When the third season of Last Restaurant Standing began, I noted how different the first episode was from previous seasons and suggested that only time would tell whether the changes were worth it or not. Now that the winner of the third season has been declared I can quite clearly say they weren't. In the end, the reasons the third season seemed to work nowhere near as well can be divided into two separate areas – the contestants and what seems to be a greatly diminished budget for the series.
Taking a look at the former area first, there really was no single team that impressed at all at any point during the season. There may have been teams with good chefs and teams with a member who could run a decent front of house, but never did it appear that there was a great front of house person and a great chef combined in a team that had any idea about what it might require to run a restaurant.
Now, we're about to get into the results, which isn't really a spoiler because the season ended a while ago in England and last night here. But, I tell you that we're going to discuss results just in case you haven't watched and my suggesting you shouldn't bother to waste your time isn't enough to convince you.
The team that won, admittedly, doesn't have a member of the team who can cook. Any task where the contestants were required to cook wasn't one they excelled at. JJ and James were marketers, packagers. The two men couldn't make a good drink and smarmily smile at you and get you to buy whatever they might be selling. You might feel kind of duped by it all later, but at the time you'd buy it. You want a soufflé for dessert? How about I make you a drink instead? Risotto? Nope, can't cook that. In fact, I'm not so much comfortable with the idea of applying heat to food in order to cook it.
Watching those two clowns win made me feel embarrassed for Raymond Blanc and the other judges. Blanc has positioned himself as a man who lives and dies based on fresh ingredients brilliantly used, attention to detail, and incredible cooking skills. That's something JJ and James won't ever be able to put out in their restaurant… unless they hire someone else to do the cooking. But, they may actually been the best choice. They're the two guys who may actually put forward the most successful restaurant, at least in the short term as the idea is going to be oh-so-hip and now. There was just no one else on the show that had anywhere near that good a concept.
Of course, if Blanc and company weren't going to base their decision on quality of food and merely on concept, why did they bother with the minimalist version of the show we got this season? Couldn't they have saved a lot of time and money just handing JJ and James the prize in the premiere?
Then there was the other massive problem with the season – one which actually feels tied in to the selection of JJ and James as the winners and the overall low quality of the contestants – the series felt far too scaled down. From the other judges, David Moore and Sarah Willingham, joining Raymond as a part-owner of the new venture, to the lack of a true main set for the series (they ended up doing eliminations at restaurants, not at a home base location), to the elimination of the challenge round that actually would determine who was going home, there was simply too much altered from previous incarnations and the changes felt as though they were born of someone trying to save money on the production. I walked away from the season feeling as though the actual restaurants the contestants were supposed to have been running were barely ever open. When the places did actually serve customers, they seemed to do so as a part of an pre-organized meal, not just trying to get reservations and get people off the street to come in. The restaurants ran a special dinner for couples and for singles, one for larger groups who had booked in advance, that sort of thing. Consequently, we never really got the opportunity to see how these folks would fare on a regular basis with a restaurant.
Maybe that's why it felt like such a hollow victory for JJ and James – we never saw them shine in a restaurant setting because the restaurant settings were few and far between. I'm convinced these guys could open a cocktail bar with some food and be hugely popular for 15 minutes, but they seemed to have the worst kitchen of any of the teams. I needed to see more than we did in order to truly believe that these guys were remotely deserving of the victory.
The original format of Last Restaurant Standing wasn't without issues, but we at least really got a taste for who the couples were and their abilities vis-à-vis running a restaurant. I know that JJ and James are great promoters of themselves, but I don't know, despite their having won, that they can run a restaurant. Should there be a season four of the series, I hope the producers will consider a return loftier standards.