Monday, January 22, 2007


Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

Previously on Top Chef: Marcel hung out on the roof. Cliff described Marcel as someone he had to put up with. Padma assigned the Restaurant Wars challenge. Everybody did stuff. Sam called Mike an amateur. The guests weren't entirely happy with the food. Padma found an olive pit on her table. Chef Tom refused to declare a winner. Mike got the boot for being a drag on his team.

Sleeping chefs. Sam interviews that they're close to the finale. He vows not to "step on anyone" to succeed, but he's sure his cooking skills will get him a spot. Elia interviews that she's excited to be so close to the finale. She and Ilan are wearing sunglasses in bed again. Ilan interviews that he moved in with Elia because she was lonely in her room, and she's a much nicer roommate than Marcel. Oh, right, I remember now, Ilan is obsessed with Marcel. Thank goodness I wasn't allowed to forget that for more than a minute. In the common room, Ilan urges the other chefs to get a move on and finish up the contest. Marcel interviews that he identified Elia, Sam, Ilan and Cliff as his "biggest competition" from the outset, and look who's in the final five.

Padma proudly introduces Eric Ripert of New York's Le Bernadin. Cliff delivers the "ooh-aah" interview, which in this case is particularly well-deserved. Padma babbles about sensuality and Chef Ripert agrees that artistic impact is important. Padma announces that the QuickFire will use product-placed chocolate, and I'm already giving Elia the edge. Marcel interviews that he's not fluent with chocolate, and so he's trying to impress the judge he admires most with the ingredient he understands the least. Padma assigns them 90 minutes to make a dish with either dark or bittersweet chocolate. And go!

Marcel decides to make potato cannellonis, working with Guajillo chilis, coffee, vanilla and chocolate. Everybody cooks. Ilan describes his dish as chocolate truffles with sautéed chicken liver centers. Yes, you read that right. He thinks the flavors will work together. I've never had any kind of liver, so I don't know, but I'm sure you'd have a hard time getting people to order that off a menu. Marcel hasn't made the "cannolis" before, but he's sure he can do it. I thought they were cannellonis. Pick a term, dude. He tries rolling thin dough around a tube, but it doesn't work out and he tosses the results. "That was non-excellent," he declares. A different technique, possibly involving string, is more successful. The chefs start plating. Padma arrives and calls time. The hands in the air have gotten a lot less strenuous now that Betty "No, Really, I'm Not a Cheater" Fraser has gotten the boot.

Padma asks for a recap. Chef Ripert observes that chocolate can be difficult if you're not doing a dessert. Sam had chocolate in only one sauce, but it created a balance among the flavors. Marcel's dish was an original idea. Cliff's mole-like sauce was "excellent" but the dish could have used a little more imagination. Elia's "Kiss" mousse was "perfection" but unfortunately she also made the chicken dish, which seemed like a refrigerator accident. Elia interviews that yes, mole is not usually so chocolate-y, but she didn't think the flavor was bad and she wants credit for taking a risk. Ilan's dish wasn't sexy or impressive; it's not something Chef Ripert would serve. If Elia had stuck with her mousse, she would have won, but since she messed up the chicken, Sam gets the win for his originality. He does the "yay, me" interview. Marcel, standing next to him, shakes his hand in congratulations. Cliff finishes the "ooh-aah" interview: "His palate knows more than all five of our palates put together."

Elimination challenge: The chefs have to create a romantic five-course meal, including wine pairings, for celebrating couples. Sam interviews that this is the big one, partly because Chef Ripert is judging and partly because this determines the finalists. They will serve the meal in Santa Barbara, which Padma calls the most romantic destination in the state. Highly debatable, but it is a pretty town. As the QuickFire winner, Sam gets to choose a course and the protein(s) he'll use; no one else can use the same thing. They'll shop in the afternoon and head to Santa Barbara the next day, where they'll do their wine shopping.

