Could Bravo and Magical Elves Productions strike gold twice and whip up a second winning season of Top Chef: Just Desserts?
The first season of this Top Chef spin-off was a madcap and unpredictable journey. The inaugural outing was a flurry of high and lows, featuring chef Seth Caro’s wildly unpredictable mood swings, medical evacuation, and the now immortal line “The Red Hots are for my mommy!,” as well as catty rivalry between Team Go Diva and Morgan Wilson (in related and shocking news, are recent reports that Wilson was indicted for possession of child pornography).
I’m happy to report that this second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, airing its season finale next week, has proven to be a sweetly satisfying affair.
While the season has been short on shockers and has erred on the side of predictability, in both episode structure and eliminations, some of the challenges, like the Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory landscaping, were simply inspired. Plus, this season’s cheftestants (a downright ridiculous term, by the way) have all displayed great skill and creativity and, most refreshingly, even camaraderie and respect for one another. This convivial spirit was in full force in the penultimate episode, “Dessert in Disguise.”
Going into this episode, the final four cheftestants: Orlando Santos, Sally Camacho, Chris Hanmer, and Matthew Petersen, seemed to be on an even talent playing field. It’s common in other Top Chef finales to find an obvious head-scratcher, whose lack of talent sticks out like a sore thumb (I’m looking at you, Top Chef: Chicago’s Lisa!), but certainly not here. Add on top of the evenly matched skills, the fact all four appear to all genuinely like each other and want to see each other succeed, and you’ve got a delicious viewing experience.
A Closer Look at the Final Four Cheftestants
Bromances have become a mainstay of pop culture and an increasingly common occurrence on reality tv (Brody Jenner’s Bromance, anyone?). Top Chef is no stranger to the bromance, featuring such past pairings as Spike & Andrew, Angelo & Mike Isabella, and Stefan & Fabio, aka Team Euro. Top Chef: Just Desserts has found its own bromance with Matthew & Chris, two talented, like-minded, family men. Not an episode goes by without Matthew and Chris expressing their respect for each other, or a lending of a helping hand in the kitchen. Now that both are in the finale, it will be interesting to see whether the friendly competition will heat up. Remember boys, only one can win!
The lone female chef, Sally, stands in their way of victory. Throughout the season, Sally has been portrayed as very focused and determined contestant, taking somewhat of a no-nonsense approach, as seen through her relationships with Craig, her former student, or Katzie, a younger, seemingly naive chef. However, in this episode, we saw a different side to Sally, a more emotionally open side. Witness this exchange between Sally and Orlando before the elimination challenge:
Sally: I know one thing, I didn’t come here to make friends, but friends is a bonus that we get.
Orlando: That’s the truth.
Sally: ‘Cuz I was looking at first season and I’m like, “Man, they just hated each other” and I’m like, “Oh gosh, is there gonna be somebody in here that, like, I’m totally gonna, like, dislike?” But there really wasn’t. Not for me.
[Side Note: Savvy reality television contestants are now familiar with the cliched line: “I’m not here to make friends.” This trope of a reality tv contestant simply out for his or herself has been rampant throughout all reality series, regardless of subject matter.
If you haven’t checked out the video compilations of reality tv contestants, from Flavor of Love to America’s Next Top Model to The Amazing Race, do so NOW! The following video, created by Rich at FourFour is the 2008 edition. The 2009 supercut can be found here.]
In “Desserts in Disguise,” the four remaining cheftestants were humanzied, as their backstories and personal history with the art of desserts were revealed through talking head interviews, past photographs, and calls to home. This week’s eliminated cheftestant, Orlando, experienced the greatest transformation of all the chefs this season.
In the earlier episodes, Orlando was painted with the villain edit. He came off as arrogant and judgmental, badmouthed his competition, thrived on cutthroat competition, and was unwilling to take criticisms at Judges’ Table. However, as the series progressed, Orlando softened and became more of a team player, learning from this experience and “journey.”
In this episode, through his phone call home, we learn of Orlando’s coming out as a gay man to his family. While he was initially ostracized from his family, he has since taken steps to become closer to his mother. As he found and embraced his humility as a chef, Orlando completed his character arc on Top Chef: Just Desserts, not unlike a character would on a scripted series.
In his final moments on the show, Orlando tells us:
When I came here, I felt as if I was the best at everything. Top Chef has shown me that other opinions matter. It’s humbled me. It’s different when you actually have to look at someone and say that what you’ve done is better than what I have thought of. And I think I can finally do that.
He left the competition as a better person and a better chef. We can all feel better for Orlando not reaching the finish line, since he seemingly received the prize of a positive character transformation.
As for the winner of Top Chef: Just Desserts, I think it’s anyone’s game. Chris, Matthew, and Sally have all proven themselves worthy to be Yigit Pura’s successor. Though if I were a betting man, I’d predict Chris to take home the title.