Everything's bigger in Texas, but this season of "Top Chef" proves that bigger doesn't always mean better.
Before you go bursting through those saloon doors with your six-shooters blazing, I'm not knocking cowboy boots, chili cook-offs and rodeos. I just think it's worth noting that I was born and raised in the great state of Texas, and at no time during those 22 years was any of that a mainstay in my daily life, let alone a requirement.
Sure, as "Top Chef Texas" has already shown us, if you do find yourself at a rodeo, there will be boots and 10-gallon hats and plenty of meaty food; but we didn't ride horses to school, we don't all come out of the womb on a buckin' bronco and some of us are even vegetarians. (The horror, I know.)
The Texas cowboy lifestyle isn't the only thing "Top Chef Texas" has over-exaggerated. While that "bigger-in-Texas" attitude definitely extends to houses, diamonds and personalities, the caricatures chosen to represent Texas this season have overshadowed the main goal of the show: to watch great chefs cook, see the kitchen drama during challenges and hear about the food.
I'm not saying I've given up on "Top Chef" -- out of pure habit, the show remains weekly appointment TV in my house, even if the contestants this season aren't the strongest -- but I will say, without hesitation, that I think this is the worst season of the series so far.
And here are 10 reasons why ...
1. Everything's Bigger, Including The Tryouts
I watch "Top Chef" for the food porn and quippy comments from the judges' table. I do not watch "Top Chef" to see those awkward late-in-the-game eliminations leading up to the final contestant selections. Choosing to give us two full episodes of tryouts at the start of the season didn't make me like the chosen contestants more ... it overwhelmed me with information about people who weren't even going to make it on this season. I don't appreciate feeling like I've stumbled upon some strange "American Idol" offshoot instead of the tightly-focused show I've loved for eight seasons (and several spinoffs).
2. No One's Really Eliminated -- Watch More Online!
After an hour of frustratingly heavy-handed yeehaw-ness on the show, the absolute last thing I want to do is watch whichever eliminated cheftestant I never really cared about in the first place fight for some sort of redemption online. Are they really getting another chance on the show? If so, when? The details on the new Webisodes are hazy at best. Sorry "Last Chance Kitchen" and BravoTV.com, but it's time to unpack your knives and stab this half-baked idea to death.
3. Let The Chefs Cook Their Food
There have been way too many Texas-themed challenges so far -- the Mexican food for the Quinceanera, a chili cook-off, a steak challenge and a wild game challenge; not to mention the rattlesnake and hot chile Quickfires. The only "normal" episode so far was the Dallas dinner party episode, and a) those guests were far from normal (did you hear their bizarre likes/dislikes?) and b) that was yet another team challenge. Which brings me to ...
4. Cool It On The Team Challenges
We're seven episodes in and I know about four contestants's names so far; and not all for good reasons (I'm looking at you, Heather the Bully). The problem? Too many team challenges. Yes, I know that there are a lot of chefs still cooking, and that makes for a very long presenting/tasting montage to fit them all in, but no one's standing out from the crowd just yet, and that's a huge problem.
5. And Quit Moving Around Already!
I know, I know -- Texas wanted this season to be a giant commercial for how great the state is, and they reportedly paid a pretty penny to make that happen; but did Bravo really have to oblige? From San Antonio to Dallas, and off to Austin soon enough ... if the chefs can't get comfortable in one place, how are viewers supposed to get to know them?
6. Is This Really The Best Of The Best?
I've got one word for you if you're defending this season's cheftestants: Shrimpgate. I don't care how much of a teddy bear Keith is or how perfect-for-TV his backstory was: No self-respecting chef buys frozen cooked shrimp for a cooking competition. End of story.
7. Break Your Own Rules Sometimes
Yes, if it's another team challenge (ugh, see complaint #4) and you've said you'll be eliminating the two chefs from the worst team, you're probably feeling the pressure to eliminate the two chefs from the worst team. But what if the worst team is only half bad? In the case of Nyesha and Dakota last week, Dakota obviously deserved to go home for that blood-rare venison, but Nyesha's contributions were solid, better than most. I can think of several chefs who deserved the proverbial boot (a cowboy boot, of course) ... I just can't think of their names.
8. Padma's Costumes
Padma Lakshmi loves any reason to play dress-up. Usually I don't mind -- she sometimes takes it hilariously far -- but in Texas, the "Top Chef" stylist has gone overboard, dressing our fabulous host in awkward all-denim ensembles, big belt buckles and bolo ties galore.
9. More Judging, Please
I know people say you eat with your eyes first, but the only way we ever really know how stuff tastes on "Top Chef" is by hearing the judges' commentary. Screentime for Tom, Padma and the gang seems to be cut down quite a bit this season, and I'm not happy. Let new judge Emeril Lagasse have some more "Bam!" time! And give fellow newbie Hugh Acheson and his brilliantly expressive unibrow a chance to really react!
10. And Less Product Placement, Please
Was all that money from Texas (see #5) not enough to fund Season 9? Because if I hear one more person reference their Toyota Venza by name, I'll chug as much Don Julio tequila as Padma did last week and slip into TV coma, entombed in Glad wrap, sponsored by Whole Foods.
"Top Chef Texas" airs Wednesdays, 10 p.m. ET on Bravo
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