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Spoiler warning for the latest episode of Top Chef: Colorado, titled "This Is Not Glamping," so please head to another one of our fine articles if you haven't yet watched.
Top Chef: Colorado recently reached Peak Franchise Gimmick by tying into the freshman spinoff Top Chef Junior, but the tiny-tool mayhem hit the back burner once we learned a big twist was coming to Last Chance Kitchen, where contestants from years past were also attempting to return. "This Is Not Glamping" rehashed the latest LCK, in which Season 15's Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins faced off against Season 13's Kwame Onwuachi and Season 1's Lee Anne Wong, and the genuinely massive shock came when both Claudette and Lee Anne were chosen to return to the competition. But the disappointment set in once it was revealed Last Chance Kitchen somehow still isn't even over yet. Let's discuss.
Last Chance Kitchen already introduced an enjoyable new spin on things whenever past-season contestants were brought back for a new shot at capturing the Top Chef title, so it was awesome to see Kwame and the quasi-legendary Lee Anne back and sweating it out on the show's kitchen set. Claudette, who was eliminated in Episode 2, hadn't had much of a chance to show off her skills, so she was a fine current-season chef to round things out. Everyone had to use animal innards for the meal challenge, so the playing field was relatively even, and all three chefs put out impressive dishes. However, Last Chance Kitchen host Tom Colicchio decided fairly quickly that Kwame's chicken hearts made for the weakest plate of the three.
Then, instead of asking a second contestant to step aside to allow a single winner to celebrate his or her new shot at winning, Tom declared that he was unable to pick a winner, and that it was a tie, with both Lee Anne and Claudette being allowed to hop back into the flagship series. Padma Lakshmi was standing by Tom's side holding a single Top Chef chef's coat, rather than two, which supported the audible-ness of it all. As well, both Padma and Tom declared that the tie outcome wasn't planned, making it all the more exciting.
So not only was this a fun way to throw a new hurdle at other competitors, but it also finally gave Top Chef fans a chance to see Lee Anne back on the onscreen-cooking side of things. (She served as a culinary producer for four Top Chef seasons after that inaugural competition.) Making matters more complicated was the fact that Lee Anne was three months pregnant for her first child during the taping, which made the episode's snow-covered camping challenge all the more hectic. Plus, that's all on top of viewers getting to see a lot more of what Claudette can do with her flavor profiles, though it also would have been great to see Kwame return. In any case, had that all been the entire purpose of this season's Last Chance Kitchen, then it would have been a splendid and well-conceived move. However...
By the time "This Is Not Glamping" came to an end, chef Tu David Phu had been asked to pack his knives, with his Rabbit Three Ways camp meal not pleasing enough of the judges to convince them to choose someone else. As genial and outgoing as Tu had been in the early episodes, his meals regularly had their share of problems, so this definitely wasn't an issue of the wrong person being eliminated, and it seemed like a perfectly fine week for Tu to go home. But one might have thought he'd have to actually stay home, since Lee Anne and Claudette returning earlier in the episode offered the vague implication that Last Chance Kitchen was over with for the season. But no, it isn't, and that's just aggravating on top of being disappointing.
While it's unclear whether or not Last Chance Kitchen will continue to throw left-field surprises at viewers and contestants, I can't believe we will at some point soon be seeing YET ANOTHER eliminated Top Chef contestant returning to the Colorado-set season. That continued culinary coddling completely cheapens the entire LCK concept, not to mention the season as a whole. Already, the idea of "last chances" was thrown into question whenever any Season 1 contestant could be brought back into it, and then by calling a tie and allowing more than a single contestant back in, Top Chef further ran the risk of alienating viewers. But even with all that, Top Chef producers still chose to keep this season's LCK going? Why not just bring everyone back for a steel cage match next, or give all the chefs $10,000 every meal to cook whatever they want with zero restrictions?
Obviously, I wouldn't want any of that to actually happen, since Top Chef remains a cherished slice of unscripted TV that viewers can still learn things from on a weekly basis. And it's precisely that small screen pedigree that keeps fans optimistic about Top Chef forever retaining a food-first edge that doesn't rely on schlocky patience-testing gimmicks that flood Food Network's Cutthroat Kitchen and its ilk. When we watch Top Chef, part of the fun is in knowing that really, really talented chefs can find themselves kicked to the curb for the smallest of issues, making the competition so much more fierce than it gets on shows like The Voice and America's Got Talent, where genuine contestant errors are far less common, and outside popularity helps just as much as skill. But when even Top Chef can't refrain from Tom-foolery that gives so many chefs another chance to reverse their eliminations, then where are we supposed to turn?
With presumably more twists, turns and cold-weather messiness on the way, Top Chef airs Thursday nights on Bravo at 10:00 p.m. ET. Let us know in the comments if you guys thought this twist was solid or terrible. And to see what other shows are on the way in the near future, cook yourself a James Beard-worthy plate of food and head to our midseason premiere guide.