Sam tells the others he's thinking of taking the first course. Cliff recaps the rules; Sam could really throw a spanner in the works if he chooses to do bouillabaisse, since none of the other chefs would be able to use shellfish or pretty much any kind of seafood. Marcel tells Elia he's thinking about a lobster soup. He interviews that it's a tough challenge, and an important one. Yes, yes, I get it; this determines who goes to the finals. But tough? They've done a lot of multi-course meals, and if anything, this sounds easier than the others. I think the challenge for getting into the finals should be to outcook LeeAnne from S1, because I'm pretty sure she could kick all their butts and I think they all need the wake-up call.

Sam announces that he's definitely doing the first course, and he'll be using scallops and lobster. Marcel reacts like Sam just messed him up big time; Sam says, "Sorry." Marcel recaps that Sam chose lobster and scallops, so he had to check those off his list. Yep, those would be the rules. Stop taking it so personally. Ilan wants the second or third course and clams. Cliff is taking sirloin. Elia's thinking about dessert. Sam observes that if no one else wants to do it, not being pastry chefs (drink!), she'll probably get credit for taking a risk. Elia interviews that they aren't required to make a dessert, but she thinks a romantic dinner needs one. (I agree.) She figures if she makes something good, she won't be compared to the others. Marcel is having a tough time. Elia tells him that he can't pick something that will "probably" work; it has to be something sure-fire. Marcel interviews about the high stakes again. Yes, yes, it all comes down to this; I get it already.

The chefs go shopping. Cliff recaps the challenge, with the usual "big stakes!" addendum. No graphic describing the time limit or budget, so presumably both are ample. The chefs describe their dishes:

The product-placed vehicles zip up the highway and the chefs go wine shopping in Santa Barbara. No budget or time limits here, either. Then it's off to the restaurant where they'll be cooking. Marcel interviews that they have plenty of time to work, as long as they "stay organized." Chef Tom welcomes them and points them to the kitchen; they'll be cooking for about 30 people. (Presumably they were already told this so they knew how much to buy.) The chefs file into the kitchen and start looking around. Chef Tom sets the timer for 5 hours. And go!

Sam interviews that his first task is the bases for his sauces. He'll just keep his head down and get it done. It looks like Ilan and Marcel are complaining that the kitchen is too small for all five of them. Especially since they don't have defined roles and stations, like a regular kitchen team. Ilan says he just needs a corner with a cutting board for his prep. Marcel finds Cliff's vegetables in the sink and asks him to remove them so he can wash his; Cliff's like, "Well, they're in the sink so I can wash them." Cliff interviews that Marcel has been irksome before, and he's being irksome yet again. Marcel wants to keep some doors closed.

Cooking happens. Marcel voiceovers that he's a little nervous, what with the high stakes and all. YES, I GET IT. Sam confides that Marcel is doing beets, too, which he finds "a little silly" but it's Marcel's choice. Elia interviews that she'll be making chocolate hearts, so her dessert will be "cheesy" but romantic. Cliff relates how this is the last chance before the finals, so he doesn't "plan on" screwing up. No one ever does. That's the problem.

More cooking. The clock ticks down. Sam asks Elia if she'll help him plate in about 15 minutes, and he agrees. Then he asks if Marcel can help or if he'll be busy. Marcel thinks he'll be busy then. Sam interviews that Marcel refused to help him, and he's sometimes "adolescent." Marcel interviews that he told Sam he wouldn't be able to help, and he probably wouldn't be able to help anyone who serves before him. I think Sam is stretching it when he complains about Marcel, but I tend to think Marcel could have planned better. The bulk of his work really should get done before serving starts, because things can get pretty crazy in the kitchen after that.

The customers arrive and review the menu. The judges also arrive. Various couples announce their reasons to celebrate. With 15 minutes on the clock, Sam starts plating with Ilan and Cliff's help. No Elia? But there's really no room for another person along the counter.

