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With only five chefs left, you wouldn’t imagine we’d give them an easy challenge, would you? Neither would they, though I believe this week’s – in which we staged our own mini-Bocuse d’Or – surpassed their wildest expectations.
The Bocuse d’Or. It’s an incredible competition. To date, it’s not as well-known in the U.S. as abroad, though I think that it will become better known here in the next few years, as the U.S. develops a stronger presence at it. But to give you information about the competition, I first need to give you some background on famed chef Paul Bocuse, who founded the competition and for whom it is named…and to do that, I first should say a word or two about nouvelle cuisine, a term which was used as far back as the 1740s, but which Paul Bocuse helped put into the spotlight in its most modern iteration.
In its modern usage, the term was a reaction to and departure from French cuisine classique, the traditional way of cooking French food. For one thing, it is credited with the plating of dishes prior to service, as opposed to tableside after their presentation to the diners on platters (so, yes, it is interesting that the Bocuse d’Or went back to platters). This led, in turn, to smaller portions and to attention to and development of presentation styles on the plate. It also led to exploration of the cooking itself. Cuisine classique was standardized; nouvelle cuisine led chefs to go outside traditional boundaries, bringing new, often regional fare into the mix, using fresh vegetables and fruits, relying less on the traditional heavy sauces. Because the food was plated, the personalities of the individual chefs began to show, which led to food writers wanting to know more about the chefs themselves, which led in turn to Paul Bocuse coming out of the kitchen and becoming a personality. He made no bones about it. When he started opening restaurants in Japan (he has six) and at Disney World, as well as a cooking school, he was asked, “who cooks when you are not here?” and he famously answered, “the same people who cook when I am here.”
And so Paul Bocuse, one of the original proponents of nouvelle cuisine, was the first celebrity chef of sorts. He created the Bocuse d’Or in his search for absolute exceptionalism in cooking. He wanted to discover chefs who could elevate culinary art by creating a competition that whole nations could get behind. It’s become a huge international competition, approached like an international sporting event, often with state sponsorship of the participants (can you imagine going to Congress to ask for a line-item for this…?) It’s a spectator event, and rowdy attendees make noise for their nation’s participants. And it’s a pressure-cooker of a competition, cooking metaphor intended. The competitors begin preparations months in advance, first planning and figuring out their dishes over a period of months, down to the most minute details, then ascertaining how to make the most complex dishes in the shortest amount of time, then practicing for yet more months, over and over again, until they can execute the dishes like clockwork, with precision, down to the moment. The Norwegian team actually travels in a trailer with the exact proportions of the kitchen they’ll be cooking in. A documentary was made a few years ago about that year’s Spanish team, and it’s highly dramatic.
Of course, our five cheftestants had twelve hours, not several months. They had no chance to hone the dish before it went into practice. Before I say another word about their individual dishes, I want to say that what they accomplished in this small period of time was nothing short of amazing, even if our judges went on to judge them as critically as had they been competing in the actual Bocuse d’Or.
Thank you, Tom, both for the clear, insightful analysis of the dishes you judged in this episode and for the Bocuse d'Or history. I think your explanation of Kevin's strengths was spot-on. His approach is always intelligent and respectful -- if that's the right word -- of the food at hand. I admire Michael's sophistication, but I get the sense that he sometimes values technique over flavor. It looks like that is a mistake Kevin never makes.
Another disappointing apisode.if this was Bocuse d’or competition, Kevin shouldn’t win. First he asked Bryan hove to cook and even with Bryan’s help his food was not Bocuse d’or. It was just a good every day dish. Michael should have won because his food technically was the best for this competition and why is Patima making so many comments this season?
I want to thank you all so much!! I truely love this show. I have been in fast food management for 15 years,yet I know nothing about cooking. I have learned more watching your show than all that time in restaurants. Keep it up! I can't get enough! A dedicated fan-- ROBIN
Sensational. Both the episode and the blog. This is the reason why I watch. The chefs were challenged to produce on a level that is worthy of Top Chef and all demonstrated exemplary potential. They all clearly care about their food and belong here. I immensely enjoyed the highly informative blog as well.
Best season thus far.
Thank you Tom, for yet again filling in the blanks. Watching Top Chef without reading the blogs is like only eating only the protein. Not as fulfilling.
