Top Chef: Questioning Immunity

top chefThank you, Top Chef, for giving me something to write about.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a stir caused by Top Chef before. Certainly, people have been kicked off before who should have stayed. And yes, people have won before who should have been kicked of weeks, if not months, before. I think we’re all still reeling from the questionable Hosea win.

But last night was a doozy. While it wasn’t a finale, it was a big one, pitting two teams against each other to battle French versus Spanish cuisine. One team, the Spanish team, was visibly the weaker team with Brian, Nina, and Carlos. The other had top contenders Nick, Stephanie, and Shirley. You could certainly argue that Nina is better than Stephanie, but in recent weeks, Stephanie has been making a name for herself and the combined talent with Nick and Shirley certainly put her on the top. Of all people, Carlos is the weakest of the bunch, and let’s just say, he got lucky.

How? Well, two dishes put the French team on the bottom this week. The safe, Spanish dishes were good, solid fare. They won over the French team’s highs and lows. And in this particular case, the lows were so low, it put the team on the chopping block.

But so what? That’s the usual for Top Chef. Or is it? Well, in this particular case, Nick was the man with the sucky plates. But Nick also had immunity. So in a team of three, that put two of our best chefs at risk for going home. In fact, the plates done by Shirley and Stephanie were some of the best of the night, and the judges clung at straws to find the flaws in the plates.

What’s more? The guest judge of the evening proposed a question to Nick: Should one of these other talented chefs go home because of his mistake? Or should he give up immunity?

And with that, the Twitterverse went crazy.

Nick had always been one of the contestants that put pride in fighting fair and being a standup guy. And boy did this set off the viewers. Can you really be cooking with integrity if you’re sending other chefs home for your mistakes? Should he “fall on his sword”?

In my view, no. This is a competition. And he had immunity.

In fact, some of the discussion rather irked me. He earned immunity. Immunity gives you the opportunity to impress the judges outside their comfort zone. I can guarantee you that Nick would not have made either dish — or at least not the bird’s nest — if he didn’t have immunity. He was taking a chance. And it didn’t work. If he played it safe, they would have had him on the bottom, warning him that if he didn’t have immunity, he’d be going home, much like Carrie was for her broccoli and sauce dish a couple episodes before.

And this isn’t the first time that someone with immunity was at the bottom, making the judges choose someone else in the team. It is, however, possibly the first time Tom didn’t question the team members to see if they had a) tried the food and b) made suggestions to fix it. How many times have we heard Tom say, “This guy’s on your team and he has immunity. You didn’t try his food? If he screws up, you’re the one going home.” And yet, those words weren’t spoken last night.

Nick certainly isn’t going to be making friends with that choice. But then again, this is a competition. Why would you send yourself home if you found the opportunity to stay. He did earn immunity. That’s the perk of winning the quickfire.

I’m also rather skeptical that Shirley, if in a similar situation, would have dropped out, in the hopes of coming back in “Last Chance Kitchen.” I just don’t think that would happen.

In my view, I do wish Shirley had been kicked. It’s not that I don’t like her food, but I do think she’d have a better chance at “Last Chance Kitchen.” Stephanie gets into her head a little too much, and I just don’t think that she’ll make it through. But it would be entertaining to see her face if she and Nick were competitors again. (Full disclosure: I haven’t seen who won the most recent webisode yet to see if Stephanie is still standing.)

I feel bad for Stephanie; she was one of my favorites. But they know the game. And she knew that plate wasn’t good (she said herself, her ass would be going home). But Nick certainly shouldn’t have been asked to give up immunity. All’s fair in love and Top Chef.


4 thoughts on “Top Chef: Questioning Immunity

  1. This was certainly a big controversy. I have to take issue with the structure of the challenge in the first place. If you have only six people left, and one has immunity, splitting them up into two groups would almost guarantee a problematic final decision like the one we had tonight. Then again, this is a reality show, and what happened caused a bunch of controversy, which means more eyeballs watching, so maybe they want that.

    But anyway, I agree with you. This sort of thing has happened before and no one was ever pressured to resign because of it. I like Stephanie and it really sucks what happened to her, but Nick had immunity and that’s the way the game is played. I read this recap earlier, and while the author says Nick had no obligation to resign, he seems to argue that it might have been a better play for him. He says that Nick could have probably won two last chance kitchen challenges to get back into the race, and even if he didn’t, there would have been a huge amount of support and good-will for him, which previous non-winning contestants (like Carla for example) have been able to translate into improved career prospects. It’s an interesting point, I think.

    Anyway, great episode. This has been a really strong season.

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  3. hasn’t there been an instance where someone wins immunity and does so poorly that the judges take the immunity away from them? i feel like in earlier seasons of top chef this happened…

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