Thursday, February 01, 2007

First Reaction: Good Sports, Bad Sports, and Water Sports

First, possums, our condolences.

Not to Marcel Vigneron, who lost the title of Top Chef to Ilan Hall, but to the poor Food & Wine intern who had to pull an all-nighter on Monday after the magazine accidentally published on its website an article profiling Ilan as the winner. The intern (and no doubt Gail Simmons as well, since she was quoted extensively) had to work in an atmosphere of panic and vitriol to write a dummy article about Marcel (several hundred words shorter than the Ilan article) so that the magazine could preposterously claim on Tuesday that it had prepared two articles in advance, one for each contestant, without knowledge of who the winner was.

Never mind the fact that the finale took place over a month ago, and that the magazine has known the identity of the winner for that long. Of course, the readers of Food & Wine and the viewers of Bravo must be credulous idiots, so what does it matter? The credibility of each "institution" remains absolutely pristine, untarnished and unbesmirched by the non-shenanigans that never took place. And if we may offer a bit of career advice to the poor Food & Wine intern: Kid, set your sights on Washington; you have a bright future in manufacturing evidence of non-existent WMDs. Or at the very least, see if Ruth Reichl will give you a job.

At any rate, back to the matter at hand.

The episode began with a beach side scene between Marcel and Ilan that was the falsest, most trumped-up thing we've seen since, well, since the Food & Wine "Marcel" story and the editing of Clippergate.

Sorry, we couldn't resist. How about this, then? That beach side scene between Marcel and Ilan was the most uncomfortable and staged beach side scene we've seen since Charlton Heston encountered the Statue of Liberty on the beach in Planet of the Apes (or since Charlton Heston and Stephen Boyd threw spears together in Ben-Hur; just ask Gore Vidal).

Strolling awkwardly along the Hawaiian beach, good sport Marcel (remember the "Korbel as fine champagne" show of good sportsmanship last week?) and Ilan might have been starring in a new version of Blue Lagoon (speaking of fakery, we are reminded of the story that Brooke Shields was such a bad actress that, in order to get her to simulate an expression of passion with any degree of conviction during the sex scenes, the director had to pinch her big toe out of camera range).

Marcel tells us that with such a beautiful view of the ocean, who could think about rivalries? Ilan, on the other hand, says that he would have enjoyed the beach more "with a beautiful woman." This had us rolling our eyes and pounding our wee fists in mirth against the moiré silk cushions. Honey, puh-leeze. The lady doth protest way, way, but way too much. (Confidential to Carolina: if "" and "" appear on his web browser's history, don't say we didn't warn you.)

Marcel and Ilan reenacted the oyster-girl scene from Tampopo, but with a sea urchin, with Marcel opening the sea urchin and sharing the inside of its trembling, moist depths with Ilan for breakfast, in a scene that would have been booed off the screen in a French film as overly symbolic. Just how many ways can Bravo get those two to enact deflowering on camera? (Miss XaXa was reminded of Ilan's obsession with Marcel's virginity and cherry desserts when she heard the comment a fellow Southerner made to her boyfriend: "You can't have my cherry, but you can have the box it came in." Ilan might learn a thing or two from the wisdom of the South; in perhaps the nicest touch of the night--irony alert! paging Alanis Morissette!--he served cold, libido-lowering Surinam cherry sorbet for his dessert.)

Marcel, er, pricked his finger on another sea urchin, and was advised to "pee on it." Never a boy to miss an opportunity, Ilan queeries, "Marcel, would you mind if I peed on your hand?" 1.5 million gays (roughly 85% of Bravo's audience) turned in unison to grab a Kleenex (see? we do product placement, too) to dab at their eyes. You see, in Gaytopia, that's the equivalent of asking for his hand (though, of course, he should have been on his knees). Marcel turns him down, and Ilan tells us, "I would love to have peed on Marcel." Well, better luck next time, kid; Manhattan is full of men.

(It was nice to see Marcel take his shirt off; he certainly has nothing to be ashamed of, as he's quite a lithe little sea monkey. Since Ilan had talked on the pre-finale episode about doing sit-ups in order to prepare himself for the finale in Hawaii, we were hoping, nay, expecting, to see him take his shirt off to expose his washboard stomach. However, as with so much of Top Chef, our expectations were not to be met. In fact, Ilan looked as if he'd gained a double chin, so we suppose he never got around to those sit-ups. Maybe that's why Marcel wouldn't let Ilan pee on him; the gays are notoriously bitchy about their men gaining weight.)