Ilan has pans all over the stove; he's waiting for all the clams to open. Cliff interviews that Ilan's dish "came right down to the second." Marcel asks if Ilan needs all those pans and gets told to wait. He interviews that "it really threw me off" when Ilan claimed the stove; he can't cook 30 pieces of fish on one burner. I'm not sure if Ilan needed all those pans the whole time, but how much time does Marcel need to cook? He has a certain amount of time between courses. This is yet another area where the chefs are failing to coordinate. They should have worked out the end game ahead of time.

Sam checks with Cliff and finds out he's serving after Marcel. He'll come back and help Cliff, but he won't help Marcel since Marcel didn't help him. Sigh. Now that Marcel has the stove to himself, he starts cooking his fish. Marcel asks Cliff if he can help, but I suspect Cliff is busy with his dish, rather like Marcel was. The others are not being seen. Marcel interviews that no one would help him plate. A pan of fish next to Cliff falls on the floor; Cliff interviews that he saw it "sliding" from the corner of his eye and now that fish can't be served. Some time later, Cliff spoons sauces onto Marcel's plates. Sam interviews that he did think about not helping Marcel, but he's "not that guy," however much he wanted to be. Sam and Ilan also work on some plates, although it looks like they're starting with clean plates, so Cliff pitched in a little later. Marcel interviews that he cut his larger fish sections in half to make enough fish for everyone.

Cliff starts plating his dish. He interviews, "Romance to me is fatty and sensual." If we're talking "fatty" like buttercream in premium ice cream, I'm with him. But gobs of fat attached to meat? Not doing it for me. He continues that his dish has a lot of different components. Sam, Ilan and Marcel take turns helping. Marcel interviews that Cliff is playing it safe, hoping someone else will screw up so the judges won't notice that his dish "isn't even relevant" to the challenge. Because it didn't have hearts on it? A lot of guys just aren't going to be happy without a nice piece of beef for dinner, so I'm not seeing the problem.

Ilan warns Elia to move faster with her plating as the clock ticks down. Then she's in the back of the kitchen bewailing her "big mistake." She interviews that she's trying to cut out chocolate hearts, but the chocolate isn't flexible enough to lift out. She tells Sam that she's "screwed" but he scoffs. She should just break up the chocolate and serve it that way. Sam interviews that Elia's chocolate hearts are sticking to the sheet tray. Sam urges her to decide how she's going to deal with the chocolate; he votes for bits. Elia seems to be going for doing as many hearts as she can, but Sam tells her a mix of whole and broken chocolate would look bad. Elia gives in and they break up the chocolate. Sam thinks it looks better, since hearts are "cheesy" anyway. Elia goes into one of her patented self-defeating funks, declaring that she gives up. She interviews that it looked and tasted good, but not as much as she wanted, especially for Chef Ripert. Outside (behind the restaurant), she tells Ilan that it's the first time she's not happy with her dish. The diners, on the other hand, seem quite happy with it.

Elia continues to pout out back, and Ilan tries to snap her out of it. He interviews that she's a perfectionist who gets upset when she can't achieve what she envisions. Back at the restaurant, he tells her that she's pouting over chocolate hearts when the diners loved her dessert, and she decides to get over it.

Padma and Gail are impressed by the chefs' efforts. Chef Tom didn't see the romance (I guess the hearts didn't do it for him) but Padma points to the dessert and Chef Ripert nominates the scallop dish. Gail points out that this was the time for the chefs to step it up. Ilan interviews that everything looked great, so it might just be a matter of who had the least romance. Sam does the "I hope I make it" interview. Cliff interviews that you just put everything into the plate, and hope the judges get it. Marcel does the "I'm confident" interview. He sabers a bottle of champagne for the chefs. Marcel, please, stop trying to be Stephen. He's the one who didn't make it to the final four.

