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Game Theory

Was it the raw venison or the producers' decision that led to this week's eliminations on 'Top Chef'?

4:20 PM, Dec 15, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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On last night's episode of Top Chef Texas, the name of the game was game—namely, elk,venison, and quail. The contestants were divided into teams of two, but the combination of Beverly Kim and Heather Terhune was like oil and water (or in the words of judge Hugh Acheson, "ammonia and bleach"). Their final dish reflected the discord, which erupted at judges' table. So why did they survive the double elimination? Could it be that by adding a dab of Hell's Kitchen, ratings for next week would be guaranteed to sizzle? (These mixed metaphors are killing me.)

Game Theory

In fine print during the closing credits, it's stated that decisions over who stays and who goes are determined by the judges as well as producers. Even before the verdict was rendered, I suspected Heather and Beverly would stay simply because viewers will want to see those tensions continue in their living quarters. And maybe there will be hugs and kisses a few episodes from now just to give the ratings that extra boost.

As it turned out, chefs Dakota Weiss and Nyesha Arrington were sent packing because of a poorly cooked venison—the meat was practically blue. But during the dinner, the judges didn't seem to mind it all that much—it was only later at judges' table that the venison was front and center.

So was it a conspiracy? "I wondered that, too," said Nyesha during a phone interview earlier today. But the young chef from Santa Monica wholly admits that venison was almost raw and seemed more suspicious of the decision to allow her fellow contestants to decide which chefs should be sent to elimination. "Honestly," she said, "I had this feeling that here was an opportunity for people to vote off the competition or who we don't like.... I think there was definitely some conspiring to get people off." Nyesha had all the more reason to be bitter about the outcome since it was her partner Dakota who actually cooked the venison: "By the time [Dakota] came to me with the almost raw venison, I was already plating." To her credit, Dakota readily admits her fault: "It was absolutely a fair decision" because "I had completely undercooked it—it was all about the meat." When she heard the judges complain the venison was "sinewy," she thought, "Ah, there's my fate."

As for the fireworks between Heather and Beverly, the chefs had seen this coming. "Heather likes to be the loudest voice in the room," said Nyesha. "But Beverly allows her to talk like that to her." The situation between the two "was kind of getting out of control," she added. "It's the silliest thing." On several occasions, Heather went out of her way to tell Beverly to lighten up on the Asian flavors. "Bev, I just want to make sure that the whole thing is not too Asian, cause that’s not my style," she explained. (As Acheson speculates in his blog, "I think she’s had a bad Asian experience at P.F. Chang’s, the most authentic Asian she’s ever had.")

Heather also complained incessantly about cleaning shrimp (from a previous episode), which Nyesha noted she must have heard at least 17 times, "all day, back at the house." Dakota agreed, saying, "it went on and on. At a certain point, you need to get over it.... I don't ever want to hear the word 'shrimp' again in my life."

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