At last it was time for the Return of the Undead, where PYKAG'd cheftestants are brought back to wreak havoc on, er, assist, the two finalists. The revenants were Michael "Beer Bong" Midgley, Mia Gaines-Alt, Frank "El Bully" Terzoli, confirmed whore Betty "Spice Rack" Fraser, Slippery as an Eelia Aboumrad, and Sam "Not That Guy" Talbot. Marcel, no fool he, picked Sam (no doubt because Sam is a diabetic). Ilan picked Eelia (who, he conceded, is a better cook than he). Refusing Frank's tempting plea to pick him so that he could knock Marcel's ego down and teach him how to talk to people (Frank, caro, Bravo is basic cable; HBO and The Sopranos are higher up the dial), Marcel accepted Sam's suggestion that he pick Beer Bong. And we groaned. Way to sabotage him, Sam. Nicely played. Sure, bring Typhoid Mary into the ICU. Ilan picked Spice Rack the Confirmed Whore.

And they cooked and served food (with Beer Bong forgetting to bring the fish and some orchids, and no doubt the eggs, too, and with Sam saying all manner of highly flattering things about Marcel, whom he dubbed "the kid," and Marcel shattering our ear drums a final time by pronouncing gelée as "jell-EE").

You might need to sit down for this, possums, but Ilan served a five-course Scottish menu inspired by his Scottish father. Oh, why did we even bother? Of course he served a Spanish menu using the recipes from his job at the Mario Batali-Andy Nussbaum tapas joint, Casa Mono. And Marcel served newly created dishes. So in the end, when Ilan won, it was--how can we put this in terms everyone will understand?--as if Jeffrey had won using Uli's designs.

At Judges' Table, the Undead Sous-chefs were questioned about who should win the title of Top Chef. Elia "(Ilan) Hall Hath No Fury Like an Obscenely Rich, Chocolate-Smearing, Defeatist Mexican Socialite Bitch Scorned" Aboumrad, despite not having tasted Marcel's food, went on a little tirade that would make Lucia di Lammermoor and Andrea "I Drowned My Five Kids in the Bathtub Because the Lord Told Me To" Yates seem sane. The judges had a good deal of fun playing with her. It was clear she had as much credibility by that point as Food & Wine and Bravo combined.

Of course, our paisana's meltdown is not entirely inexplicable. She seems to have an obsessive, perfectionist nature. Brought up in a rarefied world of extreme luxury in a country beset by overwhelming poverty, she misses making the Olympic swimming team by two seconds, gives up competitive swimming, finds cooking, takes every course at the Ecole Lenôtre, is hired by Joël Robuchon in Paris, travels to Las Vegas to help open Robuchon's first American outpost, trains a meringue-headed little punk named Marcel Vigneron to work at the Robuchon joint, then goes on a cooking competition with him where many of the other contestants hate the little punk, then shares a room with the two people who hate him most (first Spice Rack the Confirmed Whore, then Ilan), and then an attack on the little punk doesn't turn out as planned, and finally, to top it off, the little punk she trained beats her and goes to the finale.

We'd be pretty pissed, too. But Elia, querida, did you have to be so Telemundo about it? (Note that, loyal Bravo apologists that we are, we use Telemundo, a Bravo/NBC affiliate, rather than Univision, as a point of comparison.) In this brave, post-Ugly Betty new world of television, was it really necessary to confirm for American viewers the telenovela stereotype that upper-class Mexican women are eye-rolling, backstabbing crazy bitches? Is this what Thalia and Salma Hayek worked so hard for?

And then the two finalists talked to the judges. Blah blah blah. Ilan says he should win because he is more passionate and more forgiving. We were shocked by a snorting sound, until we realized it came from us.

Forgiving? Ah yes, so forgiving, in fact, that you instigated and participated in an assault and battery of your opponent, orchestrated accusations of cheating against him, said you wanted to piss on him and make him cry, and then relentlessly badmouthed him in the press after filming. Ah, Ilan, you are an inspiration to us all. No one can turn the other cheek quite like you. Your magnanimity, your charitable spirit, know no bounds. Forget Mother Teresa. Next we'll be finding images of you in cinnamon buns.