This episode was the best by far of all of the seasons,any episode. It had the Top Chef Masters vibe. What I mean by that is five totally competent chefs, competitors yes, but without the reality show gamer nonsense going on (my favorite Masters episode was where the chefs chose each others' baskets, with care and consideration, lovely!).
I enjoyed the almost total lack of drama-queen stupidity this episode. I hope your editors cease and desist with Michael's comments about Kevin's cooking. Enough, already, we got it. Rather than editing for conflict, focus on the positive side of the experience for the chefs. More interesting, IMO.
Top Chef has become an amazing show. My congratulations and thanks to the hosts, production crew, editors, assistants, and Bravo Network (apologies if I missed anyone) for a fabulous viewing experience. It's the one show I MUST SEE every week, and as I'm contemplating a move to Costa Rica shortly....I wish you'd consider streaming it live. All the best!
I'm a huge fan of the show, however, tonight I was very disappointed in this week's episode title "Culinary Olympics". The show went on to showcase the Bocuse d'Or as the quote, unquote, culinary olympics. All the chefs involved tonight know very well that an ACTUAL Culinary Olympics does exist, held every four years in Brussels, Germany. As a close friend of Keith Coughenour, a member of the team for several years and later team captain, I was outraged. I know the Bocuse d'Or is a serious competion, but to tout it as something that most established culinarians already know exist, is unexcuseable. Those chefs, as well as Bravo TV, owe all the chefs who've sacrificed and busted their butt on both the regional and national American Culinary teams a huge apology for the snub!!!!!!
I don't know Chef, I was really interested to read your explaination of why Kevin won this challenge. It was said several times that he took the easy route and the safe route, it seems to me that a really big part of this challenge was to go above and beyond and really WOW you with the skills and to show the judges that they have outstanding techniques. Other than the bone in the fish, it sure seems that Michael took more risks and showed more skill than Kevin did. It seemed that you kept harping on the word "Mediteranian", yet no other contestant had to choose a region for their dish, had Michael not said that, would he have won?
The guest judge said that Kevin's simple, easy dish would have been immediately disqualified, so how could you award him the win? It just doesn't make any sense.
Or Brian, it was said that his technique was outstanding only that the mean was a little undercooked. I don't believe that of the final 4, Kevin will best represent the USA in any cooking competition. Brian or Michael would have both been better choices.
Frankly, I'm a little tired of Kevin's "aw shucks" attitude and constantly talking about his "down home" cooking, we want to see excellence!
I have the upmost respect for you Chef Tom, but on this one you weren't able to sway my opinion with your blog, but you gave it a great try!
I know the judges need to be extremely critical especially at this point of the competition, but could the chefs food really all be that undercooked? Is it inedible or just not up to the sophisticated palates of the judges? I would love to just taste the food and see. Would the average person be like "Wow this is phenomenal!". Anyway, it has got to be one of the best jobs in the world being a judge.
I appreciate the intelligence and insight of Tom's blog. It certainly enhances my experience with the show.
Tom, Thank you for all the information. I have never heard of this competition but it certainly sounds challenging. I agree that Kevin will make a good choice if he competes. He thinks out each challenge and then goes to it. I don't think Eli was a bad choice to be eliminated. He needs a little more maturity. I am glad he got as far as he did. This year has been amazing in its quickfire and elimination challeges. Well done, Top Chef!!!!! And a well done to you too for your blog. It has been fantastic and very informative. I know you are coming out with a Quickfire Cookbook but will you be coming out with a new Top Chef Cookbook as well? One that encompasses Seasons 4,5,and 6? I hope so. Thanks for a great season. Mary
Yhank you Tom for this insightful info. Kevin is an inspiration in modesty,as is Thomas Keller. This year, thanks for the editing?, I feel like I might be watching the next great american chef...or is it chefs.
Thanks for always providing insight and answering questions that pop into my head as I am watching each episode. It's as if you've read my mind in what I was interested in knowing as far as the behind the scenes situation. I'm sure that finding the time to type out such detailed blog entries is challenging, just know that it is appreciated by a huge Top Chef fan!
