Here's a quick primer in case you haven't watched the past few seasons of "Top Chef." In Season 9, the show introduced a new component called "Last Chance Kitchen." Aired exclusively online in between TV airings of new "Top Chef" episodes, "Last Chance Kitchen" allowed eliminated chefs to compete for a chance to return to the show in the finale.
In Season 10, "Last Chance Kitchen" was brought back, but with a twist. In addition to "Last Chance Kitchen," there was also a voting component to the online portion of the show called "Save a Chef." The person with the most votes got a spot in the final episode of "Last Chance Kitchen," and consequently, a chance to make it back into "Top Chef."
Now, "Top Chef" is getting another twist. Season 5 of "Top Chef Masters" will introduce yet another online component to the series, in the form of "Battle of the Sous Chefs." Unlike "Last Chance Kitchen," "Battle of the Sous Chefs" will affect the outcome of each new episode of "Masters," instead of running independently until a winner is chosen and injected into the TV proceedings.
In "Battle of the Sous Chefs," the real-life sous chefs of each "Masters" contestant will compete against one another. Successes will mean that the sous chef's counterpart on "Masters" gets special advantages in the coming episode. If the sous chef performs poorly, their counterpart will face extra work or penalties on the TV show.
It's normal for an aging TV franchise to try and reinvigorate things with new twists or format changes, but the online components of "Top Chef" are just getting kind of distracting. While it is becoming clear that the future of TV will have a lot to do with the online world, the TV and online components of "Top Chef" just aren't blending seamlessly.
The underlying problem with "Last Chance Kitchen" and "Battle of the Sous Chefs" is simple: It undercuts the very nature of the show it's trying to invigorate. "Top Chef" is about separating the wheat from the chaff. When contestants have multiple chances to re-enter or influence the competition, it lowers the stakes for the whole season.
What "Top Chef" fans want is a show where chefs face off against chefs -- not a show laden with gimmicks that produce a heightened sense of artificial drama. After multiple seasons of online add-ons, it might be time for "Top Chef" and "Top Chef Masters" to go back to basics. After all, "Top Chef" has always taught fans that the most amazing dishes are often the most simple.
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