It is a hard thing asked of these contestants. Penned up for weeks at a time in a bunker, largely incommunicado, with only each other, boxed wine, and gallon jugs of Wolfschmitz for company, TV cameras always hovering, waiting to pounce at any moment of conflict or stress and fix them in their timeless glare. Sleep is a sometimes thing -- and likely to be interrupted at any time by Padma in a shocking print, rallying them to prepare a three-course meal using the contents of a vending machine. These contestants are tired. Isolated, sleepless, subjected to "stress positions" for long periods at a time, running on a schedule that changes capriciously and without discernible patterns, this kind of fiendish punishment can create in a subject, a weakened and vulnerable state of mind. Dick Cheney would blanche at some of the awful things we do these chefs. It's enough to crack anyone.
In the last few weeks of Top Chef, we have observed as extraordinarily gifted, experienced professionals have:
Won an Elimination Challenge with a bowl of steamed mussels.
Completely f---ed up an entire pasta course that any Italian nona could have won with a handful of boxed pasta, some good olive oil, a clove of garlic, and a few chili flakes.
Been sent home for botching a CHEESEBURGER.
Won an Elimination Challenge with a grilled cheese sandwich.
Been given the chop for screwing up what was basically a liquified version of a baked potato you'd find made better at TGI McFunster's.
What's going ON here?
One need only look at Angelo's face in the stew room. He seemed a shrunken version of himself. Yet to face the judges, he appeared a condemned man, waiting, ready and resigned to his fate.
These chefs are exhausted. The stress of the last few weeks has visibly ground some of them down them down to virtual nubbins. I felt sadness and enormous sympathy during the EC action, watching Carla wander through that enormous Target's empty aisles, 3 a.m., a a headless chicken blinking under the cruel, fluorescent lights. Tiffany, falling back on some hideous prepared seasoning from childhood as if drowning -- grabbing for it like a life preserver. Angelo and Mike seeking solace and security in each other's company, clinging to their fellow inmate for solace.