Back in LA, it's night. Ilan interviews that they asked to borrow a camera (presumably for goofing off) and went back to the lofts. After all the excitement, it was time to get drunk. Cliff starts drinking a beer. Ilan talks about how Elia has always wanted to shave her head. She, Sam and Ilan are in a hallway discussing it. Sam is dubious but Ilan is ready to join her. Elia interviews that she suggested they all shave their heads. The guys are dubious that she'll do it. Ilan interviews that Sam volunteered to do it if she did, and Ilan also jumped on board. And we see Ilan shaving his head with the electric clippers. Sam freaks out and refuses to join in. Elia finishes the job for Ilan. He interviews that it was the first time for him, and he's happy with it. Ilan puts on his glasses and Sam says, "You look good, dude." He does have a well-shaped head. Elia interviews that she has always wanted to shave her head, and if she doesn't do it now, it's less and less likely that she'll do it as time passes. So we see her shaving her own head, and she looks like she's enjoying it. Someone (Ilan?) tells her she could still stop after she has clipped the bottom half on one side. Cliff interviews that he thought it was hysterical, seeing "a woman with a full, luscious head of hair just do away with it." Elia keeps shaving. She interviews, "So I shaved it" and pulls off the wig and headband to show a completely bald head. It's not bad. She has the features to pull it off. Sam evens out her work and she rejoices that she has wanted "all her life" to do this. Ilan interviews that he and Elia are shaved and Sam "is a little bit of a wuss." Elia anticipates the next day, when they'll all be shaved (except Sam) and Marcel will see them. That would be Marcel of the giant pompadour. Cliff interviews, "And then we realized that seeing as how it is our last elimination challenge, we thought it would be a good idea to try to shave Marcel's head." Sam interviews, "And from there, things just basically got a little out of hand."

Cliff tiptoes into the dark common room where Marcel is sleeping on the couch and starts to tug him off. Marcel wakes up and someone turns on the lights. Cliff wrestles a protesting Marcel onto the floor and Ilan calls for Sam to get going. Marcel tries to break free and Cliff tries to hold him still. Ilan keeps calling for Sam, who is lounging on another couch. Sam interviews, "I didn't think that he was actually gonna -- it was weird. It was an uncomfortable situation for all parties involved." Ilan calls for Elia to come over, but she says she can't. Ilan is disappointed -- "He's holding him down for nothing?" Marcel and Cliff are still wrestling. Marcel interviews, "I was rudely awakened by Cliff. I'm like, is this for real? Like, what the (bleep)'s going on right now? Why is there this big guy on top of me? Like, why am I, like, eating the carpet? Like, what are those (bleep)in' clippers doing over there?" The wrestling ends with Cliff holding Marcel in an upright full nelson with Marcel's feet a good six inches off the floor. Cliff sets him down and releases him as Marcel continues, "And so I struggled and like I break free from Cliff's hold and I feel really angry and pissed off." He walks out of the common room into a bedroom, passing Elia, who's doubled over on the floor. Ilan calls for someone to go apologize to him. Cliff interviews that he was obviously upset, because "who really wants to have their head almost shaved? And it was a very stupid 'plan' or 'joke.'" Sam waves Ilan the cameraman to follow Marcel. This part is confusing. There's a shot of Marcel in his boxers yelling at the cameraman to get out of the bedroom, and he smashes into him. But then Marcel's back in his wifebeater and jeans rummaging in the bedroom. He reports that he slept on the bathroom floor that night.

Okay. Lots to talk about. So much, that I'm just going to wait until the end.

Morning. Sleeping chefs. Elia is wearing sunglasses as she sleeps. The camera zooms in on a picture of Elia with a man. Marcel packs with his stuff arrayed on a stripped bed. He interviews that he was cold when he woke because he didn't bring any blankets, and he had rug burns on his arms. As he packs, he tells the camera that he's eager to get back to his "real life", where he doesn't have to "live with these people that are like, whatever." Ilan is also packing. He says, "Marcel was bitter a bit earlier but he's sort of calmed down. I think he was treated unfairly. Last night, I thought -- I think that he was manhandled a bit and we were all sort of in a moment." Compare this with Cliff's statement: "I do feel bad for physically touching Marcel. It was a stupid joke, it was a stupid decision, and I totally regret it." There's a new business book out about hiring people, and one of the points made is that you can tell about someone by how he handles mistakes. Based on those two clips, I would be comfortable hiring Cliff, but I could never hire Ilan. From his statement, you can't even tell he was involved. Meanwhile, Cliff is straightforward about what he did wrong. Even if he's just doing it for damage control, it's working. I'm perfectly happy for people to be fake if it means they do the right thing.