Can't wait for the Finale Episode, although it looks like there isnt an episode Thanksgiving Week according to my tv listings. All 4 chefs are so very talented. I just hope that if one of the brothers deserve to go home, that they do versus keeping them both in the finale for a brother to brother smackdown. From watching the episodes, they apparently are talented but still can make mistakes. Seeing Jennifer and Kevin in finale is my hope for sure! Will definately be interesting to see which well deserved chef wont make it to the end. P.S. I concur about the rude comments made by Michael comparing what he cooks on his day off to Kevin's dishes-very irritating.
Now that is what a blog should be...thank you very much Chef Colicchio. It was truly a joy to hear your insight into this episode, the guest chef judges, and your experiences in the food world, both past and present. This was a truly great episode, I wish for the contestants sake they cook have really nailed their proteins so the guest chefs could really enjoy their talent to the fullest.
Thank you for the job you do on Top Chef, its the perfect show for anyone who is passionate about food.
And, to whoever books the guests...great job this season, the guests have been great. Furthermore, please book some more chefs that will result in another blog like this from Chef Colicchio.
This was a wonderful post full of great insights. Thanks much Tom! I feel Kevin has the ability to be one of the great chefs in the world. He really is so intelligent with his food that it keeps surprising me. Plus he seems also to have a kind spirit which considers his audience, not just trying to make whatever pleases him. Whenever I see him in a new episode now, I keep seeing in him the image of one of those jovial master chefs who everyone would love to have cook for them.
Also, Thomas Keller sounds like a very wise man, to know how to work with people like that.
i am so excited about last night's show. for once, it has the best of the best. my favorite top 4! this has been the best season to me, as far as the most exciting chefs. i am glad to see that they are no mediocre chefs who just happened to get there by accident or fate or whatever. people want to see the best of the best, not someone who has been in the bottom 8 of 12 times. cannot wait until next week:-)
Once again, Kevin rises to the top and manages to stay far away from comparing himself to other chefs and simply cooks like Kevin---which is what has gotten him this far. Consistently a gentleman, consistently and intelligently, thoughtfully executing his dishes, Kevin already is our choice for Top Chef. Note to Michael: one doesn't elevate oneself and one's skills by denegrating the skills of another. One needs to actually have the talent AND utilize it.
Great blog Chef Colicchio; insightful, informative, and to the point. Kevin showed his true intelligence by learning from his Restaurant Wars mistake. He didn't undercook his lamb this time.
You're right. With a couple months of intensive training, Kevin can be that culinary artist the Bocuse D'Or requires. He's already proved he has a really good palate.
Did not like this episodes challenge at all. It seemed to be snooty and stuffy, a bad vibe.
Sorry but most Americans don't know what the hell "Bocuse dOr" is or give a damn about it either. Only the caviar and jet set crowd would care about such things.
Please don't take this show to a super fancy extreme, part of the reason I enjoy watching it is even though I'm not a "foodie" type is that the show seems down to earth and approachable. Don't lose that.
Quite interesting to watch the chefs come up with such elaborate dishes w/o having the opportunity to practice endlessly or even to experiment. I worked for two years w/ a member of the team that won the Coupe du Monde de Boulangerie in 2005, and the choreography and practice that go into such a competition are hard to imagine.
As for last night's show: I thought it was interesting how each of the chef's brought one of the elements that would be needed for the Bocuse d'Or to the table, but none quite brought everything (must have made the judging difficult!). What was most impressive, though, is that they managed to bring even that with such a short amount of time to prepare and no time at all to practice.
This was a wonderful challenge.I was happy to see Kevin win. His food is so consistant and the judges all seemed to like it.He has a real love for cooking and unlike Michael he's not so interested to go over the top but to make food that tastes and looks good.I'm glad he won the $30,000.Bryan is a good chef and so nice unlike his Brother. Jen bounced back and I was glad to see that.She was gracious to assist Bryan because she had some time left.My three favorites are Kevin, Jen, and Bryan.
WELL IT LOOKS LIKE ELI GOT A EXTRA FREE WEEK IN VEGAS.....HE SHOULD OF BEEN GONE LAST WEEK....NOT TO SAY ROBIN WOULD NOT OF GONE THIS WEEK BUT IT LOOKS LIKE WITH BONES IN THE FISH....MICHAEL SHOULD OF BEEN SENT HOME....
LA petit chef?
Come on, Tom and Bravo!
Otherwise: great show, great blog, wonderful chefs!
Thanks a whole lot.
