Wednesday, January 17, 2007
You suffer, but why?:
Cliff, let's talk. All season long, I've been pulling for you, ever since you and Sam killed it with your pairing of scallops & foie with that fig gastrique. One day, I'm going to buy foie gras, and that is exactly how I'm going to prepare it. You had your occasional outburst or spot of surliness -- at Mia, at Elia and especially at Marcel -- but each time, I thought, the vision behind your dishes consigned any character issues to the background. It's a funny thing, food television: I can't taste anything, and yet I remain confident -- and believe I have grounds to be -- that you're an exceptional chef. My guess was you, Sam and Elia for Hawaii. Then you grabbed Marcel out of bed and put him in a wrestling hold while the others were supposed to shave his head.

The truth is, you don't need another commenter, who doesn't know you, wagging his finger. I'm not going to say you got a raw deal. But it was medium rare.

What happened was a conspiracy. You were the one holding the bag. Padma gets it right on her blog, but the lesson hasn't really sunk in. At least from what was aired, Ilan was the ringleader of this pathetic plot; Sam was supposed to be the executioner; and Elia was either documenting it or cowardly stayed out of its juvenile path. You were the muscle.

Now, you chose to do what you did. Even when you saw you had no backup, you kept holding Marcel down until your reinforcements regained their courage. (In a sick way, I suppose that's actually a testimony to your character: you stuck to the plan.) I don't know why you were the one who restrained Marcel, since Sam is as big as you are. And clearly, you had no problem with your role in the op.

But the wages of being the muscle were an outsized share of the punishment. You were the one charged with violating the terms of your Top Chef contract. Ilan, the jailblock-girlfriend of the show, brayed like a donkey for you to do what you did. He gets no punishment? Sam reneges at the last moment -- but not enough to tell you to let Marcel go. He gets no punishment? Elia is supposed to be Marcel's friend, and she didn't try to stop this idiotic act of bullying. She gets no punishment? I'm not going to say you were set up. You knew what you were doing. But the ones who convinced the shooter to fire are just as guilty.

And here's a case where the just outcome means bad television. With the possible exception of Elia -- and here's a case where we need to know everything that's on that tape -- all four of you should have been sent home. Marcel wins by default, making for the most awkward feature in the history of Food & Wine. It's a tremendously unsatisfying result. But it is the right one.

In short, you're guilty, but you should have had at least two cellmates, and probably three. If there was any true moment of justice on the show, it was when Marcel apologized to you that you had to leave, thereby proving that he is the bigger man.
--Spencer Ackerman
I think it was pretty clear that Cliff's dish was the worst of the five and that he was likely to be sent home even if he hadn't put Marcel in the full-nelson
Blogger DP | 7:16 AM

What I've been trying to figure out is, what's up with Marcel and Elia? As you said, she's supposed to be his friend. And yet, she's a co-conspirator in this prank and occasionally takes part in Marcel abuse behind his back. My guess is that there was a falling out and that the producers either didn't get it on tape or chose not to air it.

Also, is Marcel the jerk that the rest of the cast thinks him to be? It's hard to say from what we see, but my take is that Marcel is a decent guy who happens to be annoying. Cliff, on the other hand, is a domineering jerk, but he has good social skills.
Blogger dr | 7:26 AM

One thing to keep in mind is that they were all pretty wasted. Not excusing anything but does but the lack of judgement displayed by all in some context.
Blogger DP | 7:36 AM

DR, do you think there needed to be an off-camera falling out between Marcel and Elia for her to participate in the prank? It seems to me that membership in the Top Chef in-crowd requires cruelty to Marcel. Add in some alcohol and the pack becomes vicious.
Blogger spencerackerman | 7:55 AM

I agree that alcohol+peer pressure could explain events, but still I wonder. Granted that Elia doesn't have the instinctive dislike for Marcel that everyone else seems to share, it seems to me that not hating someone is a lot different from signing on as their confidant and confessor, and I wonder what stresses that introduced into the relationship. It's not insignificant, I think, that Elia chose Ilan rather than Marcel for a roommate.
Blogger dr | 10:01 AM