When 39 chefs showed up in Texas for the premiere episode of the latest edition of Bravo's culinary reality hit Top Chef, the show's faithful had to know that change was afoot. In eight previous seasons the show had always started with a number of contestants in the teens. Once in awhile they'd find a way to eliminate someone immediately, but 39 chefs meant that either we were in for one hell of a long season or something new was going on. Turns out that season nine was going to begin with a series of cook offs, and only 16 of the chefs were actually going to get to compete on the show. Fans were going to be treated to a kind of pre-competition competition.
All well and good; the chefs were divided into three groups and rules were announced. The first group was introduced and given a task. They cooked, and then presented their dishes to the three judges. A majority decided if the chef deserved to go further, go home, or cook one more time in a kind of consolation round. Each group would go through a similar routine. One of the judges changed for each group. Chefs were sent home for failing to get their food on the plate; chefs were sent packing for overcooked shrimp. The very first chef was sent home for butchering his butchering. They waded through two groups on the first episode, the third and the consolation group on the second to get to the chosen 16. It seemed little more than an attempt to squeeze two more episodes out of a popular show—no harm, no foul.
Until the end of the second episode that is: perhaps taking a cue from Survivor's "Redemption Island," it turns out that the end for at least two of the chefs isn't the end at all. They are going to be given a shot at cooking their way back, not quite onto the show, but into a weekly competition with the show's loser. The winner will keep cooking, possibly all the way into the finals, as long as they keep winning—this in a segment called Last Chance Kitchen!. Fine, like "Redemption Island," it could add a little spice to a show that might be getting bland as it ages. As an innovation it doesn't seem unreasonable.