By now the conventions of reality television contests are well understood. Even when shows in the genre hop across the pond they are quickly understood and digestible. Minor differences may exist here and there, but anyone tuning in to BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing which premieres on February 12 (with a special sneak preview on February 7) will easily recognize virtually everything they see. Better than that though, they'll enjoy it.
Last Restaurant Standing is one of those truly enjoyable reality shows. There are nine teams of two, each vying to open a restaurant with chef Raymond Blanc. Though all the teams live together, every team operates a different restaurant. The three teams that perform the worst during a week square off one more time in order to determine which team will be eliminated.
Rather than using the Hell's Kitchen-style quick, down-and-dirty competitions, things on Last Restaurant Standing are far more in-depth. In the premiere episode, the nine teams randomly select which of nine different restaurant spaces they will receive. After visiting the space, they determine what type of restaurant they would like to open and do everything from naming the place and choosing décor to determining the menu and taking reservations for their opening night a week hence.
Following that first open night for the restaurants, during which they are each visited by a judge, the three bottom teams are selected by Blanc and his judges and face elimination. For this first elimination challenge the teams are made to compete with each other to secure different clients for various events (one is a 21st birthday party, another is a retirement dinner, and the third a charity auction), and then ensure that the client is happy and that the event runs smoothly.
Thus, teams are only nominally competing against each other. If teams run their restaurant well, more than likely they won't end up in the bottom three and thus can't be eliminated, they need not make sure other teams do badly. Certainly it could get ugly between teams down the line, but unlike so many other reality shows that need not happen.
As for our host, Raymond Blanc, while not easygoing, is a far more laid back host than other transplants from Europe (like the epithet-hurling Gordon Ramsay). He is no less serious about getting into business with one of these contestants than Ramsay is during Hell's Kitchen, but Blanc feels more like a puppet master, pulling the strings from behind a desk. Ramsay always seems to opt for an electrified cattle prod to a contestant's backside rather than the constructive criticism Blanc issues.
Outside of seeming vaguely high-minded (perhaps all the beautiful castles, palaces, and "country manors" help with that), the show is downright fascinating. The couples are interesting, and while few reality show contestants seem truly "deserving," the nine teams in question seem to have a vague (but only vague) idea of what they're doing.
The premiere episode is two hours, which, despite its length, is well-paced. The first hour is devoted to the couples starting their restaurant and their opening night, and the second to the elimination challenge. Future episodes will only be one hour in length. Rather than condensing the show to a single hour, future episodes will either be a regular one with all the teams at their respective restaurants or an elimination challenge. This is a far cry from U.S. reality competition shows which are bent on sending someone home every week.
BBC America's Last Restaurant Standing is a reality competition show where a team competes against itself as much as it does the other teams around it. It's just different enough (and fun enough) to be intriguing and yet familiar. For those looking to while away a winter's night in front of the warm glow of the television it is a great choice.