Thinking about The Latest Iron Chef
Reading the comments on the blogs pertaining to The Next Iron Chef,
and talking with people live about other reality shows, I am amazed to see how many people assume that reality competition shows are all rigged. "They already know who they want" is how people say it.
The thought had occurred to me now and again, I'll admit. But then I saw Chopped Champions
last year. The final battle for the whole enchilada was between Aron Sanchez, who is not only a great cook and a great TV personality but one of the Chopped
judges, against Nate Appleman, who is kind of awkward and arrogant at the same time. But Sanchez made a chocolate cake in the last course, and it was just a bit dry. Appleman looked shocked that he'd won. If there was a script, someone didn't tell the judges.
Now, I still think that on shows like Chopped,
some contestants get a few sympathy points. The personal stories are part of the show's appeal, whereas nobody cares about the personalities of the Super-Transformo-Cooking-Bots of Iron Chef America.
But the non-cooking factors are more subtle on a show like NIC.
Insofar as there is a bias toward the personality rather than the performance, it is introduced by gimmicks like having other Iron Chefs like Bobby Flay and Masaharu Morimoto join the judging panel out of the blue.
I've watched all the NIC
seasons and what I've observed is that the current Iron Chefs have certain prejudices. There are people they see as their kind of chefs, and people they don't see that way. You still gotta cook your way in, but God help you if you don't fit the club: you can't get away with a single mistake. Jenhangir Mehta two years ago missed because of a limp French fry -- or was it because he seemed to the Iron Chefs a little flaky in his approach, a little unreliable? (Did I mention that Jose Garces is my least favorite Iron Chef?) Still, his fries were sub-par.
I counted negative comments -- at least, those which made the edits. Chef Falkner got three negative comments, Chef Zakarian two. I was guessing Zakarian, and then I heard the judges talk en banc.
It was pretty clear that Chef Zakarian was their kind of guy, cooking their kind of food. But he also cooked a better meal, dish by dish. In the end, the enlarged panel to vote is there, I think, to help with quality control. Not to make sure "our guy" wins, but to make sure "our kind of values" do. And that's fair. It's also wise, since you don't want someone to win who isn't up to the role.