Everyone is sitting quietly in the common area when Chef Tom arrives. Sam, Elia and Cliff are sitting at the table, Ilan is sleeping on a sofa and Marcel is reclining on another. Chef Tom sends out everyone else so he can talk to Cliff. He says, "What I'm sure started out as a very simple prank and I'm sure that you meant absolutely no harm to Marcel, but once you physically handled him, it crossed the line from a simple prank to something much more serious. You broke the rules and, uh, we're going to have to ask you to leave." Cliff seems stunned. "In the rules, it clearly states that if you touch another contestant in an aggressive manner -- you know. Unfortunately, you know the rules." Cliff looks away, absorbing it, then turns and nods to Chef Tom, "Yes, chef." Chef Tom tells him he can pack up and say goodbye to everyone, then shakes his hand and leaves.

Cliff interviews, "To come this far and to do something as stupid as this, uh, yeah, it's, uh, you know, I kick myself in the ass. Now I'll pay for it, so I won't go to Hawaii." Chef Tom finds the other chefs in Elia's room (I think) and tells them that he had to ask Cliff to leave. They all look gobsmacked. He continues that they want to competition to be about food, so they will all have to face the judges. Ilan interviews, "I feel bad about it, but there's nothing I can do to change the past." So, once a weasel, no point in trying to be anything but a weasel, I guess. Cliff comes in to say goodbye. Marcel has moved off the bed and over to the other side of the room, away from the others. Cliff says goodbye to Sam, Ilan and Elia. He then shakes hands with Marcel, who gives him a guy hug and says, "Sorry things worked out the way they did." Cliff tells Marcel, "It was a joke that got way out of control and I apologize. There are no ill feelings, it was just one of those stupid things. I'm sorry." He interviews, "My actions towards Marcel were incredibly stupid, and it's one of those things where obviously you really want to take back." He wishes everyone luck and walks off. The remaining chefs look flattened. Marcel interviews that he regrets the fall-out; Cliff's reputation could suffer. He thinks "Cliff's an excellent cook, even though this was kind of major." Cliff interviews, "I really wish Marcel nothing but the best. Go, cook your ass off, kid." Cliff leaves.

Judges' table. Chef Tom catches up the other judges -- the judges were drinking, they decided to wake up Marcel and "play a prank on him" by shaving his head. Padma and Gail are all, "Are you serious?" Chef Ripert asks, "Make believe or --?" Chef Tom assures the others that the chefs "didn't go through with it," but since Cliff held Marcel down, the producers and Chef Tom decided they had to ask him to leave. The other judges are absorbing the news. Chef Tom continues that it was "unfortunate," because the competition was great. Gail agrees that it was the best meal so far. Padma finds it ironic that Cliff's dish was her least favorite, and Gail concurs. Chef Tom summarizes the opinion that Cliff probably would have gotten the boot. Gail is disappointed because she liked his passion. Padma is surprised he would do something like this to himself and Marcel. Gail agrees that something awful could have happened. Padma wants to bring them out and scold them, and Chef Tom tells her she's in for a surprise.

The chefs file in; Padma and Gail are visibly flummoxed by the bald heads on Ilan (who's grinning) and Elia (who looks nervous). Finally, Padma busts out, "I don't know what you guys were thinking!" Ilan explains that they were "a little" overexcited and were drinking "a little" and things got "a little out of hand." Marcel is carefully not saying anything. If I were Marcel, I would be carefully not beating Ilan about the head and shoulders with a rolling pin. If I were Ilan, I'd have to kill myself, but first, I'd shut up. Chef Tom asks if this is how Sam runs his kitchen; Sam disclaims. Chef Tom wonders why no one said to knock if off. Marcel volunteers that he did, and Padma agrees he must have. Padma is astonished that they would risk everything after lasting so long. Gail says that it's really counter to what the competition is looking for. Marcel agrees with her, and this is where he should go back to carefully not saying anything. Gail continues that a top chef should be a leader and set an example. Padma inquires into Marcel's well-being; he says he's fine. She's sorry that it happened to him, but Marcel says she doesn't need to apologize.

