tree.