Friday, December 15, 2006

Mia Gaines-Alt: And I Am Telling You I AM Going

Ah, Christmas in July.

Or August, actually, since that is when, according to Lee Anne Wong's Bravo blog, the episode was filmed. But we'll get to that in a second.

Having read so much about the episode before we sank into the Louis XV settee last night, we were expecting A Very Special Episode of Top Chef, something like a cross between an ABC afterschool special and Survivor: Race War or whatever the latest installment was called.

We were also prepared to write a couple of sober little essays on Diversity in the Kitchen and Diversity on Reality TV, quoting Anthony Bourdain to leaven them a bit (and goodness knows you may still see them, as we have a couple of weeks' worth of posting to fill before the next new episode).

But, really, not so much. To the extent race was involved in the episode, it was in a Terry McMillan, Fitty vs. Oprah sort of context.

Of course, we have more than a passing interest in Mia Gaines-Alt, since Miss XaXa visited her Oakdale restaurant, Feed the People!, earlier this month. We had seen hints of her temper on previous episodes (we have never quite forgotten that I'm-gonna-git-ya look she gave Ilan on their first day), but even we were unprepared for when she went all Angela Bassett-in-Waiting to Exhale on Cliff's ass, and we think some of it was justified.

At that point, we were priming ourselves for a martial-arts type of thing, something like Bride with the White Hair, where Mia used her dreads to decapitate Cliff for his effrontery in showing disrespect to a strong Black woman. When, after Mia recounted how she had to sell crack as a child to survive, Cliff rolled his eyes and asked, "Are you done being a martyr yet?" (what an asshole!) we gripped the edge of the Louis XV settee, waiting for the Spirit of Oprah to appear, strike him dumb and accuse him of dating white women (oh wait, isn't Oprah the one being pelted with metaphorical Oreos by 50 Cent and Ludacris?)

Alas, it was not to be. And anyway, it's not as if Mia couldn't have taken care of him single-handedly; she is one fierce woman. And when she fell on her sword and did her version of "And I Am Telling You I Am Going" and left the show, we half-expected, half-wanted her to do the Angela Bassett thing, throwing a lit match behind her and strutting fiercely toward the camera. Alas, that was not to be, either.

Perhaps we should back up a moment, for the benefit of those who, like us yesterday, have not seen the episode. The Quickfire Challenge, to make a drink using Bailey's, won immunity for Cliff. For the Elimination Challenge, the eight cheftestants were divided into two teams and then had to cater a "red carpet" event, a "holiday party" for Los Angeles Magazine. In August.

(Yes, and it was just as phony and bogus as it sounds. We didn't see a single person on the episode even remotely worthy of a red carpet. Not so much as a reality show castoff, 80s sitcom has-been or Hollywood starlet in terms of celebrity. Well, there was a funny chap in an eye-scarring orange shirt who looked awfully like a fat Lance Bass, but since there was no Reichen Lemkuhl, even though there were cameras around, we doubt it was the real Lance.

And we were particularly put off by the fakery of Betty "Spice Rack" Fraser wishing a guest a "Merry Christmas!" No, Bill O'Reilly, don't get worked up; it's not the war on Christmas, it's the war on Christmas in August. Or Mia telling another guest that the strawberries were wonderful, and it's great how California is the only place you can grow strawberries in the winter. Yes, we grow strawberries in the winter, but the ones you were purveying were wonderful precisely because it was the middle of summer. But we digress.)

The guest judge was Chef Lee Hefter of Spago Beverly Hills. The Orange Team--Spice Rack, Ilan, Marcel, and Sam--won the challenge, and as leader, Sam was the individual winner. The Black Team--Cliff, Mike, Elia, and Mia--was on the chopping block (well, not Cliff, since he had immunity), and Elia as the leader was about to be kicked off, but at the last minute, as Padma was opening her mouth to deliver the fateful, affectless words, Mia took herself out of the competition in order to save Elia.

We had actually been impressed with Miss Elia Aboumrad's maturity in accepting responsibility for her team's failure and the consequent dismissal from the competition. But we were even more impressed with Mia's decision In retrospect it makes sense on some level, as the groundwork was laid in the beach episode, when it was the three women who made the top dishes, and had discussions about what it was like to be a woman in professional kitchens, and how they hoped a woman would make it to the finals.

As Tom Colicchio pointed out to her, she didn't seem like a quitter. So just why did Mia quit?

We suspect it was a debilitating bout of homesickness, pangs of self-doubt, a moment of lucid self-awareness, a large dose of altruism, a spoonful of sisters-are-doing-it-for-themselves. That's quite a cocktail, even without the Bailey's.