Padma would like to change the subject, and Marcel is eager to talk about the food. Padma starts off with, "Actually, you idiots, the food yesterday was really, really good!" Chef Ripert says overall the level of execution was high. Gail compliments all the wine pairings. Chef Tom starts with Marcel's dish. Chef Ripert really liked the wine pairing, but he thought the salmon needed some acidity. Marcel confesses that he decided against using lemon juice as he cooked. Chef Tom asks if the dish should put him in the finals; Marcel says he's proud of it. Padma turns to Elia, who confesses the problems she had with her chocolate hearts. She realizes she shouldn't have tempered the chocolate as she did. Chef Tom liked the dessert, but would like to see more from five hours' worth of work. Chef Ripert is pleased with the lightness of the dessert. Ilan's turn. Chef Ripert thinks his execution was "perfection" and that's all we need to see about Ilan's dish. Finally, Sam. He confesses that the sauce might have been a bit strong. Gail agrees that it was strong, but the scallop was well-cooked. Chef Ripert liked the modern presentation but thought the lobster was lost in the mix. Chef Tom says they're going to decide who goes to Hawaii. Really? I thought they said there would be four chefs in the finale. The chefs file out.

Gail sums up the situation: Cliff probably would have lost if he had stayed. Do they need to eliminate someone else, or are all the remaining chefs deserving? Padma starts the review with Sam; she liked his choice of scallops. Chef Ripert agrees, and the dish was well-made. Chef Tom praises the wine choice. Chef Ripert says he initially thought Ilan served too much food, but they all finished it easily and Padma was looking for more. He liked the use of saffron. Chef Tom concurs that it was a good dish. Marcel's turn. Chef Ripert felt it lacked something, and was "almost boring." Gail agrees; it was edible, but it didn't add up to something interesting. Chef Tom sounds a little frustrated as he says Elia's dessert could have been so much better with just a little more effort. Chef Ripert is not enthusiastic.

Chef Tom can't decide between Marcel and Elia, and wonders if they should both get the boot. Gail found Marcel's dish disappointing, but Padma wants to see what he would do for the finals. She thinks he's an interesting chef. Chef Tom is wondering why Elia chose to do a dessert at this point, when she should be emphasizing her strengths. Gail thinks Elia is underestimating her own performance on the dessert.

The chefs return. Chef Tom praises them all for growing during the challenges. Padma tells Sam and Ilan that they're going to the finale. Unfortunately, Elia and Marcel must pack their knives -- and go to Hawaii! Ah, yes, the old fakeout. So glad we got to have one of those. I was feeling the need for some manufactured drama. So everybody hugs. Ilan interviews that he's psyched to go to Hawaii, and he needs to start doing sit ups. He's sure he'll win. Elia is happy to make it to the finals; she's proud to be representing all the other women, and she's also sure she'll win. Sam interviews that he's "stoked" to make it; he talks about a long journey and keeping "your eye on the prize," so he's not thinking he has it sewn up yet. Marcel is also "stoked" to be going. "I can't even begin to explain, like, how dope my food is going to be in Hawaii." Please, don't compose a rap on the subject. The chefs celebrate as they leave the kitchen.

And there we be.

So, about this whole "prank" incident: I was not shocked, appalled or horrified. I was also not thrilled, delighted or entertained. I'm not fond of reality shows in general because I don't enjoy watching people behave stupidly. When they start, I sigh with resignation and wait for them to finish. As much as I don't care for this sort of thing, I do think they had to show what happened so we would have a context for the reactions from the judges, producers and contestants.

