Top Almost-Top Chef: All-Stars Predictions
By Rebecca GreeneThis week marked the return of my favorite reality cooking competition show that airs on Wednesdays during the winter season and has the word "Top" in its title, Top Chef. Taking a page out of A Christmas Carol, season 8 will feature All-Stars from seasons past. No complaints from me – last season was so bland (pun intended) I was hungering (count it) for a return of previous favorites like the delicious (plus the foul) Fabio Viviani from season 5 and the spicy (too far?) Jennifer Carroll from season 6.
Sad about a few missing faces, though, including season 2’s hunkalicious fan favorite Sam Talbot, the chef you love to hate from season 5, Stefan Richter and season 6 runners-up, Bryan Voltagio and Kevin Gillespie aka Red Beard. Happy, however, that objectively worst finalist ever Lisa Fernandes from season 4 did not make it back.
The quickfire challenge this week asked chefs from each season to team up to create a dish that represents the city where their season took place – at stake was immunity from elimination and bragging rights as the best season ever. Season 4 chefs (led by Professor Blais) won it with pork and black pepper sausage with mustard ice cream. After vomiting a little in my mouth, that got me wondering which of the previous 7 seasons viewers thought was the best, according to my good friend and confidante, Nielsen. Coincidentally, it was none other than season 4.
The graph below shows the number of viewers tuning in for each season’s premiere. The success of season 4 is clear from the jump in the number of viewers experienced by the season 5 premiere: 440,000 or a 20% increase in viewers year-over-year. Surprisingly, though, the numbers also indicate that my favorite season, season 6, which featured the rivaling Voltagio Brothers and won the show its first Emmy for Best Reality-Competition Program (ending The Amazing Race's 7-year winning streak), had the worst impact on viewership. Following that season, 800,000 fans decided against watching season 7.
The elimination challenge required each chef to face his or her worst culinary nightmare: confronted with the ingredients from the dish that sent them home in their season, the chefs had to recreate their dishes, this time successfully. Some of the more memorable dishes that sent chefs packing were successfully vindicated, including Spike’s infamous frozen scallops and Asian Dale’s butterscotch miso scallops.
However, for three of the chefs the second time still wasn’t a charm. Fabio got reamed by Judge Anthony Bourdain for the peasant-like presentation of his dish and the thickness of his sauce; Stephen’s trio of dishes were deemed "unbalanced" and Elia’s red snapper was apparently too raw to eat. Famous last words of Elia: "I should have tasted the fish." (Chips Adoy!) At first I was surprised that Elia was the first chef to fall. Her 11th hour G.I. Jane fiasco aside, I had fond memories of Elia as a strong contender for the win in season 2. But was my memory deceiving me?
Apparently having nothing better to do with my time, I decided to comb through the results of previous seasons, scoring positive and negative outcomes of past performance in an effort to predict who would fare best with their fare in Season 8 (Bam! That just happened). To do so: I assigned 100 percentage points for winning an elimination challenge; 75 for making it into the top 3 or winning the quickfire challenge; 50 for not showing at the judges table; -100 for landing in the bottom 3 and 0 for those challenges in which they were already eliminated. I even normalized the data for the fact that some of the early seasons had less challenges.
Below are the results, with contestants ordered from left to right from most to least likely to win the title of Top Chef in season 8. Turns out, Elia was actually one of the weakest contestants according to past performance. And no surprises that Spike and Mike (no relation) are also on the short-list for early elimination. On the other end, Blais, Tiffany and Angelo are most favored to win.
When I passed these findings by some friends and fellow fans of the show, they were all unsurprised that Blais came out at the top. In fact, many of them felt that he was the rightful incumbent to the title in season 4, thwarted only by one bad meal at the end. However, turns out that heading into the finale, with an equal number of elimination challenge wins (4); 3 more visits to the judges’ table as a top 3 contender and 5 more quickfire wins, Stephanie was actually more likely to win than Blais.
As my old law professor used to say: another case cracked. Or, as my chiropractor likes to say: another back cracked. Or, as my proctologist always says…see you next week.