Handicapping Your “Top Chef” Final Six

The cast's dysfunction made this season a winner

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There was no new episode of “Top Chef” last night. This was a good thing, because I needed a week off to process a handful of things that occurred on the last episode, such as:

A) Why is Robin still there?

B) Why didn’t any of the chefs make Natalie Portman a pasta dish? Are they even aware that dishes that use pasta, rice, and other filling starches still count as vegetarian?


There have been many baffling things about this recent “Top Chef” season, but one thing is certain: This is easily one of the best seasons the show has ever had. The quality of shows like “Top Chef” and “Project Runway” is directly tied to the ability of the cast they bring in for any given season. “Runway” is currently suffering because its cast is lousy, but that could easily turn around with a new crew next season.

Conversely, “Top Chef” is thriving, with perhaps its strongest collection of chefs yet. Robin aside, we’re left with a much better group of chefs than we had last season, when Hosea beat the very evil and bald Stefan in one of the great injustices in the history of televised cooking. So, in preparation for home stretch, it’s time to handicap the final six and figure out who’s going to come out on top. Well okay, Kevin’s going to win. But let’s do it anyway, just for the hell of it.

Robin – 1,000,000/1: I’m convinced that the judges spared Robin last week simply for the sake of drama. It’s the same trick they pulled when they picked Hosea over the far more consistent and adventurous Stefan, and it annoys me to no end. I don’t watch “Top Chef” to see Robin argue with the other chefs. It’s not good television to keep her around merely because she’s irritable. What I like about “Top Chef” and “Runway” is that, in theory, the competition is serious and strictly merit-based: the exact opposite of every other reality show. The personalities on both shows aren’t anywhere near as compelling as the creative product they’re forced to produce every week. And Robin consistently puts out dishes that are boring. Her most praised dish of the season was an apple crisp. YOU could make that. I don’t watch “Top Chef” to see someone make an apple crisp. I watch “Top Chef” to see someone make a deconstructed eggs benedict cooked sous vide, wrapped in applewood smoked bacon, and topped with a rosemary branch trimmed in the shape of a stallion. Robin can’t do that.

Also, everyone feels bad for Robin because the rest of the cast hates her. Well, YOU don’t have to live with her. You only have to spend 40 minutes with her every week. You try living with that lady for 24 hours a day. She’s so irritating, the other contestants are willing to overlook her cancer survival tale. That’s right. She’s more annoying than cancer. You gotta work hard to be more annoying than cancer.

Jennifer – 300/1: Up until a couple weeks ago, I considered four chefs an unquestioned lock for the final four: Jennifer, Kevin, and the Voltaggio brothers. Jennifer also has the background training with seafood master Eric Ripert. She was clearly one of the best chefs on the show. Since then, she has choked unlike any reality contestant I’ve ever seen. She’s completely fallen apart, the first chef to ever contract a case of Steve Blass disease.

And not only has Jennifer choked, but she’s become an insufferable downer. She mopes. She sulks. She resigns herself to defeat. GET IT TOGETHER, WOMAN. I don’t want your tears causing my trout almondine sauce to break.

Eli – 200/1: Eli is exactly where he should be: close to the finals, but with little to no chance of actually reaching them. His skill level isn’t close to Kevin or the Volts. But he does seem like a jolly fellow. Bully to him. He’s gone within three weeks.

Brian Voltaggio – 10/1: The good Volt brother. Pretty much everyone is waiting for Brian to snap and begin pummeling the living hell out of his brother. When you finally decide to lose it, Brian, I suggest you use the meat tenderizer. It has a pleasing heft, a no slip grip, and a textured surface that ensures your little brat of a brother is maimed evenly.

Michael Voltaggio – 5/1: The only chef who could possibly beat Kevin. I could see Mike winning it all if the judges decide to again choose a winner strictly for the surprise of it, and not for achievement. But that isn’t to say Mike isn’t worthy of the honor, certainly far more than Hosea was last year. He’s both adventurous and artistic. And then there’s his personality. Most viewers can’t stand him. But it’s Michael’s naked ambition and his bossiness that makes him someone that will succeed in the restaurant world. Ever met a chef? They’re jackasses. Look at some of the big names they’ve brought in this season. That Charlie Palmer guy was clearly a bastard. Michael would fit in with those gents perfectly. The backwards hat is a nice touch.

Kevin – 1/4: Your cuddly, bearded winner. He’s like the Santa Claus of pork. Also, I think he’s won about 98% of the challenges. Complain about his simplicity all you like Michael. Mushrooms still taste better than banana polenta any day of the week.

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