Of course, the biggest question of all is why this debate had to take place at all. Of the three people up for elimination, Michael "Beer Bong" Midgley is clearly the least talented (and we're being charitable). We were especially delighted when he informed the judges that his task during the catering challenge was to run back and forth between the mobile kitchen and the food station, because not once did we see him run. At most, he shuffled.

At any rate, shouldn't he have been the one to go? Everyone, himself included, recognizes that he is not chef material, much less Top Chef material. (Although, a perverse sentiment would suggest he might do well on a channel like Spike, or Food Network for NASCAR viewers, where he could cook without intimidating the viewers. After all, isn't that the secret to Rachael Ray's success? Well, that, and the perkiness pact she entered into with Satan; they spat in their hands and shook on the deal. Oh wait, that was her loogie-loving lawyer-cum-consort.)

So how has Beer Bong done it? How has he escaped the Padma-wielded guillotine so many times? It may be that, as one reader suggested, it's not Sam, but Beer Bong, who is the real Keyser Söze. After what happened Wednesday night, and the way he has managed to hold on all this time, we are more than willing to believe it.


Anonymous said...


Charlus said...

Thanks for the tip, Anon47!

Anonymous said...

Oh man, thanks for being so eloquent about this. I've been pretty disgusted by the number of people I've heard who actually thought Mia was being selfish and were being downright cruel in stating this. It's more of polarizing thing, really, but what she did struck me as legitimately altruistic, and even though some of her temper came off on a sour note, I never doubted that Mia was a good person.

Thanks for continuing to write quality blog posts.

Ms. Place said...

In my blog I wrote an immediate response at 11 PM, just after that episode aired: An ode to Saint Mia.

I work in nonprofits. I work with women like Mia - women who are strong and who strife to overcome all the odds. My clients have learned to compromise in order to "get along," just like Mia.

As you know, Charlus. I am all about tongue in cheek. But when it came to Mia, I felt like a wolverine defending her pups.

She deserved better. She deserved support by Tom and his ilk. She deserved for Elia to stand up and say, "Mia, don't jump on your sword. I (and Cliff) made (many) mistakes in judgment and I don't want you to pay for them."

This episode killed me. It reminded me of working with my clients all over again. It was all so self defeating. And the gesture was so honorable of Mia.

I love this woman for being honest and true to herself. We will never know if she is top chef because she chose to remove herself prematurely for some bogus cause.

Shame on you Cliff. Shame on you, Elia, for not supporting her.

Charlus and Miss XaXa--you hit this nail right on the head! Thanks for your thoughtful post.

wardo said...

If I'm not mistaken, the fat Lance Bass is the fat kid from the annoying Capitol One commercials with David Spade. He was the only person I recognized from that red carpet.

Ms. Place said...

Addendum to my rant:

I'm not overlooking Mia's colorful scatological language. Hey, she's no wuss.

But I do know this: The school of hard knocks creates erratic behavior -- accommodating, feisty, bullying, doubting, low self-esteem, blustering -- all these characteristics rear their unpredictable heads at usually the wrong time.

Cliff was there to take advantage of the situation. He had immunity. He knew where the SISTER was coming from. And at the right moment he pounced like a venomous asp on Cleopatra's bosom. Mia stood no chance.

Anonymous said...

Mia is a nasty, uncouth moron. She's one of those people who love to go on and on about how sh*** their lives were... she was homeless, she sold drugs, she's the ONLY one who ever made anything of herself. Where's the violin music?

Her disgusting gutter talk in front of the judges ruined any credibility she ever had. And I'm quite sure her relatives would argue her statement that she's the only one who ever made anything of herself.

Anonymous said...

Mia could have stayed on for awhile longer, but leaving early was the best choice for her and everyone else, including the viewers. I personally couldn't stand the nasty, hurt, and victimy looks any longer. Thanks to Cliff for calling her out on her martrydom. She didn't need to use the, "I'm saving Elia" excuse either. Hello, Elia was the very one who managed the famished mess in the first place. Being confronted by Cliff at judges table set off her whole "I AM Going (to save Elia)" and "I want Elia to have her own restaurant" dramatically bogus excuse. If alturistic, why be in a competition at all. Be alturistic somewhere else. She was saving face from being a bitter disagreeable team player, regardless of how horrible the team leader was. Elia won't win TC anyway. She won't be able to pull off six courses in the finals, because she'll choose to do everything herself as we've seen so far. "Too many hands in the kitchen make me nervous". That's such a big red flag, obviously not a TC statement. Kris>

Blogging Top Chef said...

Wonderful post.

Sous Chef Humor

eric3000 said...

OMG, the comment about strawberries in winter didn't even register when I watched the episode! That is so funny!