BRAVO!!! The best of the best of Top Chef was last night - again I am educated, impressed beyond words. This has been the best season ever.
I must say that when Kevin won, I cried I was so happy. I love them all though.
Thank you Tom for your insight, Bravo for a fantastic season, to all the judges for their insite and all of the Chef's who are fantastic!!!
Hello Chef, Another great episode in the best season so far. This season the absolute best four chefs have made it to the finals. Can't wait to see how they do in Napa valley! Great blog! Thanks for taking the time to give us your insights to the competition. You,Padma,Gail, and Toby are the ones who really make this show interesting. It's like having four intelligent,passonate,articulate friends to dinner each week. It's the only show on TV that I go out of my way to see. As young as he is, Eli should be proud of himself to have made it this far. He has a bright future. A little more maturity, and he will be a force in the culinary world. Another blogger mentioned the "culinary Olympics". Would love to know more about that. Maybe next season? Still hoping to see " Top Chef Orlando"! Thanks again Chef, and to cast and crew, for the best viewing on TV
Have to say...I was a bit shocked that Kevin won. The sous vide method is pretty darn close to foolproof in getting meat at the perfect temp... particularly since they had plenty of time. Of course, he didn't really know how to execute sous vide...
Bryan showed technique and creativity in design and plating, even if his lamb was a bit underdone.(How often have they undercooked lamb this season? Maybe chefs need a remedial class on why we don't eat rare lamb.)
Anyway, enjoyed the show, And for what it's worth, I can probably rattle off a dozen or more Pugliese "cavolofiore" recipes. I don't know how North Africa lays claim to "true Mediterranean" but Puglia doesn't. I don't know I would have introduced any cruciferous veg to classical French chefs, but that criticism of Michael's dish rings a bit hollow to me.
Thanks Tom... great blog. I am glad Kevin won, I think his attitude of not being cocky is refreshing and it is good to see a good guy win. I am getting a little sick of the overly cocky and down-right cruel Michael. He can say what he likes about Kevin but Kevin is who ended up winning.
Kevin appears to be very talented and equal to the challenge. It also appears that Bryan has the right stuff to do it but simply ran out of time. His generosity with Kevin clearly shows that he is not just about himself but is a true chef that wants to see the best from everyone consequently would be a good team member.
I agree with Lynn - if Kevin's simple dish would have been immediately disqualified why was he awarded the win? He says himself that he prefers simple dishes and that others, namely Michael and Brian, are trying to do too much. I like Kevin because I do believe he is talented, but he also keeps himself above the fray. He and Jen and Bryan are the nice guys.
Question - didn't Richard Blais once create a fish dish that was laden with bones, but was allowed a pass on it? I seem to remember many comments, mine included, that bones in fish can be very dangerous to an unsuspecting diner, but the judges didn't seem to think it was that serious. Last night, they did. Or am I imagining this?
Congratulations Kevin!!!!!!!!!!!! I am certain that Kevin, with the time afforded to him to prepare, is the very best choice to represent America! He is such an amazing chef and such an amazing, intellegent, humble and classy man! I lost so much respect for Michael V. when he said he cooks Kevin's food on his day off. There is no reason to be that nasty. He could learn a thing or two from Kevin..........what a crummy way to show your jealousy, Michael! PS: So glad Eli FINALLY was sent home! He got a free ride last week!!
Tom, I'm looking forward to the finale but, sadly, that will be the end of the season. As usual, the series is great and this season is by far the best. I'm glad you touched on Michael's criticism of Kevin's cooking in your synopsis. For someone as talented as Michael is, he's overshadows his talents because he is so damn whiney. Why doesn't he acknowledge the skills of Kevin and be a man about it. It should be a great finale. You are down to a group of people who, I think, will help each other, although I'm still not sure about Michael......I don't even know if he would help his own brother if needed. Take care and thanks for a great program. Keith
Great Blog Chef Tom! I enjoy reading and learning from your blog almost as much as I enjoy watching the show. I must admit this week's episode had me so anxious that I was sick to my stomach. I can't imagine what the competitors are feeling.
I am so excited for the finale but sad that it's almost over. Now what am I going to watch???
