The Top Chef Finale Delivered a Big Surprise

By  · Published on March 18th, 2016

Welcome to Last Night on TV, our ongoing series that looks back at what happened on television the night before. If we’re going to stay up all night and watch TV, we might as well talk about it the next day.

Last night on TV, Chris catches up with the Top Chef finale and a fine list of guest stars on Portlandia.

Top Chef

The finale! Only two cheftestants remained, Amar and Jeremy, and what an intimate and personal conclusion we got for this season. First came a private dinner shared by the two finalists and made by Tom, whom we so rarely get to see cook. Anyone who thinks he’s lost his finesse by becoming a glorified game show co-host was proven mistaken by his exquisite looking meal. Tom tells the guys he focused on his favorite ingredients and showcased those ingredients in each of the courses. Their challenge was to do the same.

For their own meals, Amar and Jeremy got to choose helpers from this season’s cast, with Amar stealing Jeremy’s boy Kwame, plus Marjorie, and Jeremy went with Carl and Angelina – someone I’m constantly surprised is picked for things like this but apparently she’s a good, fast prep person. Additionally, the guys received assistance in the kitchen from their mentors, Amar’s being Charlie Palmer and Jeremy’s being Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Amar and Palmer had a falling out years ago and until now have been estranged. Palmer even calls Amar an asshole in his testimonial bit. I really wish they’d have addressed their past together, but things were already awkward enough.

All of the food looked amazing, save for maybe the undercooked meat courses, but the dishes sparked more interest than usual throughout the season because they could be explained in full detail with stories behind each course. It’s frustrating that we don’t get to somehow taste the food as viewers, but fortunately the show offers more, and in this finale that was more human-interest material. We saw the guys’ families in attendance. We saw them working with their old bosses. We saw and heard their whole sappy origin stories and understood that being Top Chef is all about personality and showing who you are through your food.

And we all saw Amar as the winner in our minds, after all was said and done, right? If this was Top Chef With the Most Endearing Back Story and Overall Likability, he definitely would have won. Jeremy, on the other hand, I’m always just going to remember as the guy behind Taco Dudes. He’s been fine, if a little annoying with his bro-ness at times, yet hardly Top Chef quality. And if we only consider his finale dishes, it’s still hard to see why he was chosen. The judges seemed to have a lot more negative things to say about his undercooked duck and sugar-water honey blob thing and his general style over substance presentation. “No fuckin’ way, holy shit!” is right.


Guest stars Robert Smigel and Mitch Hurwitz were excellent in this week’s Lance and Nina episode, but the MVP was little Matthew Schur. I don’t like the idea of giving kids acting awards, but I nominate him for all of them. I nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize, never mind that he was more responsible for strife than peace and literally got in a fight at a children’s sock hop. You may remember Schur from the Rube Goldberg machine bit from a few years ago. And other appearances since. He’s cute and smart and has great comic timing. And he made me eventually stop feeling weird that Fred Armisen’s Nina voice seems to have changed.

As for the rest, let me first say that Hurwitz is the funniest doctor since Chris Parnell’s Leo Spaceman on 30 Rock. And in spite of not usually liking Lance and Nina bits, there were too many amusing moments in the very relatable situation of spending time with a bunch of overly highbrow people using mostly abstruse words. The most hilarious moment, for me, was Smigel acknowledging to his newly bespectacled friend the Untouchables homage to Battleship Potemkin, as that’s such a basic piece of cinephile trivia for a character meant to be such an intelligentsia. Was I the only one who identified with both Lance and Nina through the dinner party scenes?

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.