Watching the final episode of Top Chef was like reading a reverse-murder mystery, where you know who the murderer and/or the victim is already (think Sunset Boulevard ), but you want to know exactly how it happened. All the conventions of reality television pointed to Good Guy Harold winning, with Bad Girl Tiffani getting her just desserts, pardon the pun. It did in fact happen that way, but nevertheless it was an entertaining ending to the season.
I think that loyal viewers of the show knew since the teaser last week, when it was shown that the last four eliminated contestants - Stephen, Miguel, Dave and Lee Anne - were to be the sous chefs for the two finalists, that Tiffani was basically doomed. None of the four liked her, and at least two of them actively hated her. Three of them outright chose to work with Harold, with only Stephen for whatever reason choosing Tiffani. (The closet Stephen fan in me would like to think it's because he has a kind heart.) Harold picked Lee Anne outright, and had Miguel and Dave drawing those dang knives to see who went with who; Dave, to his obvious dismay, ended up with Tiffani. Then, blatantly showing their lack of respect for her, Dave and Stephen went out on a drunk and showed up late with a hangover on the big day. I did feel rather sorry for Tiffani at this point, though I guess she had it coming.
Since the setting was Las Vegas, I was fearing some kind o circus-like ding-dong final challenge in a public arena, Iron Chef style, but fortunately that wasn't the case. The final challenge was quite fair: come up with a 5 course tasting menu paired with product placement Bracco Vineyard wines.
As far as the two menus were concerned, they both seemed to have highs and lows. Harold played it safe by presenting 5 fairly simple dishes, while Tiffani, perhaps sensing that she had to go for broke, presented 10 dishes in total - 2 per course. Ironically, the one dish that the judges seemed to love was Dave's panna cotta dessert, the one he has come up with in the event that he made the finals. Whatever his feelings were towards Tiffani, Dave showed his generosity of spirit in 'giving' her one of his dishes. And, when she tried to claim that dish as her own after the judges had already heard from Dave that that was his dish, her enshrinement into the pantheon of Reality Show Villains alongside lumaries such as Omarosa (The Apprentice), Richard Hatch (Survivor), and Team Guido (The Amazing Race) was assured.
As for the dishes themselves - to be honest, Harold's dishes didn't excite me much at all. A few of Tiffani's dishes were quite intriguing however, especially the artichoke 'risotto' with panchetta. Since the viewing audience cannot taste anything, we can only go by the judges' reactions as to how good or bad things were as usual, and they chose Harold's conservative menu over Tiffani's perhaps overly ambitious one.
And so, the contestants ride off into the sunset of reality television. It was certainly entertaining; often hilarious, frequently frustrating, occasionally infuriating. There was of course lots of reality-show-drama. As a food show it performed less well, but did offer a few tantalizing glimpses into certain aspects of cooking professionally. And at the very least it provided some nice food porn along the way. There is a lot of room for improvement, but I am cautiously looking forward to the second season.
A few closing thoughts about the final episode:
[Edit a bit later:] Top Chef has cracked the Top 20 TV Show list on iTunes , breaking the usual strangehold of Lost, The Office, Desperate Housewives, Alias and 24. As far as I know I think it's the first time a reality show has shown up on the Top 20.