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'Top Chef: Texas': A last-chance kitchen that has many problems

November 10, 2011 |  7:30 am

Top Chef Texas

Is it a second chance? Or one more shot at being humiliated? And does the math even work?

Outside of the bake-off to trim the final roster for “Top Chef: Texas” from 29 contestants to 16 finalists, one of the key inventions of the ninth season in Bravo’s cooking competition is “Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen.”

The idea is to give popular cooks one more opportunity to get back into the match after being eliminated. But having seen its debut in Wednesday’s second “Top Chef” episode, I can say the invention appears to be creating as many potential problems as solving them and presents a mathematical obstacle that might worry Ben Bernanke.

Head judge Tom Colicchio said the Internet-only “Last Chance Kitchen” was partly inspired by last season’s dispatch of Tre, who stumbled in the series’ restaurant wars showdown. But in its premiere, in which Andrew was able to make a better pizza than Janine, the actual logistics of “Last Chance Kitchen” came into focus, and it’s not a pretty picture.

First of all, because it resides on Bravo’s website, you can’t TiVo the thing, meaning you have to get up from the TV, start up your laptop and (of all the indignities!) be forced to watch the commercials. As Colicchio explained it, though, there will be a “Last Chance Kitchen” every week, meaning that Andrew isn’t back in the show at all, but must repeat the whole exercise next week against whoever else has to pack their knives.

If you start crunching the numbers, whoever finally prevails in the “Last Chance Kitchen” might have to win a dozen or more head-to-head challenges. While that’s still a lot easier than working in a coal mine, it does require a remarkable run of execution and luck, and ultimately subverts one of the underlying (yet not always visible) tenets of “Top Chef” -- namely, that you can make it very far into the show having never won anything.

Last season, in “Top Chef: Masters,” Tiffany made it to the final four without winning a single elimination challenge. A season earlier, in the regular “Top Chef,” Amanda made it to the final six also without taking one elimination challenge prize. The loser’s bracket, in other words, is materially harder than the winner’s bracket. Whoever triumphs through the parallel “Last Chance Kitchen” contest could very easily win more direct matches than any of the finalists. And did I mention you have to get up from the TV to see it?

“I think it would almost be cooler,” Andrew said, “to win it from the ‘Last Chance Kitchen.’ ”
We have to agree.

-- John Horn

Photo: Lindsay in "Top Chef: Texas." Credit: Virginia Sherwood/Bravo