And then it's the moment of truth. For the life of us, we can't understand why Padma's lip was trembling and why she seemed on the verge of tears when reminding Marcel and Ilan that a Kenmore Pro kitchen was at stake. Other than an outfit and accessories that made her look like a cross between Pocahontas and G.I. Joe, nothing else about her stood out in the episode. (You're going to have to try harder in Season Three if you want to match the beach outfit from the Raphael Lunetta challenge, Padma.)

And then just like that, Ilan was declared Top Chef, and we declared ourselves exhausted and humorless.


Anonymous said...

Your prose reminds me of Florence King. I sure miss that biatch. I recommend all your gentle readers check out the (now sadly edited) Raggaydy Andy Cohen webcast interview of Ilan and Marcel at Even edited, it's clear Marcel is DRUNK AS A SKUNK and it's much more entertaining than the show was this year.

My reaction remains: FIX THE PROBLEMS, you Bravo HEATHENS.

1) Pick cheftestants with an actual chance of winning. Sujai?
Psycho Betty? Beer Bong?

2) Put the emphasis on food and let the drama be natural rather than staged and badly edited. Put recipes up that the Home Chef can actually duplicate. Etc...

3)Don't leak the ending.

4) Don't have eliminated cheftestants help the finalists in the last episode.

kbryna said...

ooh, drunk as a skunk marcel! this is worth checking out......

this was a beautifully written blogpost.

padma looked SO stoned and SO out of it throughout that whole episode...

and ilan is weaing rainbow shoes and a purple hoodie on andy's show.

dear dear me.

Melanie said...

Bless you! for another joyous experience of reading your fine recounting of a Top Chef episode.

In his CHOW interview, Marcel said Elia never trained him, as she has claimed--they worked in separate restaurants entirely. She really is a piece of work.

Anonymous said...

Consider this:

1) The 27 stitch assault on Marcel in Las Vegas occurs a day after he ridicules Elia for her "Marcel hacked an online poll" theory.

2) International Arms Dealing (by it's very nature) assures that you will get to know some pretty sleazy and violence-prone people.

3) The Aboumarab family-fortune was made in the Arms Dealing business and Pere Aboumarab remains a central figure in that shadowy bidness.


wardo said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Marcel was sh-tfaced on the Webcast. They only fielded one of my questions ("did anybody hook up"), yet ignored the one that was really taxing my brain: did Betty REALLY ask Ilan if he wanted to "touch her melons" on the way back from the farmers' market?

Anonymous said...

I didn't bother to watch the finale, and I won't bother to watch future TopChef shows. Bravo execs may not read this blog, but I hope somebody at Bravo reads the critique published on, 'Top Chef' fails the taste test, and takes the criticism to heart:

rodrigo said...

Charlus,,,the best post-mortum of the web,, especially about our princessa,,she brings new meaning to loca,,i laughed reading your comments, Thanks, Rodrigo

Anonymous said...

wow...that was better then the finale.

Ima Wurdibitsch said...

Dearest Amuse-Biatch, the season would not have been complete without your review. I had not seen this blog until after the finale last night.

I've lifted your graphic and plugged this blog. Then, I recommended to some fans-of-design friends that they check out Pink Navy.

Keep up the wonderfully funny good work!

Laz said...

Must...regain...composure. Brain still reeling...

But kudos on an exceptionally fine day of Amuse-Biatching.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask. Are you SURE the scenario with "Food and Wine" played out the way you said it did? Are you SURE that while a sponsor of the show, "Food and Wine" transcends the iron clad contracts that all producers and contestants sign about maintaining the "integrity" of the show? Are you SURE, assuming your conjecture about "Food and Wine" being in on the decision is correct, that it was an intern that inadvertantly ran the story? Or might it have possibly been part of a larger strategy?

You don't know. You're guessing which is fine. It's your blog. Unfortunately, audiences are only too willing to take OPINION as FACT.

I will only assume that's why you write for a blog. All the fact-checking is too much work.

eric3000 said...

Great post! Always love the Tampopo references!

Christie said...

I'm happy to know that I wasn't the only one excited to see Marcel take his shirt off again. :)

Anonymous said...

I agree. This review is better than the show.

Do the editors at Bravo purposely play up the unrequited gay love story? Or are there just so many moments like that from Ilan they have no choice but to cover it?

Anonymous said...

OMGosh! One of the BEST pieces yet written about this issue. I laughed, I cried . . . So good! Team Marcel!