Let's begin at the beginning. Why on earth would the Gang of Four decide to do something that stupid? As long as it's understood that I'm talking about the mechanics of their thought processes, I believe I can explain. (If you don't see a difference between an explanation and an excuse, just stop now, because we don't speak the same language and this will not end well.) There are three major factors. First, they were drinking. There is an ancient tradition of drunk people having really clever, exciting, hilarious and/or profound ideas which turn out to be really stupid in the cold light of day. Second, they had just been under a great deal of stress, which has also been known to do bad things to people's judgment. And third, Marcel has incredibly stupid hair. Think back to the first time you saw him on screen, and what your reaction was. The first couple of weeks of this season, a big topic of discussion was whether Marcel's hair was more like Wolverine, Heat Miser or Jimmy Neutron. And we're talking about adults with real lives spending a whole lot of time talking about this. If you're operating on the mental level of a twelve-year-old boy, Marcel's hair has to exert a powerful fascination.

Now, not only is The Hair an incredibly alluring target, it's also a seemingly easy target. It is, after all, "just hair." If you do something to someone's hair, it's easy to convince yourself that you're not doing anything "that bad." No permanent harm, right? And it's easy to overlook (especially if you don't really want to examine your actions) that something that's "only a little bit" bad is still bad. In my opinion, the allure of The Hair is what tipped them over the edge into action. This does not mean that what happened is Marcel's fault for wearing an attractive nuisance on his head; Marcel is fully entitled to have stupid hair. They might have decided to shave Marcel if he had perfectly boring hair -- but it seems far less likely.

What I find missing from the whole business, for the most part, is a kind of gleeful sense of malevolence. The forums over at are convinced that this season has turned into a Lord of the Flies redux, but I'm just not seeing it. Yes, Sam blew up at Marcel at the supply store and got pissy about helping him plate -- but Sam also shook his hand in congratulations and wound up helping him plate after all. He doesn't like Marcel, but he's able to be civilized. As for Cliff, if we didn't have his interview comments about Marcel being annoying, we wouldn't have any idea of what he thinks of Marcel. Yes, he has wanted to hit Marcel. Big deal. Feeling an impulse to punch someone is meaningless, and if it weren't, millions of Americans would need to give up driving and I would have to stop watching Top Chef. Elia kind of likes Marcel. Of the lot, only Ilan seems to be really after Marcel. His general attitude has crossed over from a sort of reactive annoyance to a proactive aggression.

So when they do actually go out there and try to shave Marcel's head, they're pretty half-assed about it. Perhaps (as happens so often), once they faced the actuality of what they were doing, it didn't seem so amusing. Sam would probably have laughed if someone else shaved Marcel, but he didn't hate Marcel enough to do it himself. Elia obviously didn't feel a need to shave Marcel, since she declined to help. Cliff could have handled Marcel far more roughly, but focused on restraining him rather than causing pain or physical harm. Once the others refused to shave Marcel, Cliff was in a position to do something else humiliating; instead, he let Marcel go. Only Ilan was eager to see someone go through with it, and Ilan was all about the watching. He didn't want to humiliate Marcel himself; he wanted to watch someone else humiliate Marcel. I'm fairly neutral about the other three, but I utterly despise Ilan.

What was interesting was how they all four fell into their characters: Sam is the guy who feels above it all. Cliff turned on his laser focus and got the job done. Elia was too overcome with emotion to do anything constructive. Ilan has a really creepy obsession with Marcel.

I'm really curious about what happened the next morning. Did anyone say anything about it, or did everyone just ignore it? Was it "Oh, well, no harm done"? Was it "Oh, crap, I can't believe I did that?" I can see Sam wanting to make a gesture of -- maybe not apology, but non-aggression -- but definitely not wanting to talk about it. Elia would probably want to pretend it never happened. If Marcel had seemed upset, I can see Cliff apologizing, but otherwise, I think he'd just leave him alone, as usual. Ilan? I can't see him passing up the chance to needle Marcel, but I would expect that to escalate into a confrontation, and I didn't get the sense that happened. I suspect Sam and Cliff (and maybe Elia) shut him down pretty quick.

