Note: This is my third-to-last Top Chef Power Rankings post for Uproxx. Follow me on Twitter and/or Patreon for updates on how to find them after that! I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them.
Every season of Top Chef has to have a “champions fall” episode, which keeps the competition from just being predictable all the way through. That was this week on Top Chef World All-Stars. The favorites all took a tumble and the audience got to breathe a collective sigh of “maybe things aren’t as they seem!”
How did those evil leprechauns at Magical Elves productions engineer such a thing? With a family non-denominational holiday dinner challenge spectacular! The chefs had to work together with a collective budget (“Just like a family!” noted Padma, politely omitting the fact that Aunt Edna never gets kicked out of Easter for putting raisins in the potato salad, even though she should) to present a family-style meal to the judges on their weekend excursion, sponsored by VRBO. Which they pronounced “verbo,” because V-R-B-O is still trying to make that happen. (Author’s Note: I will never call VRBO “verbo,” VRBO is not my old Australian pal from the footy).
Family, vacations, comfort food, togetherness — I can dig it. But how does that flip the script?
Well, mostly I started this feature as a vehicle for my dumb lil’ jokes™, but if I could play earnest analyst for one second: it seems to me that the demands of “blow our minds with something completely different” and “make us long for home with something comforting and familiar” are fundamentally at odds. Usually Top Chef tests the former, and the chefs who were used to doing that struggled a bit with the latter. Mmm, mead reduction caviar thickened with agar-agar atop bludgeoned lamb dust, just like mom used to make!
OR, maybe that’s just a tidy narrative inventing causal relationships between random events to explain unexpected outcomes. Because the other important aspect of the VERRRRBO challenge was that the chefs all had to plan together and prepare their food in the same kitchen, leading to all sorts of drama about who got to make pork belly and which chef was bogarting the fry pot. A lot of the chefs who ended up on the bottom deferred at key points of the prep, forgetting the first rule of reality competitions: You’re not here to make friends! (forever and ever amen).
And so, true to the spirit of a family get together, the whole thing ended in strife and hurt feelings, leading to one of the angriest eliminated competitors I’ve ever seen on this show. Which is good! I get irrationally pissed when I break an egg yolk, I don’t want to see chefs have to share equipment and then get their food dissed in front of the whole world and pretend to be okay with it.
Oh yeah, also there was a mead challenge in the quickfire. Mead? Mead! I feel like mead is up there with sour beers in the category of things I’ve tried to get myself to care about and just can’t do it. Unless I’m at a Ren Faire, I don’t know of many situations that make me think “you know what I could really go for right now? A mead.”
Anyway, onto the rankings! (Which are completely nonsensical this week because virtually every chef did the exact opposite of what they’ve been trending towards all season).
Quickfire Top: Tom*, Victoire, Charbel.
Quickfire Bottom: Nicole, Amar, Sylwia.
Elimination Top: Amar*, Victoire, Ali.
Elimination Bottom: Buddha, Gabri, Begoña**.
11. (-9) ((Eliminated)) Begoña Rodrigo
AKA: Tilde Swintón. Beach Mom. Thtevie Nickth.
Yes, Begoña was the chef eliminated this week. Shocking thtuff! (Is it just me or did Begoña lose her Castilian lisp after the first episode? Way to ruin all my jokes, lady). The offending dish was a cut-up fried chicken-looking thing (are those breasts? oh Begoña no) that she said was inspired by the leftovers meal Begoña traditionally eats the day after holidays when she gets together with “the people I actually want to see.”
Ha! Suck on that, family.
The judges were all over this one, from the too-sweet sauce to the fact that Begoña “used curry as a condiment,” which to Padma and Tom seemed to be tantamount to putting baby in a corner. And so, they sent the witchy woman (in Don Henley parlance) home, which she didn’t even pretend not to be pissed about.
Damn, I haven’t seen someone with a sweatshirt tied around their waist this pissed since the heyday of grunge.
Good for you, Begoña! This woman has been serving you creamy anemones all season and you’re just going to forget that over one sub-par roulade?? For shame!
Begoña didn’t even bring up the fact that Charbel had been bogarting the fry pot they were supposed to share for the entire prep, leading her to have scramble and cut up her chicken smaller than she wanted. She was in a bad position; bringing it up at that point would’ve seemed like petty whining.
And so, Begoña tumbles nine slots in this week’s rankings. Though if I was a betting man, she would still be the odds-on favorite to return to the competition through Last Chance Kitchen.
LAST CHANCE KITCHEN ADDENDUM: Begoña clearly learned her lesson, because in her first Last Chance Kitchen competition, when the chefs were meant to negotiate which dish they’d be doing, Begoña just told the others which one she was doing and didn’t allow for any jibber jabber. And it worked!
We have to wait until next week to find out if she wins part two and returns to the competition, but clearly she learned the “I’m not here to make friends” lesson the hard way. Hopefully she remembers it. Gets it printed on a turquoise-beaded bracelet so she never forgets.
