“A crap end to a crap season,” says the text from my friend Ali mere moments after Hosea is named “Top Chef.”
Her words, while not poetic, couldn't be more accurate. It was a crap end to a crap season -- like a bad tasting menu that gets progressively worse with each dish, or in the case of “Top Chef” Season Five, each episode. Throughout the entire run, I kept hoping that the next episode would be better – that the chefs would find some personality or, at the very least, some semblance of passion. Unless Fabio was in front of the camera, that spark never emerged. Like poor Carla’s final cheese course, the season that never got off the ground ended last night on yet another flat note.
The finale starts out as expected. Stakes are laid. Claims are made. Hosea is suddenly nervous “because it’s down to three.” Apparently, he’s forgotten about the other ten other episodes where he was nervous because he was the last American male chef, or because he had to prepare fish for “the fish guy,” or because he stuck his tongue down Leah’s throat on camera and will have to face his girlfriend when he gets home.
Stefan isn't nervous at all. He’s never nervous. He’s from Finland. He is Team Euro. And oh yeah? "Hosea’s food sucks," and he needs to “go back to frickin' Colorado.” Didn't Stefan’s mother teach him that if he doesn't have anything nice to say, he shouldn't say anything at all? Course half the time I can’t understand his incoherent mutterings, so I guess it doesn't much matter what he is nailing down like an eel on a cutting board. I much prefer Carla’s more simple reflection on the whole deal over Stefan’s “I am Euro, hear me roar” spiel. With her googly eyes a-googling, she says, “In a word, ‘wow.’” In a word (or three), “You go girl!”
Part of me wants to just stop now before even starting into the final (predictable) challenge where the chefs are charged with crafting the “best three-course meal of their life.” I don’t want to talk about the big “surprise” that they will have to do an extra fourth course using alligator, crab or red fish. Nor do I even want to start in on the other surprise that they will be working with sous-chefs Marcel, Richard and Casey from seasons past. Well, okay maybe I do want to pause for a moment to reflect on Stefan’s reasoning for choosing Marcel as his kitchen partner. “People don’t like Marcel” (ie. misery loves company). And I do feel some what inclined to point out that in a previous season the chefs got to work with Rocco Dispirito, Michelle Bernstein and Todd English. Not sure I'd be jumping up in down for help from contestants who came close but, ultimately, as Tom says, "fell short."
But I digress, because I have a point to make here. I don’t want to talk about any of the meaningless episode filler or the great sausage war going on between Hosea and Stefan. Yes, I could go all Freud on them. Or compare it to some sort of world war. Or even begin citing all the various ways the producers set the stage for the epic battle of the baldies throughout the rest of the season. The whole situation repulses me. I want nothing to do with it. Instead, I want to go back in time to shake Carla and tell her to ignore everything that Casey says and just go with that love-saturated gut of hers. Everything will be okay then. She won’t sous-vez the steak, she won’t do a cheese soufflé, and she will win “Top Chef” and put an end to the audience’s misery.
I knew it was coming before it came. Carla tells the camera that she’s never sous-vezed a steak before. Carla blindly follows Casey’s lead on the cheese soufflé. It is like watching a train about to collide with a car that just can’t get off the railroad in time. It makes me hate Casey. And it makes me hate Carla for being so gosh darn likable in the final episodes. Just when I finally bought into all that cooking with love hogwash, “Top Chef” Season 5 goes and tears my heart out.
The facts are these. Stefan and Hosea present food that represents who they are as chefs and people. Stefan’s heart is made of steel, so ultimately, while well-executed, the food lacks “soul.” Hosea has a soul (when he’s not kissing Leah or passing off alligator to Stefan), and that “thoughtfulness” comes through in his dishes. He “[puts] a piece of [himself] out there.”
Carla doesn't. She puts a piece of Casey out there, and hands the victory to Hosea. With just a couple tweaks, it could have ended so differently. The season could have been redeemed with the fairy tale ending of Carla, the little “hooty-hoo”-calling Tortoise from the South, winning over the judge’s, winning over the audience, and winning the competition with all that love mumbo jumbo. I like that story arc -- I like the whole "American" dream undertones that anyone can make it in this country. Or, in the case of "Top Chef," the underdog can come from behind and pass by those big bald posturing chefs.
Instead, the other story arc reigns supreme and the juvenile rivalry between Hosea and Stefan reaches a definitive conclusion. Hosea brings down the great Stefan and wins the entire competition. Do I feel any sense of satisfaction from this? No. And it hardly seems as though Hosea does either. He doesn't roll out a bug-eyed response nor does he burst into a happy-jumpy dance. He claims he "couldn't be happier," but looks the same as he does when he's "so nervous" or filleting fish or making out with Leah. It's an appropriate end to the worst season of "Top Chef" ever, but like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, I want the fairy tale.
And, like Stefan, I really really want Hosea to go back to frickin' Colorado.