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'Top Chef': And that's why you don't say you're surprised to be on the bottom

September 17, 2009 |  9:25 am

Mattin While I'm thoroughly enjoying "Top Chef: Las Vegas," from the high-stakes quick fires to the dueling brothers, this week's camping episode was such a step down from last week's incredible French-fueled affair. Also, there were several things that puzzled me, as I'm sure they did you, gentle reader. 

First, Mattin. Really? 

I know -- Tom had to throw some of the raw cod in his Ceviche Three Ways into the bushes. But I'd say Robin's shrimp was also, if not more so, unanimously offensive to the judges. Gail compared it to chlorine. When is shrimp ever supposed to taste like treated pool water? And how much of a reach was it to make a grilled romaine salad? I've seen the Neeleys do that on the Food Network -- it ain't "high end," which was the requirement of this week's challenge in spite of having to cook on campgrounds. 

It's been clear for awhile that Robin is the weakest link. I think Mike V. was right when he said Hector was probably a better chef. She's probably not a terrible cook on a regular basis, but she's no match for most of the remaining cheftestants. But I know how these things go too. You're judged on a "What have you done for me lately?" basis, and that week, I guess Hector's hacked up, incorrectly prepared beef really stood out. 

But between Mattin and Robin, my money was on Robin to go home. Mattin's repertoire was more interesting than Robin's. So why did Mattin get eliminated? I'll tell you why... after the jump...

Mattin got the chop because he said he was surprised to be on the bottom. 

How many times have we seen chefs get that shocked look from the judges' table when they say: "I don't know why I'm here! I thought my dish was good." And yet every season, a handful of contestants will get all indignant with the judges. It's a much better strategy to just say, "Yup, my dish blew. Here's what I should have done differently." The judges tend to appreciate self-awareness as the mark of a potential Top Chef. And I'd be willing to bet that had he went with that strategy, Mattin might be still standing. 

Camp My other big problem with this week's episode was I found the elimination challenge to be unfair. Unfair in that they made the chefs plan their menus -- and more importantly, grocery shop -- before they saw the equipment they had to work with. I know versions of this have been done before; the breakfast-on-the-beach challenge in Season 2 comes to mind, and I thought that was almost as unfair. 

I like to see chefs thinking on their feet, and a wise contestant would have planned a dish that didn't require a ton of specialty equipment. But they were asked to cook a "high end" menu without knowing they'd have a few grills and little else to cook on. Do I really get to see a chef working his magic under these kind of constraints? When the food has been bought? Perhaps non grillable food? Ceviche's great on a hot day, but we saw lots of ceviche last night, and, well, it's not so impressive to whip up. 

That's why Bryan's pork on polenta won. Not the most inspired dish, but hey, it took more effort than ceviche.

By the way, Robin and Ron are next. I'm saying it right here. 

Thoughts? Let me know below. 

-- Denise Martin

Photo credit: NBC Universal