10. (even) Nicole Gomes
AKA: Clawhoser. The Contessa. Kindergarten Cop.
Nicole seemed like one of the few underdogs from previous weeks to remain untouched by this week’s reversal of fortunes. She benefited from Buddha deferring to her on pork belly (serving up the little five-spiced number you see below) but not enough to land her in the top three of the elimination challenge. Sad!
To make matters worse, she beefed her zabaione so badly in the quickfire round that she ended up having to serve a whack-ass trifle, which landed her in the bottom three (…he typed while confidently pretending he knew what a zabaione was). Triflin’!
And yet still she skated through. My gut says Nicole is going to go home soon, but she could also be a born survivor who, cockroach-like, is going to keep doing this for 10 more episodes.
9. (-1) Sylwia Stachyra
AKA: Auntie Claus. Potato Girl. The Bone.
Say what you will about Chef Sylwia, she always makes the kind of food I’d want to eat. She tried to make some Polish dumplings in the quickfire challenge, which was maybe bold to the point of stupidity to attempt in 30 minutes, but as the OG Dumpling Daddy™ I appreciated it. Sadly her dumps flopped open, disgusting the guest judge and I think you can insert your own Icarus-based dumpling pun here, I’ve been on vacation all week.
In the elimination challenge, she made a bomb-ass looking potato soup with soft boiled eggs that she called “white borscht.” Whatever, I’m pretending is Polish ramen.
“Ist Polish ramen. Potato broth viss chunks potato, potato noodle. Garnish viss potato.”
Everyone seemed to love it, but not enough to put Sylwia into the top three. That feels like bad news for Potato Girl, but she feels so consistently on brand that I have to think she’s a lock for fan favorite. I’m calling her “The Bone” in honor of my friend Cameron, who decided when we were seniors in high school that everyone was going to call him “The Bone” and actually willed it into existence. Sylwia has done the same with Potato Girl and it takes a special person to make a self-ascribed nickname happen.
8. (-3) Gabri Rodriguez
AKA: The Black Pearl. The Mongoose. Wile Y. Coyote.
Oh, Gabri. What the hell do we do with our precious Mongoose? When Gabri decided he was going to make mole this week, it actually elicited a collective groan from the other chefs, who remembered how he broke the bank with his 50-something ingredients the last time he made one and had to borrow from May to cover it. (I believe something similar happened between Mexico and the French, which is why we celebrate Cinco De Mayo).
He promised this would be a simpler mole, and that it would be important because he’d be dedicating to his departed father.
He ended up making this green mole, and when the judges didn’t like it, he blamed it on being in a bad mood from thinking about his father. Hey, man, you’re the one who brought up your father! It’s like he was playing the “why you hitting yourself” game with himself.
Basically Gabri got dinged for the same reasons Begoña did, which is using curry (or in this case mole, which is basically a Mexican curry) as a condiment. At first I thought Tom was being kind of a nitpicky bitch, the only one to call Gabri’s mole “scorched,” which seemed like partly Tom congratulating himself for noticing that Gabri’s mole pot was overboiling during the walkthrough. They should really have to taste these things blind so that the judges’ criticisms can’t just be “I told you so.”
I digress, but even the Mexican guest judge said that Gabri’s fish, his tortilla, and his mole “didn’t speak to each other.”
Just looking at it, that seems right. Simmer your damned meat in your curry/mole should be a new Top Chef commandment up there with not making risotto.
7. (+4) Victoire Gouloubi
AKA: Al Dente. Minute Rice. Steven Seagal. Three’s Company. Pulp Fiction. Backstory.
Hot off her near-death experience from walnut exposure last week, Victoire doubled down on the human interest stories this week, revealing that not only does she speak seven languages, she was also basically homeless when she left Congo for culinary school in Italy. “I have lunch or dinner in the trash at McDonald’s,” Victoire revealed, in probably the soundbite of the season.
And then she seemed to catch fire, landing top three in both the quickfire and the elimination challenge, the latter with a bean stew. Which has to be the all-time high-water mark for a bean stew.
I don’t know if I’m ready to call Victoire a favorite quite yet (the culture barrier does seem like it’s hurting the international chefs) but winning with the musical fruit was more than enough to jump her up a few slots. (Side note: Padma’s bean farts have to be worth a fortune on OnlyFans).
6. (+3) Charbel Hayek
AKA: Davos. Soup Nazi. 25.
Another mostly solid, if unspectacular performance from Charbel, who landed top three in the quickfire and in the middle of the elimination challenge. The former for a butternut squash dish and the latter for something involving a concassé. Which I don’t really know what that is, but does sound great when you say it with a Lebanese accent.
*David Byrne voice* Psycho killer… concassé… fa fuffa fa faffa fuffa fa fa…
Charbel also managed to sideline one of the best chefs in the competition by hogging her fry pot. That’s a veteran move right there.
