As much as I love television series with intricate plots, thought-provoking writing, and nuanced acting, when summer rolls around I find myself drawn to programming that’s, well, less mentally stimulating. That’s right — my summer TV viewing drifts toward reality shows.
Since its debut in 2005, I’ve loved Hell’s Kitchen. The show’s tenth season airs on Fox at 8:00 Monday and Tuesday nights. Renowned chef Gordon Ramsay serves as host and judge, as well as a strange combination of mentor and drill sergeant. Ramsay puts challenges to his competitors each week with his controversial, abrasive style as the aspiring chefs fight for a sweet gig as head chef at a new 5-Star restaurant.
The contestants on Hell’s Kitchen display true passion and come from all walks of life. In the first few seasons the aspiring chefs seemed as earnest as they were talented and eager, but in latter seasons, the producers wised up to what reality viewers really want: soap-opera-style drama! This season viewers would be hard-pressed to find many contestants capable of running a restaurant kitchen. The would-be head chefs spend too much time smoking, drinking, partying, and fighting to appear serious as a head chef.
As entertaining as it is, Hell’s Kitchen comes across as pretty coarse viewing, especially when looking at its companion show, the far more refined and inspiring MasterChef, which also features Ramsay and airs immediately following Hell’s Kitchen. The censor on Hell’s Kitchen earns his keep, as profanity flies generously from both Ramsay and the contestants.
Like so many other summer television shows, Hell’s Kitchen is also pretty predictable. Viewers know exactly what to expect, which adds to the series’ entertainment value. Here’s a list counting down five scenarios that viewers can always expect to see without fail during Hell’s Kitchen.
5. One Team Dominates Challenges
Viewers can count on lopsided challenge wins by one team during a season of Hell’s Kitchen. Watching one team triumph in nearly every challenge, enjoying lavish rewards while the losers endure disgusting, humilating punishments has turned into a Hell’s Kitchen tradition. Dominance by one team appears to be even more prominent in the early stages of the season, but it happens all season long nonetheless.
This season, the red team — comprised solely of women — has won nearly every challenge Chef Ramsay can cook up, much to the consternation of the men on the blue team. Whether the challenges involve individual efforts or teamwork, the red team has managed to come out on top most of the time, often overcoming poor decision-making. The blue team is so unused to victory that they meet their rare wins with an attitude that resembles relief. It takes a combination of talent, teamwork, and luck to win the challenges, and the red team looks to have the formula down pat.
4. Teams Make A Mockery Of Unity
The teams on Hell’s Kitchen lack the key needed for success: unity. The infighting and name calling never cease, even on the most successful teams. One team or another can pull themselves together to win a challenge or finish a dinner service and then tear each other apart in the dorms.
As successful as they are in challenges — and often at dinner services — the red team epitomizes disunity. One minute Barbie and Tiffany go at each others’ throats, and the next Kimmie and Robyn shout each other down.
In fact, much of the conflict within the red team centered around Robyn until Chef Ramsay moved her to the decimated blue team. By contrast, the blue team usually gets over their conflict much more quickly.
3. (Self-Professed) Expert Chefs Commit Rookie Mistakes
For the contestants on Hell’s Kitchen to think of themselves as seasoned professionals, they sure do make plenty of rookie mistakes. Perhaps it’s the pressure of working with Gordon Ramsay, or the stress of having one’s fate judged on national television, but you can set your watch by the fact that at least one aspiring head chef will make some kind of boneheaded error that should be beyond the training and skill set of a professional cook.
Anyone could expect that some of the more demanding dishes would throw a chef off his or her game — Beef Wellington alone ought to make even the coolest cook break out in a cold sweat. But it’s some of the simplest dishes that confound these contestants: things like cooking a proper steak or making a risotto that is suitable for fine dining. Scallops have become a particular Achilles’ heel for this season’s contestants, and I’ve seen a depressing number of poorly cooked ones go in the trash bins all season long.
Many of the chefs make the same mistakes over and over again, which brings up the question: why does Chef Ramsay put up with it? If I were him, I’d have scrapped nearly all this season’s contestants and replaced them with new ones!
2. Mistake-Prone Chefs Exhibit Laughable Arrogance
It takes a certain measure of cockiness to make it as a chef, but rarely before has primetime seen such a display of needless arrogance as that on Hell’s Kitchen, especially this season. To hear the chefs tell the tale, their skills surpass that of any cook that has come before. The Bible says, “pride goes before destruction,” and — wouldn’t you know it — often one competitor or another utters some ridiculously cocky pronouncement right before Chef Ramsay cleans his clock.
This season’s worst offender hands down has been Royce. All season long, he has promised “Rolls Royce service” — a groan-worthy pun, but par for the course for this guy — but he has failed to deliver more often than not. He displays his arrogance in the most laughable ways.
Mercifully, Chef Ramsay let Royce go last week.
1. At Least One Competitor Flies Under the Radar
Year in and year out, we watch so many of the contestants on Hell’s Kitchen make fools of themselves with idiotic mistakes, while others shine as excellent chefs. Curiously, there’s one competitor — sometimes more than one, but usually only one — who flies under the radar until the final stages of the season.
This cook will often fail to distinguish himself or herself and simply fade into the background; in fact, we viewers sometimes forget that he or she even existed. Often, this under-the-radar behavior actually stems from unusual teamwork skills, or he or she may be a diamond emerging from the rough at just the right time.
Justin and Christina both have what it takes to be this season’s under-the-radar competitor. Justin hasn’t distinguished himself much as an exceptional cook (which may sound like an insult, but keep reading), but he hasn’t borne the brunt of Chef Ramsay’s ire either. Rather, he proves himself as a capable chef and team player week in and week out, and he demonstrates staying power. Christina has emerged as both a leader and a voice of reason on the red team. Both of these two should turn into forces to be reckoned with as the contestants are picked off one by one.
Some wags may argue that Hell’s Kitchen represents everything that’s wrong with summer television, and I reply, “so what?” Predictable? I suppose. Trashy? Sure. Mind-numbing? You bet! Hell’s Kitchen epitomizes summer viewing in that it’s unashamed, unadulterated fun, with no thinking involved. That’s why I keep coming back to it this time every year.
See more of Chris Queen’s PJ Lifestyle articles on television: