Reality Bites: Biggest Loser and Top Chef

M: This week’s episode of The Biggest Loser ended with a contestant that I like, admire and am incredible inspired by leaving, while Top Chef ended with the departure of a contestant who was entertaining, albeit in a cocky and sometimes aggravating way, and had endeared himself to me by cooking one of my favorite Lebanese dishes in one competition.  In both cases, we lost a compelling contestant, but as the numbers start to dwindle on each show, it’s hard not to.

Biggest Loser:

So, I began testing out the theory I mentioned in last week’s Top Chef review, where the people getting lots of air time during the episode are either going to win or go home that week.  In the case it turned out to predict the losers.  During the episode we got lots of information on Abby’s horrific, tragic story, the most we had gotten since the first week of the season.

Throughout the episode they were focused primarily on the members of the black team, and saw Gillian working with several of them individually.  She was really trying to break them down, more so mentally and emotionally than physically, though she certainly wasn’t easy on them in that regard!  We saw her pushing Amanda, who has yet to really break through on the scale, to push past where she thinks she can go, and believe in herself.  We saw her working more with Shea, who continues to grow in confidence and strength.  We saw her in a very touching conversation with Abby, where she inquired about what it was really like to lose those that matter the most, then admitting that she doesn’t think she could handle what Abby went through.  From all of this it seemed pretty clear that the black team would be in the elimination room again this week.

Lo and behold, they were!  The competition for the week was individual face-offs, despite the potential for just the mere reference to the title of the John Travolta-Nic Cage film to suck the souls out of the contestants.  The contestants each had one opponent from the other team that they were paired up with, and the pairs weighed in against each other, a win earning a point for their respective teams.  Blue won the challenge to determine who set the match ups, partly because Abby couldn’t compete for long because she’s still recovering from a stress fracture, but mostly because Alan and Rebecca killed it.  In the end, though, the match ups wouldn’t have mattered much, because Daniel, Abby and Amanda all had low numbers, and would have lost to anyone on the blue team.

On a good note, Rudy broke the show record for fastest contestant to lose 100 pounds, doing it in 7 weeks, one week faster than last season’s Dane, who stopped by for the weigh in to cheer Rudy on.

In the end, Abby threw herself under the bus so that Daniel, who just can’t seem to figure things out right now, and Amanda, who looks like she may be primed for a break through next week, could stay.  They showed her at home, and she has continued to lose weight, and is doing some motivational speaking, which is just remarkable.

Top Chef:

I put the “more air time” theory to the test again with Top Chef, and this time if failed at least in part.  We didn’t get that much from Mike I, who is the best chef to depart so far (E: not in the beginning of the episode, but his screen time increased radically during the elimination challenge).  We did get a good deal of Robin, some more from Eli, and a bunch of fun info from Kevin, who ended up being the winner.  Some of the things that we learned from him were that his entire family still lives on the same street, that his Grandmother cooks for them all regularly, and that every year for Lent he and his wife switch over to be vegetarians, presumable for the whole 40 days, not just on Fridays.  (E: Just when I thought I couldn’t think more highly of Kevin, he comes out with that.  Turns out that the king of pork is an impressively serious Catholic.)

In the quickfire the contestants were challenged to recreate TV dinners.  They each got a show to use as their inspiration, and through that we found out that Mike I had never seen an episode of Seinfeld, and Robin never watched Sesame Street.  Apparently these people were raised by wolves…  wolves who can make spectacular food, that is.  Overall their results were good, and Kevin pulled out another win, meaning his dish will actually get produced as a TV Dinner by Schwans. (E: I found this a little disappointing: the meatballs for The Sopranos I get, and Brian’s mashed potatoes for MASH, but sausage for Seinfeld?  What was up with that?)

In the elimination challenge they were taken to Tom Colicchio’s steakhouse, and all started picking from an amazing array of meats, only to be interrupted by the announcement of guest judge Natalie Portman.  She , as Eli stated, has been in “the only thing that counts…  Star Wars“, (loved that!) and happens to be a vegetarian.  So they all had to shift gears at the last minute and produce a vegetarian meal…  in a steakhouse.  They were all thrown off their game, as is evidenced by the comment on judge Gail Simmons blog, that after the taping of the show the judges all went out for a second dinner.  Ouch. (E: Did you notice that no one included any kind of grain or pasta?  I don’t remember them saying they couldn’t – lots of vegetarian meals do – and I think that would have helped with the whole “you served us a garnish” issue. At least they seemed to be having a good time, if the bawdy barrage of double entendres were any indication.)

Jen struggled mightily for the second week in a row (E: I hate that! I thought from the editing that SHE was going home), and even the judges are worried that she’s mentally fried and might not recover, Bryan ended up with a rare middle finish, while Eli got his finish in the top group.  You had to feel good for him, as he was so genuinely surprised and excited to finally crack through that barrier.

For the second week in a row there was no Robin drama, which was very nice, but we did see Michael V get a pretty snippy when Kevin’s dish won in the end.  Michael had created what one of the diners called a Picasso, which seemed spot on to me.  It was a playful mix of bizarre flavors (including banana polenta) and techniques that you wouldn’t think would go well together, but worked beautifully.  Kevin’s mushroom, kale and turnip dish, on the other hand was less technically innovative, which is where Michael’s complaint came, claiming he could have made that “in the second year of my apprenticeship”.  However, Kevin’s dish was not only well executed, but was the only dish that really came across to the diners as a meal.  And in the end, no matter the level of trickery and complexity, when it comes to great food what is most important is taste, and Kevin’s had that in spades, which is why he won.

As for the elimination, it came down to Robin, who threw together a bunch of things she’d never done before with big ideas that just didn’t mesh, against Mike I, who butchered leeks and didn’t do a good job with anything on his plate.  In all likelihood he assumed that he would never leave before Robin, but this was definite proof that they do really judge it challenge to challenge, as to the best of my memory he had never been in the bottom before (E: He has – remember that the greek salad at the airforce base?), and she has been there most weeks.

To play out the Star Wars tie in even further, I was reminded of the scene in Return of the Jedi where the Emperor is trying to lure Luke to the dark side while watching the battle over Endor, and condescendingly predicts exactly what will happen both on the moon and to the rebel fleet.  Luke barks back at him “Your over-confidence is your weakness”, and that was exactly the problem for Mike I.  (E: ding ding ding!) His dish started to go poorly while cooking, but instead of busting his butt to save it and do the best he could, he over-confidently assumed he wasn’t in any danger.  So he turned out a really bad dish and got sent packing because of it, much like the Emperor dies because he couldn’t believe that he could possibly to some rag-tag rebels.

In a way, even though I think he’s a better chef, it was nice to see him get the boot before Robin.

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