5. (+2) Amar Santana
AKA: Big Sleazy. Laughtrack. Hibbert. Flava Flav.
Ayyy, check out the big win for Big Sleazy! The most fun dude in the competition finally took home a win this week for his overnight-braised, Moroccan-style lamb shank, which did look like one of the tastiest dishes in this entire competition thus far.
I want to swim in that.
Big Sleazy is basically the anti-Buddha, who never watches game tape or plays the numbers and just goes out there and grips it and rips it. He just seems to roll up like John Daly, taking fireball shots and blowing darts while everyone else is warming up. Sometimes he wins, sometimes he shoots 84, but either way seems like he’s having the best time. (That’s a lil golf analogy for you guys, in case you were wondering whether I’m a dad now).
I’d have Big Sleazy ranked higher except he also duffed a fried chicken in the quickfire challenge that landed him in the bottom three. I can’t tell if he’s trying to win this competition or just auditioning to be Ali’s Flava Flav, who Amar seems to big up at every opportunity. It’s like Amar took one look at the soft-spoken Jordanian and thought “this guy needs a hype man.”
He’s not wrong, but again — not here to make friends.
4. (+2) Tom Goetter
AKA: Meekus. Sprockets. Fuckboi Tom.
I feel like Tom’s “mischievous German” act is starting to get a little old, but maybe that’s just the way with F-boys. Tom made some mead caviar with agar-agar in the quickfire challenge (“agar-agar” in a German accent is almost as disturbing as “concassé” in a Lebanese accent is pleasant), but unlike last week‘s guest judge, who had no time for Tom’s molecular bullshit, this week’s was smitten. Foam me, daddy, I’ve been naughty! Turn my oils into soils!
Tom took home the win and immunity in that challenge and spent the rest of the episode slacking off, which seemed simultaneously very European of him and very un-German.
There was a nice human interest vignette about Tom’s brother, who Tom described as a “very annoying person, actually” on account of supposedly being taller, better looking, and more married than Tom. Thinking that he was not perfect enough to measure up to a sibling despite being a world famous chef restored Tom’s Germanness and then some. Everyone seemed to hate Tom’s “dense” cake but it didn’t matter because he had immunity.
3. (+1) Sara Bradley
AKA: Party Mom. Reebok. Sassparilla.
In true Party Mom fashion, Sara revealed “I’ve been mead drunk before” during the quickfire challenge, making me wish we could get a nice little montage package of Sara listing all the different obscure alcohols she’s been drunk off. Again, seems like a good hang.
She had another doozy of a story for the elimination challenge, explaining that the inspiration for her dish was the time her mom took her dad to meet her grandpa, who accidentally cut her dad’s leg with a chainsaw while sawing through a log — a story that absolutely screams “I’m from Appalachia!”
If you haven’t been maimed by an in-law, are you really from hill country?
Because Sara contains mulitudes, she also revealed that she’s been keeping a running tally of who finishes where in each challenge like the good little former statistics major she is. Only her and Buddha had never been on the bottom before. Since Buddha finished in the bottom three in the ensuing episode, that leaves Sara as the last remaining chef who hasn’t finished in the bottom. That’s a solid track record, though without a win in either challenge this week I couldn’t quite justify putting Sara in the top two either.
2. (+1) Ali Ghzawi
AKA: RRR. Maui Wowie. The Strain. The Ghizza.
The Ghizza nearly took home a victory this week with a bomb-ass mezze platter. Those must’ve been some good dips.
I can’t decide whether Ali truly deserves to be in the top two or if I’ve just been influence by Amar hitting the reggae horn button every time Ali presents some food.
1. (even) Buddha Lo
AKA: Moneyball. Double Down. Big Data. Buddha.
Buddha seemed almost as pissed about his bottom three finish as Begoña was. Buddha almost going home for a comfort food challenge makes a lot of sense though. This man doesn’t make comfort food, he makes space food. He wants to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed. He makes art! Family? Buddha is the reverse Vin Diesel. Buddha doesn’t have family, he was born in a flood of gelée and raised by a scallop foam.
Again, that’s the fun, myth-making read on this week’s events. The more pedestrian one is that I knew Buddha was sunk when he deferred to Nicole on making a pork belly and chose instead to do “a room temperature fish salad.”
…Hold up, you want to make a what now? He ended up making a salmon slab with all the fixins and left the judges confused.
Tom said Buddha “got caught between being a chef and being a home cook,” which feels right.
Buddha almost went home this week and I wanted the rankings to reflect that, and yet I had an even harder time finding anyone else to put in his slot than I did justifying Buddha staying. Tom? Tom screwed up his cake. Ali? Didn’t win either challenge. Sara? Ditto. Amar? Took an L on fried chicken.
I’m going to pull a Buddha and play the odds here, and to me the odds are that Buddha is still a favorite.
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