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The "Reality" of Top Chef

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The "Reality" of Top Chef

  1. 1. Each show begins with a "quickfire" challenge.This short timed challenge has very precise requirements in terms of the ingredients contestants can use.The winner gains either immunity (cannot be eliminated in the final challenge) or sometimes a cash prize. How do we “judge” something so subjective as the taste of food?
  2. 2. After the contestants have been praised or debased for their “quickfire” cuisine they are immediately told of their elimination challenge.This challenge usually takes place over the course of two days where one day is “prep” time and the other is service. Contestants are asked to sometimes work alone, sometimes in groups and sometimes with former contestants.The challenge is usually around a theme – strange meats, someone’s birthday party, creating a restaurant, etc. The judges attend the event and eat all the contestants dishes and “dish” about them.
  3. 3. The last segment of the show has the contestants divided into winners and losers.They are sent in small groups to the “judges table,” a long table where three main judges and one guest judge sit and face the contestants (rather menacingly.) Contestants are asked to defend their dishes and are subject to harsh criticism. “Inedible!” “What were you thinking?” “Did you even taste this?” are typical comments. The segment ends with a winner announced and they usually win a cookbook written by the guest judge who proudly smiles as the dollar signs of residual sales gleam in their eyes. What makes someone qualified to be a judge or an expert on a reality show?
  4. 4. The show as a whole is entertaining and there is a lot to learn when it comes to food, but what about other messages that might be problematic especially for women who watch the show? In season 6 two brothers faught it out to become top chef. Their brotherly rivalry dominated the show’s storyline. Is this problematic for women viewers?
  5. 5. I believe this show in particular has a massive appeal for women because of the convergance of private/public aspects. It considers something we all must do - eat!, but also cooking has been long part of the domestic/private sphere and in that sphere primarily in the domain of women. How does a show that elevates the cook to the chef play out for women?
  6. 6. In a recent episode ofTop Chef: Just Desserts there was a competition where the contestants had to run to the table of sweets to pick their ingredients. One of the male contestants actually knocked one of the women in the face trying to get his ingredients. She had to continue with the challenge while nursing a very bruised cheek.The only way the show addressed this was a cutaway interview with the male contestant saying "if you go to the post with Shaq and you get hit, you don't go to the post with Shaq again" essentially saying he had every right to knock this woman down because of the "challenge" atmosphere. His sexist comments went unchallenged. What does this say to women viewers ?
  7. 7. Often the men are very egotistical and many are not very complimentary of the women on the show. I think the chef as male is very dominating in this genre and can have a negative impact on women viewers who see cooking or becoming a chef as something pleasurable and inspirational. One of the main questions I have as I continue to consider this show is are women resigned to being "cooks" (amateurs) having to aspire to be "chefs" while the men are a priori "chefs" (experts) to begin with?

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