Sunday, February 04, 2007

Marcel should have won.

Yeah, I'm coming in late here, but only because I left on Thursday and was busy getting ready for my trip on Wednesday night - and consequently missed the finale of Top Chef. When I woke up this morning, however, Bravo was re-running it, so I finally got to see it.

What's been most fascinating about this second season to me, as someone whose lack of cooking skills were recently displayed here, is both the creativity many of the chefs displayed and also the way that having someone to gang up on seemed to make it so much more fun for all of them. And the person they ganged up on was Marcel, who really deserves a lot of credit for behaving in such a mature fashion in the face of this.

Yes, Marcel was my favorite. I don't like reality show contestants who bully others or who are just mean, which is why I hated Susan Hawk, Will and Mike Boogie, Puck, and Jeffrey (who was so awful that he made another contestant's mother cry and shows little understanding of what exactly he did to her). And in Top Chef, contrary to the claims the other "cheftestants" (thanks, Television Without Pity, for the term) made, Marcel was the one who was bullied.

We all know that reality t.v. is scripted and that it is edited in such a way as to maximize any possible drama. So why, then, do we have no examples of Marcel's egregious behavior? Over and over we hear from Sam, Ilan, Elia, and Betty that Marcel thinks he's better than everyone else. But we never actually see Marcel do or say anything of the kind. There is one scene in which the others are laughing and ridiculing him behind his back for having business cards that read "the next Top Chef" on the back. And yes, that is a bit pretentious, but not unforgiveable. Other "cheftestants" did far worse, like Betty being a raging asshat and cursing him out for no reason, or Sam refusing to help him plate his food because Marcel, who was struggling to get his food *cooked*, couldn't stop to help Sam plate.

I think what really happened is that Marcel didn't actually do anything. Ilan, Marcel's most hateful opponent, suggests this when he says, "'On the first day of taping, when we were waiting to go on camera, Marcel said to me in his little ridiculous voice, ’Lights, camera, action, yeah?’ I wanted to elbow him,' Ilan recalled." Um...yeah. Because those are really fighting words in chef language, I guess.

This idea that Marcel didn't deserve such hostility is borne out by one Top Chef Producer who noted in her blog that even the production team doesn't see any reason why the others dislike him so intensely. As she speculates, "living communally under the strict control of the production team has reduced the chefs to a bunch of kids in camp egging each other on to bully the unpopular brainiac. Pretty soon they'll be flushing his head down the toilet ... mark my words." And that's exactly what happened: just a few episodes later, Cliff was holding Marcel down in a full nelson so that the others could shave his head (and his "friend," Elia, was laughing but had taken a firm moral stand not to get involved).

Reading around online brings me to much the same conclusion. Here is an interview with Marcel in which he talks about why his fellow competitors had such problems with him. You'll note that he continues to be pretty generous, considering how they treated him. And this piece quotes him as saying that Ilan, his nemesis, is now trying to make nice.

Meanwhile, former "friend" Elia keeps making the rounds, doing interviews in which she continues to say that Marcel cheated, though she doesn't have any proof of this or even any specific examples except to say that he "obviously" hired someone to hack the popularity polls (note the responses to this claim in the comments of the linked page. You can also read a transcript, if you prefer.). Even judge Tom Colicchio notes that she didn't seem to understand what "cheating" meant: "when Elia made claims last week that Marcel had cheated, my feeling was -- back it up, or back down. In answer to our questions (only a fraction of which made it into the episode) it became clear that Elia was alluding to Marcel’s antagonistic behavior -- in typical fashion he had managed to irritate the other chefs to an extent they considered unprofessional and undermining -- but English is not Elia’s first language, and she fell back on the word cheating."

And so, this finale has left me with - I have to say it - a bad taste in my mouth.

1 comment:

Vegan said...

I agree with EVERY single word you wrote. I was extremely disappointed when Marcel was not given the top spot - he really handled himself well, and appeared to be a better chef with more variety and ingenuity than his competition.

Great post about Top Chef, and reality TV