Given their post-Gitmo state of mind, and the conditions at Camp Top Chef lately, it was an unexpected delight to see the Muppets earlier in the show. Ordinarily, I hate goofy challenges like this: fuzzy, silly, tweenie, or personality-driven guest judges. As a general rule, I'd like to see Joel Robuchon, Eric Ripert, and Grant Achatz sit in on every challenge. But this was, I thought, one of the more unexpectedly delightful QFs in Top Chef history. I tried to resist -- curmudgeonly inclined as I am -- but who among us, what hard-hearted monster could not be charmed by the sight of Richard Blais, explaining himself to Elmo? Angry Dale being heckled by furries, fighting a natural instinct to curse at the Cookie Monster? As a dad -- all too familiar with Elmo and Mr. Noodle and friends -- I was fascinated by the varied reactions as the chefs were confronted by the fact that they'd be judged by Muppets. Blais thought instantly of his own child -- and how cool he'd look later having hung with Elmo. Tiffany and Carla seemed amused. Antonia thrilled and bemused. Isabella took it in stride. Dale was understandably dismayed -- but impressively enough, went on to snatch victory from disgust. It was the expression on Angelo's face, however, that was the "tell." When he first spied the Muppets popping up from behind the table, his face fell as if punched. He looked like someone had just taken a dump on his lap. My theory is that that was the precise moment where Angelo lost it. His will to go on disappeared. From the first second he looked into those three sets of pitiless, googly eyes, he was a defeated man. He had seen the Beast. And it was brightly-colored and fuzzy.
I should interject that no one was more excited by the Great Muppet Adventure than Tom Colicchio. It was all he could talk about after. I've never seen or heard him so excited about any guest judge -- ever! And I understand now. I put off watching the QC until the very last moment -- but was immediately charmed. And bizarrely enough, no challenge has ever shown us so unblinkingly the true characters of our contestants. As I've said, these are enormously talented people, doing a very hard thing -- under ridiculous pressure. It was great to see them have a laugh. It was great to see a few unguarded moments -- children again.
End of the day, Angelo went home. He may have been a better all-around cook than some. But his soup was far and away the worst. Top Chef is like the baseball play-offs. Doesn't matter who the better team is -- or who has the best season stats. One bad day, one booted slow roller to short, and it's all over.