Did you watch the Emmy Awards last night? I did. Not by choice, necessarily, but because my darling wife Laura celebrates exactly four holidays around our house: Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Emmys and Oscar Night. These are big deals for her and, by extension, for me. And while Christmas and Thanksgiving may be fairly simple days to negotiate (gifts, a dinner, easy stuff), the awards shows are different. There's pre-show and post-show, the red carpet, dresses to make fun of, hosts to mock. One has to have one's pop culture chops in sharp working order, and seeing as I'm bad with names and faces and know almost nothing about anything that's actually popular (when was the last time a zombie movie got nominated for an Oscar, exactly?) save restaurants, I'm generally hopelessly lost by about five minutes into the first of the arrivals specials.But last night, the Emmy voters threw me a bone by not only nominating Top Chef for an award in the category of Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. Here, finally, was something (other than Lost, which won precisely nothing) that I knew something about. And one thing I knew for sure?
Top Chef has about as much relation to reality as a mysterious, time-traveling island full of smoke monsters and Egyptian fertility statues.
Seriously, I used to watch this show obsessively. First couple seasons, I was all over this thing because, in terms of cooking shows (of which there were plenty) Top Chef actually was the closest thing out there to the actual reality of kitchen work. It was fast and hot and weird and filled with bizarre challenges that, in some cases, actually mimicked (in a TV kind of way) the sorts of things that a chef might experience in a kitchen not filled with TV cameras and former supermodels and about a billion dollars in ingredients and gear.
But as the years went by and the seasons stretched on, the show just kind of...slipped. Product placement, chef-testants who seemed barely capable of holding a knife without hurting themselves, bizarre, hyper-regional challenges, Las Vegas. It all just kind of got away from the producers as, in an effort to keep things fresh, they stepped completely away from anything even vaguely resembling cooking and just turned the thing into a gameshow. The chefs, understanding that the way to survive the first eight weeks or so was simply to fuck up less than the next-worst guy on stage, became timid and boring in their presentations. And if I had to see one more episode where the white jackets were forced to cook for a band/cook for a bunch of preening vegan celebrities/cook for some other chef with a cookbook to hawk, I was just going to snap. Instead, I just quit watching.
Now obviously, when it comes to TV, I am an idiot because even as I was finding the show less and less interesting (in direct relation to how much cooking --as opposed to judging, crying, kissing, shrieking and celebrity cameos--actually got shown per show), the Emmy folks and the American public were finding it more and more fascinating. Top Chef has scored nominations in this category every year for the past four. And this year, it won.
Which, to my mind, puts the big, celestial scoreboard at televised ingredient fashion shows 1, and reality 0.