Thanks for your explanations Chef Tom. It helps to understand the nuances and blatant successes and pitfalls of each challenge. Good to see Jen getting back in her game. Wish she would have executed her salmon better. While I agree that Kevin is well mannered and steady...had Bryan not helped him with his dish (ie explaining sous vide,)the end result could have been quite different. At this point in the competition, Kevin ought to rely on his own bank of knowledge... (Hung never gave away his technique and didn't apologize for it.) You absolutely help another chef in your day to day world, but this is a competition. I am rooting for Jen or Bryan.
I'm glad Kevin won. All the sophistication and flair that Michael and Bryan brag about is fine provided it can be backed up with good food. As someone who spent many years cooking in restaurants I know all these personality types well. At the end of the day sophistication,technique and flair will always be trumped by well executed food. I think the best four found their way to the finals and giving them the time and freedom to cook their food, their way should make each and everyone of them shine brilliantly in the finals. Great chefs, great season.
I hope everyone gets to read Richard Blaise's blog this week.....I have a whole new respect for Eli and I think others will, as well.
I agree with Josy's above Kevin did not do a Bocuse d'or. Thats what was asked for. Why didn't you ask all the chefs to do a dinner they would do at home etc. The other chefs perhaps would of gone in different directions as well. Ia don't see what is fair about this. I can see why Michael didn't win with a bone but certainly Jennifer or Bryan could of won. The judging is very disturbing. Maureen
Is it just me, or does Kevin appear to be a little more arrogant? It may just be editing, but I am starting to not like him so much. He started out as such a humble southern guy, and it seems like a humble pie quickfire may be appropriate for him next episode. But it is most likely editing. So glad that Jen is back, was great to see her win again. Eli kind of grew on me a bit, still think he is a little rude, but a very good chef. What I am really looking forward to is watch these 4 great chefs get a chance to simply cook. Loose the gimmicks, restraints, just let them loose in the kitchen, give them a decent amount of time, and let them cook. I think we haven't seen the best of these 4 for that very reason.
I think there were problems with this as an elimination challenge. It just seemed like it was way too hard.
It seems to me that, given this was the last challenge in Vegas, an extra day could have been added to the schedule, during which the chefs could have had at least a day to practice their dishes and maybe refine their techniques. That obviously wouldn't have been like the actual Bocuse d'Or, but it would have at least given the chefs a bit of an opportunity to win on their ideas, not lose on their execution, which is where Bryan fell down, it seems. I know the episodes are heavily edited, so maybe this isn't true, but the judges seemed to agree that Bryan's dish had great vision, and if he'd had a little more time, it would've been great.
It just seemed like nobody really put forth a truly excellent, well-cooked, well-executed, visionary dish. Maybe, given how much time and effort is put into this actual competition, it just wasn't a fair elimination challenge. I know they weren't judged as harshly as at the actual Bocuse d'Or, but it seemed like maybe it was too much for a two-day challenge.
Also, giving $30K plus the compete for the spot at the Bocuse d'Or opportunity really upped the ante a lot. That and the fact that money has been handed out left and right for QF wins this season, kind of makes the whole "vote for your Fan Favorite -- they can win $10K" seem kind of lame.
To disagree with some of the other comments, I am glad the TC chose such a lofty aspiration for the chefs. Please don't pander to the "reality TV" crowd by playing on the drama - more food, more high end stuff is what I really enjoy seeing. Keep up the excellent work.
To all the Kevin haters - I don't think anyone's dish would have qualified for the Bocuse d'Or. We do not get to see the entire judges' table (would make a great extended DVD hint hint), but I am sure that Kevin, who has consistently performed well, had a dish that was slightly superior to the others based on all of the criteria.
I just watched Top Chef's Bocuse D'or episode this morning and have to say that I was disappointed in the selection of Kevin as the winner. I love Kevin and have cheered him during the various challenges but I feel that the judges are biased and that he gets the edge in competitions even when he doesn't deserve to win. Bryan was clearly superior in this challenge and yet gets snubbed again. And when I read your blog Tom you are justifying why you selected Kevin -and the challenge was based on components that Kevin didn't display. I wish the judges would be fair and even-handedin the judging and you are clearly not. It sullies this viewer as you set the criteria in advance then choose to ignore it in the judging.