I think this is where the odd sequence of Marcel reacting to the camera comes in. After he's free, he strides out of the room. At this point, he's wearing jeans and a wifebeater. We next see him in boxers, yelling at the cameraperson to go away and smashing into the camera. Then there's a shot of Marcel back in his T-shirt. Now, I'm pretty sure that after waking up to find a large, capable man smooshing him into the carpet, Marcel did not immediately strip down into his skivvies. I suspect the shot of him confronting the cameraperson came in the morning; the editors inserted it to show that Marcel was, in fact, freaked out by the whole business. Given Marcel's response, I'm assuming it was Ilan, but perhaps one of the other chefs, holding the camera, rather than one of the regular crew. Since was probably hours after the original assault, his original emotions would have had time to dissipate; apparently, he was able to sleep. So while I can understand that he would be angry and perhaps fearful at seeing one of the chefs with a camera again, I can't excuse the smashing. Fear is a much more sympathetic excuse than drunkeness, but it's still an excuse; we expect adults to control their violent impulses. Feel it, but don't act on it. And his smash at the camera showed intent to cause physical harm, while Cliff's restraint did not. (Yes, Marcel wound up with rug burns, but Cliff didn't lay hands on him in order to cause the rug burns or any other injury.)

So oddly enough, after everything, Cliff is the one I'm most okay with. He screwed up, he 'fessed up, and he paid up, all without whining or pointing fingers. I'm kind of sorry to see him get the boot, but it was a perfectly fair decision. My complaint is not that he got booted, but that he was the only one to be punished when all four acted in concert. Cliff was the only one to cross a line in terms of behavior, but I think Ilan was far more malicious. Sam at least has the sense to know that he shouldn't have been part of the plot; it remains to be seen if he'll learn from the experience. As far as I can tell, Ilan doesn't recognize any need to learn anything, or change anything, or do anything differently, so he's pretty much worthless. I'm really not sure what the deal with Elia is; she was kind of invisible through the actual event and we haven't heard her take on things. I suspect being so close to all the Marcel friction started to wear on her, too. I don't think they were ever particularly friendly, and her initial sympathy might have eroded over time. And we saw as far back as the sangria planning party that Elia isn't the mom type who can get people to behave. She was willing to shave her own head; she might not have thought that it was so bad for Marcel to get his head shaved, too. She doesn't seem like she would have been a prime mover in the original planning, but it seems that she was on board. She wasn't willing to get involved in the actual deed, though. What I need to see is how she felt about everything afterwards. Does she recognize that their actions were wrong? Did she apologize to Marcel?

As far as Marcel goes, he handled things pretty well aside from the camera smashing. It was kind of him to wish Cliff well. Even if he was faking, it was the right behavior to fake. He seems pretty emotionally resilient, so I doubt he suffered any lasting trauma. I still haven't been terribly impressed with his food, so I hope he takes all his feelings of resentment and pours them into stepping up his game. Just as long as he doesn't pour them into another rap.

1) I think last season's contestants were MUCH more talented than this group, and I have felt that way since the beginning.

2) They need to do away with all the product advertising in sheep's clothing. Such a disappointment and diversion.

3) In Chef Tom's blog on Bravo, he states that he wanted to kick all of them out and have Marcel win by default. The producers vetoed him. Enough said.

This season has been a real disappointment to me, and I know I'm not alone in that feeling.

I love reading your blog on this show and PR especially. Keep up the great writing!
Absolutely agree with your take on the whole head shaving incident.
Cliff managed to act with class and integrity in spite of his errors from the night before.

Ilan is a tool. And worse than that, he's a tool that thinks he's completely fine.

It amazes me to no end how a little alcohol can strip what little character someone has away.

Keep up the good work. I haven't enjoyed this season much, I mostly watch so then I can come and read what you have to say about it! LOL
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