Top Chef All Stars – “Feeding Fallon”

“Feeding Fallon”

February 9th, 2011

I actually have no idea if I’ve blogged about Top Chef All Stars yet, but it’s been pretty great, no? The show has bounced back from its weakest season to return to being incredibly enjoyable, introducing interesting challenges and avoiding mediocrity at nearly every turn. Even moments that I thought would negatively impact the series (like Jennifer being sent home so early) proved to be mere bumps in the road, as other contestants emerged to play their part in bringing the season together. The food has been pretty uniformly impressive, and when it hasn’t been those people have faced the music in the bottom. Outside of the lengthy period where Jamie remained in the competition despite her failures of execution, the show has just been about great chefs cooking in great challenges, which is what the show is all about.

Generally, I’ve been content to just enjoy the season on its own merits, but I want to focus on tonight’s episode because I have a nicely balanced pair of points I want to make about it. The first is an intellectual question about spoiler culture and Jimmy Fallon’s presence in the episode; the other, meanwhile, is just outright giddiness at one of the contestants in particular.

Jimmy Fallon is a prolific tweeter: he uses Twitter hashtags as part of his show, he has over three million followers, and he’s generally quite good at using the service to engage with the young fanbase which has made him a comfortably successful (and, quite frankly, enjoyable) late night presence. However, I consider it to be a fairly substantial faux pas to live-tweet your appearance on a reality show as it airs, given that he has no interest in hiding the identity of either the winner or the loser in the night’s elimination challenge.

In the first instance, it’s possible that somebody not watching the episode at all would have no idea what he was referring to, but the timing of the tweet would indicate that it was towards the end of the episode, so anyone paying attention could surmise that she won the challenge with her chicken pot pie. In the second instance, meanwhile, it is clearly about the elimination, but note that Fallon actually actively spoils his followers unnecessarily. If he had sent the tweet to Fabio without the period, it would have gone only to those who follow both Fallon and Viviani (or those who visit Fallon’s page directly without following him). Instead, it went to every one of Fallon’s followers, which was very much by design. That tweet is the most overt spoiler he sent, but that period ensured that it reached all of his viewers regardless of whether they were watching along or a pre-existing fan of the series.

I was personally a bit behind while watching the episode, so I was near the end when Fallon’s tweets went out. As a result, I wasn’t exactly “spoiled” so much as I learned things slightly before I was supposed to, although I admittedly turned off TweetDeck after the first few tweets made it clear that Fallon was going to be doing a running commentary of his experience. Therefore, I knew that Antonia was going to get beef tongue before she got beef tongue, and that Richard hadn’t used liquid nitrogen in his dish before he explained the reasoning behind that decision. These are pretty insignificant though, and I thought that Jimmy’s additional commentary was actually a great addition to the episode…had I been watching in real time, or if I came to the tweets after the fact. Giving him a chance, for example, to inform Mike Isabella that he’s from New York, and not Boston, was a great bit of dialogue, even if Fallon didn’t make the logical Fever Pitch joke that came to mind for me. Fallon is funny, and the episode was enjoyable, so his additional commentary was valuable for those who weren’t putting the finishing touches on a Friday Night Lights review for the first twenty minutes in which the episode was airing.

Fallon is actually not a stranger to a bit of spoiling: he actually tweets some of his monologue jokes to his followers in the afternoon, a bit of a taste to whet their appetites (a comic amuse bouche, if you would). However, Late Night doesn’t have a narrative, nor does it have ongoing engagement, and so spoiling a couple of jokes won’t change one’s impression of the entire episode. While I am willing to accept arguments that knowing the result of an episode of reality television won’t ruin it entirely, it does change how we watch that episode, and I think that change is substantial enough that Fallon’s spoilers are still considered problematic. I’m not going to rake him over the coals for it, considering that the tweets were generally entertaining (his serious face really is pretty hilariously strained) and I thought Fallon was am amiable and charming presence in what was a pretty strong episode, spoilers or no spoilers. However, it just goes to show how sometimes the pursuit of added value can become a downfall of social media’s immediacy.

However, enough of that: let’s talk about how awesome Carla was in this episode. I’ve been a huge fan of Carla’s since her first season on the show, when she stealthily cooked her way to the finals by hootie hooing through each challenge while serving love on a plate. She’s just an incredibly enjoyable presence, and I didn’t even care that her excited celebration at the U.S. Open in the credits sequence for the show spoiled her victory when the episode arrived: spoilers or no spoilers, she’s my favorite contestant in the history of the show, and so her success in this All Stars season has been a real highlight.

Her success has to do with cooking great food certainly, but I wonder if her reputation has worked in her favor: because she lost her season based on trying to abandon her simple style in favor of advanced techniques (which I still haven’t forgotten, Casey), her “return” to a simple approach this season has been embraced in a way it might not have otherwise. Obviously, the execution has been incredibly strong for her to be performing so consistently, but I wonder if her style would have been embraced this way if she had been sent home the first time around for a dish that was “too simple.”

But honestly, what does it matter when Carla gets so delightfully giddy at the idea of chicken pot pie, and then goes nearly batty during the execution of chicken pot pie, and then completely loses any control over her body or emotions as she learns that she has won both an appearance on Fallon’s show (with Jennifer Aniston and Piers Morgan on Thursday night) and a trip to Tokyo. While I was able to survive Jen’s exit, I don’t think that this show would be the same without Carla, and so I can only hope that her winning streak continues long enough to bring many more moments of wonderfulness.

Which could never truly be spoiled, even by Jimmy Fallon.

Cultural Observations

  • It was sad that Fabio was so clearly excited about Fallon, and then made a Meatloaf burger – not entirely sure where he went wrong, given that I’ve never eaten a hamburger, but it sounds as though it was a “forest for the trees” issue.
  • While not quite as successful Late Night itself, which is built to hide this fact, I still thought that the Top Chef cameras made Studio 6B look a whole lot bigger than it actually is. I was there in October of 09, and was shocked at its size.
  • Maybe it’s just that there are other personalities, but I’ve been disappointed in Tiffany – one of only a few bright spots last season, she’s been a real wallflower this time around, so I’m hoping she gets back in the game soon enough.
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4 Comments

Filed under Top Chef

4 responses to “Top Chef All Stars – “Feeding Fallon”

  1. Tausif Khan

    “I’ve never eaten a hamburger”

    Please say more…

  2. Yes, I, too, am confused by the fact you’ve never had a hamburger. Are you a vegetarian? I have to imagine you can get some good burgers in Milwaukee. Certainly, if you come to NYC in the near future, I can take you to some great spots.

    Re: Top Chef. This season has been fantastic. I’ve been disappointed in Tiffany as well, as she was really fantastic last season. Maybe she’s a bit overwhlemed by the other all-stars, or perhaps fatigued by shooting seasons back to back?

  3. Myles, I think you need to explain yourself about this hamburger thing. You’re living in the US now. You gotta eat what the Americans eat. Personally, I enjoy a nice teriyaki burger: meat marinaded in sauce, grilled with pineapple on top. Mmmm.

  4. Alan Sepinwall

    Myles, there’s a Five Guys in Madison. Unless you’re a vegetarian, you have no excuse not to go.

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