At 11/19/2009 - 7:05am Rutger said "Sorry but most Americans don't know what the hell "Bocuse dOr" is or give a damn about it either. Only the caviar and jet set crowd would care about such things."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ I think you'd be surprised at how many American know what the Bocuse d'Or is. I do. And I'm definitely NOT of the caviar and jet set crowd! LOL
Perhaps we don't care as much as other nations do, but to me, this episode was a phenomenal insight into what it takes to compete in such a competition. And it's a helluva lot better than the The Food Network's competitions!
Thanks, Chef Colicchio, for giving us the background of the Bocuse d'Or and much more detail into the dishes presented to you by the cheftestants. We LIKE episodes that show a lot of cooking. Loved the collaborative effort amongst this group of chefs; what a difference a few seasons make, huh?
Thank you for reminding me why I'm a fan of this show.
It was great to see the camraderie between the contestants, but this episode focused on the FOOD, not the drama.
It felt like nobody got their dirty mits on the plotlines before it aired - it was interesting, without being a soap opera. Loved it - and learned something too!
Very interesting reading this morning.
For the first time ever, I was not impressed with the senior chefs in this episode. The edit had the guests coming off as "rooty-tooty, we're so snooty" and "how lucky they are to cook for us!" Whether or not it was intended in that spirit is one thing, but the edit is what we saw.
It was extremely disappointing to me, because up til now, the critiques WE see have shown the senior chefs as helpful and encouraging, and they weren't really presented that way in this episode.
Bravo could have done a better job of explaining the Bocuse-your explanation clarifies this episode.
This season proves time and again that it is the best season yet- no drama, solely experianced cooks and chefs, and a show worthy of its challenges. The contestants are awesome and respectful of each other and the games, and humble when they lose. I even felt bad for Robin when she left, although she was my least favorite. I think this past week was excpetional in challenges and choosing who should win (Go Kevin!!) and who should go ( sorry, Eli, we still like you!). Thanks Tom! ps Congrats Padma on your pregancy! Keep up the good work, folks! Bon Appetite'!
Tom, can you, or anyone, give a list of the books/stuff that Kevin won in this competition? I would love to own some (all) of them and cannot find a list anywhere on the site.
Thanks in advance. Paul
Interesting show last night. The editing was weird because if you add up the comments, it would appear that Kevin should have lost the top spot. Your blog certainly helps clear up these glitches between the judges' take on the food and the need for the producers to deliver their version of a compelling show.
Still, even with the editing Kevin seemed to bring such calm intelligence to his decision making.
Great show and great blog of information.
wish i would have known it was more about finding someone for the team of bocuse-d-or rather than who could show some of its style at this point. I think it was between Bryan and Kevin so they chose Kevin because his didn't have a misstep in cooking(thanks to Bryan by the way). From a viewer standpoint, I think Bryan has shown he is open to trying new things than Kevin therefore would have been a better choice for this win.
Michael obviously has some problems with anger when under pressure so that wouldn't fair well in that kind of competition and Jen seems to fold under intense pressure.
Great show this year; keeping the drama where it belongs.
Thank you for your intelligence and comments. It helps explain much about the competition. What I was struck with was the professionalism and kindness that the chefs displayed towards each other, They wre competitors and team players too. So different than previous shows where there was backbiting and back stabbing until the end. These are great professionals. The fact that many of them know each other is a sign that it is a small world of young professionals, I loved noting hat Eli was best man for Richard Blaise. He was also his sous chef on Iron Chef! and then the brothers. What fun it is to watch them. How intense they are. And Kevin is just a class act. I loved Jennifer's helpful spirit. She is emotional but a professional an I am glad to see she move back into focus. I love, love, love this season's show. How will you top this for the next season?
Tom, awesome write-up again. This is the best season ever. I could not predict who was going to win last night.
Kevin will win the competition. I think both Michael and Bryan are true talents as well but Kevin is much more aligned with Tom C's philosophy. If you have dined at any of the Craft restaurants you will see food that mirrors Kevin's - simple, flavorfull, and perfectly cooked. There are little to no advanced techniques employed. Craft is an incredible restaurant. You can feel TomC's distaste when Michael rips on Kevin. All understable, he is basically rippping on Tom's philosophy. I just can't see Michael or Bryan winning with Tom C as the judge but they have made it this far.
As a sidenote, Craft in Atlanta is about 3 minutes away from Kevin's restaurant so Tom is actually helping out his competition by not axing Kevin. Haha.