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Top Chef Producer Thought This Former Contestant Would "Go Further" in the Competition

Executive producer Doneen Arquines was "surprised" by the fate of this cheftestant.

By Laura Rosenfeld
Top Chef Producer Bts Insights

There are eliminations on Bravo's Top Chef that are just so shocking, they literally leave your mouth hanging wide open. We're talking Jennifer Carroll's fiery exit from Season 8, Jamie Lynch being asked to pack his knives and go after giving up his immunity in Season 14, and Kevin Gillespie's time in the current Season 17 coming to an end during Restaurant Wars.

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But for Top Chef executive producer Doneen Arquines, there's one shocking elimination that stands out among the rest. When we caught up with Arquines prior to the start of Season 17, she revealed the one cheftestant she thought was going to make it further in the competition. "I think last season, I think we were all kind of surprised that Natalie Maronski went out in the second episode because she won the first elimination challenge and then went home in the next one," Arquines shared exclusively with Bravo Insider members. "I think we thought she’d go further."

Another contestant whose Top Chef journey came to a heartbreaking halt was Stephanie Cmar, who was eliminated on a technicality in Season 11 when Nicholas Elmi's dish landed her team in the bottom. Because Nicholas had immunity for that challenge, the judges had to ask Stephanie to leave the competition.

Stephanie hoped that history wouldn't repeat itself as she returned to Top Chef in the Season 17 premiere. "My elimination sucked, and I think people really understood that it was not the outcome that I deserved," she said. "I was devastated after being kicked off for somebody else's food, but it won't happen again."

Arquines reflected on how things ended for Stephanie in Season 11 during her interview with Bravo Insider. "It was definitely sad. But I can’t fault Nicholas for it either because that’s the game. We had made a decision earlier on in that season to allow immunity that late in the game. So it’s not his fault, and that’s just the way that it happened," she said. "But I am glad that Stephanie was able to come back and give it another shot, for sure."  

Nicholas would go on to win Season 11 of Top Chef with Nina Compton coming in at runner-up. That season's finale was controversial among fans back then, and it remains so to this day. "I mean, I get it. I love Nina. She’s fantastic. She’s super talented," Arquines said of the judges' decision. "I can only just go by what the judges felt that day, and Nicholas was a strong competitor, too." 

That any of the cheftestants can be in the top or in the bottom at the end of a challenge underscores the fact that the judges base their critiques solely on the food they place in front of them that day, according to Arquines. "I feel like sometimes there are other competition shows where people make it through because of something they’ve done before, which sometimes is nice. But it also can be like, well, that’s not fair to that person who just did a good job in this one," she said. "I like that, actually, about this show. It can be brutal, for sure, but I think that that gives everybody a fair shot."

Want more Top Chef? New episodes air every Thursday at 9/8c or catch up on this season through the Bravo app.

Find out which chefstestant will make it back into the competition by keeping up with Last Chance Kitchen, which premieres after a new episode of Top Chef on or in the Bravo app. Check out the latest installment, below.

Eggs 3 Ways Race
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