Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sexism is alive and well on "Top Chef"

by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux

I'm not a fan of most reality TV (although I will be tuned in tonight to see the new season of "Project Runway"), but I have had a soft spot for "Top Chef" for quite some time. Our love affair, however, seems to have been rudely cut short by the choices of Bravo executives, who allowed the assholery of a couple of the contestants to go way, way too far. I know they want good ratings, and the way you get that is to have to load up on contestants we love to hate. But the season premiere last night crossed a line. I knew things weren't great when the first challenge opened with Vegas showgirls, dancing through the kitchen (the season is set in Las Vegas, for some reason). But that was soon put to shame, as soon as contestant Mike Isabella opened his mouth.

"No offense," he said, looking over at fellow chef Jennifer Carroll, who was doing some kitchen task I have now forgotten at an equally rapid pace, "but a girl shouldn't be at the same level I am."

Excuse me, but are we out of our minds here? Mike, the charmer, went on to refer to another chef as an "old lady" and, just to show that he doesn't respect anyone, shared his extremely rude observation that a fellow contestant looked like a "monkey" running through the grocery store.

But this isn't all. The chefs were cooking dishes based on their favorite vices (a weird challenge, if you ask me, but strangely, nobody does), and yet another delightful gentleman stepped up to the plate with a RACK of lamb, seasoned with the MILK from a PAIR of COCONUTS. Do you get it? Do you get it? Yep, Michael's vice was "plastic surgery." He didn't even have the class to say "boobs." And Tom Colicchio? Oh, he loved it.

These comments are sexist to a degree that absolutely stuns me. Racism of this level would simply not be tolerated, even if it did garner ratings, and frankly, Mike is irritating enough that I might stop watching just so I don't have to hear the sound of his voice. The producers of this show had a responsibility to curb Mike's mouth - there is a firm line between edgy and offensive, and he crossed it. And let me just say - who knows if this is coincidence - but out of the fairly gender-balanced cast of contestants, 3 of the 4 lowest-scoring chefs were women, and 3 of the 4 highest-scoring chefs were men. And the woman who won the first mini-challenge has already announced that she is a "bitch" in the kitchen. Because clearly, to be successful, you've got to prove that you have balls - and the only way to do that is to make people cry.

So I'm disappointed, and just a bit livid - although that could be because the only vegan dish I've ever seen on "Top Chef" got Jennifer Zavala sent home. I think Tom Colicchio just doesn't like seitan.

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