I love Tournament Of Champions. It’s my favorite thing on Food Network, and it’s one of my favorite overall cooking shows. Season 3 just took its final bow this past weekend with former Top Chef runner-up Tiffani Faison winning the belt in a hotly contested finale over Season 1 champ Brooke Williamson. I can’t wait for Season 4 next year, but when the show does come back, I’d like to see it with one key change.
It has to do with the judging (which is a recurring problem on similar shows). The way it works now is relatively straightforward. After the dishes are prepared, a group of culinary all-stars comes in and tries each. Authors/ TV personalities Justin Warner and Simon Majumdar are there to explain the ingredients/ methods of preparation and answer any questions. The judges then score each plate on taste, use of the randomizer and presentation. The chefs are then called back in, given overall scores and told the winner. In theory, it’s a pretty straightforward and unbiased process, but the end result is actually quite confusing.
It’s not like Top Chef where the judges come to a decision as a group. They talk about it some but afterwards, each person critiques based solely on their own preferences. The totals are then either averaged or combined together to generate a final score, which produces the winner. But sometimes as fans, we’re left wondering how the heck the edited comments we saw produced certain scores. Let me give an example.
It feels like this scenario happens at least once an episode. Two judges rant and rave about someone’s dish. The flavor profiles were unique. The sauce work was a delight. Fill in your own food show buzzwords and phrases. But then the third judge doesn’t get it. Their piece of meat was slightly over. They didn’t understand why one of the components was there. You get the gist. Then the second dish comes out and all three judges seem to give mildly positive takes. It wasn’t as big of a swing, but everything tasted pretty good. It’s a solid enough dish.
So, in the end, we’re left with an exciting dish two people loved and one person had serious issues with and a more inside the box attempt everyone is blandly happy with. Then Food Network favorite Guy Fieri comes out to give the scores and if the lukewarm dish wins, we’re all at home wondering if the third judge just completely screwed over the first dish or if everyone liked the second dish much more than their comments seemed to indicate. There’s no way for viewers to ever know, and this is extremely annoying.
So, I think one of two things needs to happen. My personal preference would be to let viewers see the actual breakdown of scores from each judge. That’s how they do it at the Olympics. It’s clear as day whether there was a general consensus among the judges or whether someone’s scores were way out of whack with the others. The judges themselves may not like having their scores out in the open, but in my mind, if you show up to judge a competition, there should be some level of transparency. I would imagine they’re getting an appearance fee, and to me, standing by your scores is just a part of being a judge.
Or, if that’s not an option because they think good judges won’t agree to come on, then I think they should bring in a fourth judge and then drop the highest and lowest scores in each category. That would prevent one judge that’s out of sync from the others from single-handedly changing the outcome. I also think it may inspire the contestants to get a little more daring if they’re not worried about having to please every single judge.
Long story short, Tournament of Champions is great. The talent is really high end. The randomizer pushes the chefs in difficult and unexpected ways. Guy Fieri is the perfect host. Everything about it really works. I even love the professional wrestling-style belts the winners get. Even good shows, however, should improve when they can, and the lack of transparency around the judging is a clear place where the show can and should improve. Fingers crossed that happens ahead of Season 4.
Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.
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