With only three remaining contestants left in Wednesday’s semi-finals, the judges were forced to find the smallest faults with the chefs’ elimination dishes, and for a minute it looked as if Paul’s grossly unacceptable, criminally negligent garnish—at least that’s how Tom Colicchio saw it—would send him home.
For one of the few times in recent weeks, the “Top Chef” challenges—both the Quickfire and elimination tests—did not feel inane, and the judging (outside of Colicchio’s strange arugula obsession) was not mercurial or unreasonable.
Lindsay was dismissed not for failure, but for her halibut being less great than Sarah’s cannelloni and Paul’s crab. And Sarah was justly rewarded for taking a risk, even if her frozen mousse was the consistency of a paving stone. “I thought your dish was really brave,” Colicchio said, somewhat fulsome praise for baked pasta.
The only real drama now is not whether Sarah can win, but whether Paul can lose. As in past seasons, there’s always room for a last-minute choke, like a golfer with a tournament-winning, tap-in putt who suddenly gets the yips and misses the cup entirely.
Most “Top Chef” viewers can recall Richard Blais’ stagger in season four, Stefan Richter’s not clinching it in season five, or (a dreadfully ill) Angelo Sosa coming up short in season seven.
Paul has shown no signs of faltering at all.
With Wednesday’s elimination win, Paul is as hot as any “Top Chef” contestant ever has been heading into the championship. He’s won three straight elimination challenges and six of the last eight. He’s faced elimination just once all season, while Sarah has been on the bottom five times.
This is of course a subjective contest, and if there’s any weakness in Paul’s game, it’s his ability to control spiciness. His Quickfire dish on Wednesday was too fiery, while his winning elimination dish not quite piquant enough.
Sarah’s food tends to be too bland too often, and it will be interesting to see how carefully they season their dishes next week.
Let’s just hope if Paul uses arugula, he does so for a reason.
Photo: Paul in "Top Chef: Texas" Credit: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo