By Guest Contributor quadmoniker, cross-posted from PostBourgie
Top Chef’s contributions to the reality show genre don’t come from exciting cliff-hangers or the evil machinations of those who would only win by cheating: the ingredients that make it work best are good chefs cooking food that looks pretty and makes you want to eat it. Occasionally, there’s a key rivalry or a chef you want to hate. The two chefs everyone hated are now gone: possible-pea thief Alex left last week, and Amanda, the overly-intense, scatterbrained former addict who never seemed to get anything right, was finally voted off last night. But before that, another source of drama this season ended prematurely when Kenny Gilbert, whose long-simmering rivalry with Angelo made him seem more talented than he probably was, was voted off after the Restaurant Wars episode. (Restaurant Wars is the show’s bread and butter: two groups of chefs start restaurants and compete to win.)
Kenny inspired a lot of inappropriately racist, pimpish nicknames, like chocolate bear and big daddy, and, when he was kicked off, an unfortunate number of outdated South Park jokes (I think you know the one). But mostly he was a gregarious, lovable self-promoter; fans believed he was the big cheese because he said he was every week. In truth, his cooking skill seemed uneven. But whether you think he deserved to go or not, his absence highlights a longstanding problem with the show: there hasn’t been enough diversity, and it is particularly problematic in the way it portrays its black chefs. Diversity on a reality TV show might not seem the most important topic, ever, but it evidences two things: one, the dearth of people of color at the top of many fields extends to reality contests that purport to propel novices to the top of those fields; and two, shows like this in which contestants are judged subjectively still often pick white male winners.