For the "Grill Masters" series, the
Chopped band hit the Arizona desert.
I'm not as big a fan of Food Network's Chopped as Howie is, but I can watch it, which is useful because when I flip the TV on with nothing in particular to watch, the odds are that the Food Network will be showing either Chopped or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dumps, and as I say, I can watch Chopped. (I don't hate Guy Fieri. I think he's basically a decent person and knows a lot about food. I just can't bear much more of that overblown fake charm. It strikes me as sort of like radiation -- it just keeps piling up in the system, and the body has only a certain amount of tolerance for it.)
As it happens I arrived home pretty exhausted from a pair of walking tours that had me on my feet for probably a combined 5½ hours. They were terrific tours, mind you:
* First, the Municipal Art Society's Matt Postal walking us around the enormous Hudson Yards site in Manhattan's far West 30s (which includes the now-in-planning third section of the High Line Park), now shaping up as the scene of several cities' worth of mainly office-building development; then down thorugh the new West Chelsea Historic District, an unabashed tribute to the city's industrial history; and west on 27th Street (a favorite block of Matt's for its solid old construction that so far is free of urban prettifying) and to the lovely Chelsea Cove section of Hudson River Park -- an eye-popping assortment of intriguing urban environments, the sort(s) of thing Matt is terrifc with.
* Then, with an hour or so in between, it was on to an Uncle Sam's New York tour of the World Trade Center area, including the 9/11 Memorial (which I first visited last October), with (luck of the draw!) the incredible Debbie as tour guide, doing a fabulous job of introducing the site and its history to out-of-towners while also providing me with just the update I was looking for on things I've mostly seen and heard before but not recently.
Add on another hour for the trip home (starting from the very same Rector Street station of the no. 1 train I use most workdays for coming home), and I was pretty pooped when I staggered into my apartment, having stopped across the street for a takeout dinner. (I knew I wasn't going to have much energy to start cooking a meal.) So I flipped on the TV, and with no better ideas switched to Food Network, and sure enough, there was Chopped -- an installment in the current "Grill Masters" series they're doing, none of which I've seen. Okay, it was easier to watch it than to do anything else, including writing a post on FX's Louie and HBO's Girls I had suddenly conceived. That, however, would have required thought, and thought wasn't likely to be easily come by just this evening.
So instead I got to thinking about an idea I've had for a while about how the Chopped producers could improve the show.
Now we all know that it would be almost impossible to get more than 12 people to watch a show about the cooking of interesting, good-tasting food. That's why God invented gimmick cooking shows. Like Chopped. And the thing about gimmick cooking shows is that they're never thought to have enough gimmicks. They always seem to be in search of just one more, like an extra thrill-packed playoff round between, well, not the top two contestants, but more likely the bottom two. And I think I've found a way to parlay one of my ongoing peeves with the show into just such a bonus thriller.
I've expressed this peeve before. It's all that idiotic prattle contestants almost always engage in about desperately important it is to them to win. "I didn't come here to lose," they'll say, making clear that they don't consider losing even an option! No doubt the producers encourage this nonsense, insulting as it is to viewers and to the food they cook. It's amazing how many of these lunks all but say that if they don't win, life will lose all meaning, and will effectively be over.
One might try to point out to them that in fact winning means nothing more than on that given day under those given circumstances they cooked a tad better than three other people. Okay, there's the cash prize for the winner -- which calls to mind the contestants who come on the show having already spent the money, making clear that if they don't win, there goes their last hope on earth for financial salvation.
It makes you wonder if they've ever actually watched the show, or given it even a microsecond's thought. I mean, on the episode I watched this evening, there was a bozo who didn't like one of the basket ingredients, eggplant, and had what he considered the ingenious idea of "burying" (his word) the eggplant in little chunks in a sort of succotash. I mean really, is it possible for someone to go on the show without understanding that above all else what the judges are looking to see what you do with each of the basket ingredients. "Burying" one of them isn't really the sort of thing they're looking for. Ironically, hiding the eggplant that way also led to its being not properly cooked, so it wound up standing out anyway, only not int a good way.
Similarly, even the most minimal familiarity with the show -- you don't even have to have watched it to grasp this -- is that on any given episode, by the end three of the four contestants will be eliminated.Do these "winning is the only thing" new contenders seriously imagine that those 75 percent of previous contenders came on the show with the intention of losing? That losing was any more of an option for those losers than it is for their peerless selves?
Early on, watching these losers' idiotic antics, I found myself wanting to see them make good on their promised level of desperation at any outcome other than winning. My first thought was that, instead of those ritually preposterous walking-off-the-set sequences in which the just-eliminated contestant is allowed to voice his/her desolation (the really untalented ones usually slither out of the studio seething over the injustice of the biased judges' decision), it might be fun to see the newly anointed loser walk through a gauntlet of taunting, abuse, and ridicule.
Now I think that wouldn't be enough, and wouldn't add the kind of drama the producers are probably on the lookout for. No, I'm going back to my idea of inviting the contestants whose attitude toward their appearance on Chopped is essentially a life-or-death matter to make good on that commitment. Let's see the sucker do a "goodby, cruel world" Final Exit! Are you going to tell me this wouldn't be dramatic?
I can see one problem. I guess the Ultimate Loser I'm imagining would be the last person elimintated, after the head-to-head dessert round. But that person is really the "second-best" contestant on that show, having after all survived the appetizer and entrée rounds. Isn't it kind of unfair to ask that person to make the ultimate sacrifice while the two Bigger Losers walk off scot-free?
I haven't entirely solved this problem, I admit, but it has led me to the kind of creative idea the producers are bound to appreciate. How about some kind of final playoff, or maybe cookoff, in which two or three of the vile losers have, say, five minutes to do something with yet another ingredient basket, contending for the opportunity to see another day dawn, with the Ultimate Loser chosen for literal elimination.
It might be thought a wee bit ghoulish to show the actual final offing, but maybe in the playoff round each of the "final" contenders could be asked how he/she plans to end it all in the event that it should come to that. Then perhaps at the very end we could be offered a discreet still photo of some aspect of the actual event. Maybe with a 10-second clip of the late contender's nearest-and-dearest telling us how much the loser is being missed.
Contestants on Chopped always seem to be saying that if they don't win, their lives might as well be over. Isn't it time to stop letting them get away with talking the talk and asking them instead to walk the walk?
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