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Tom Colicchio Revealed What Happened After A Top Chef 21 Contestant Was Eliminated, And I Find It Super Frustrating

 Kristen Kish, Joe Flamm, Tom Colicchio And Gail Simmons on Top Chef Season 21.
Kristen Kish, Joe Flamm, Tom Colicchio And Gail Simmons on Top Chef Season 21.

When you are a TV personality with an active social media account, it’s not exactly uncommon to get questions about a TV moment or even to hear criticism online about what’s going on while your show is airing on the TV schedule. That’s exactly what happened to Top Chef judge (and restaurateur in his own right) Tom Colicchio this week when fans took to social media to ask about the current Season 21 series, particularly where it pertains to spinoff streaming project “Last Chance Kitchen.” Apparently, one contestant opted out after being eliminated, and the choice is super frustrating as a viewer.

Here’s what happened –and spoilers will be in this article from this point on. During the very first episode, a chef who clearly likes to get creative ended up on the bottom three. Normally when that happens, Gail, Tom, the guest judge and the host, who is Kristen Kish starting in Season 21, decide which of the three will go home. The Milwaukee-set premiere, however, had the bottom three chefs compete in a cook-off.

When a chef goes home, they don’t just go sit in a hotel room right away. In fact, they get more of a chance to show off their food to Tom, who hosts “Last Chance Kitchen,” a short web series that allows contestants to regularly re-enter the competition after duking it out. So, when David Murphy was the first to go after struggling to figure out what to cook during the extra challenge, the expectation was he’d return in “Last Chance Kitchen.” Only that didn’t happen and, according to Tom, it’s because the San Francisco-based chef said no.

Instead, when I saw the first episode of “Last Chance Kitchen" this season with my Peacock subscription, it featured the second person who exited, Valentine Howell Jr., competing against the 16th competitor in Top Chef Season 21, a bent that Tom and co. added to help an unknown contestant potentially fight his way into the kitchen. That contestant was Chicago Chef Soo Ahn, who has been tasked with winning five challenges in order to work his way into the actual competition.

Look, it’s always possible that something came up prompting David Murphy to pass on competing, but if there had been a notable reason or circumstance, I feel like Tom would not have referred to it as “opted out.”

I also get that not everyone is built for the time constraints and weird challenges on reality TV. You can be a great chef --and  pretty much have to have a solid resume in order to make the roster on Top Chef these days -- and you can still be voted off of Top Chef earlier than expected. The lineup every year now features people who staged with icons and have James Beard nominations in their own right. It's really a compliment to be asked to compete.

Still, going home first in a group with that pedigree probably doesn’t feel great. In fact, former winner Brooke Williamson has called it "the worst" thing that can happen to Top Chef contestants. However, it’s also an opportunity to try something new, to test your mettle, and to be part of a unique experience that will stick with your forever.

Even if you aren't the world's best at Top Chef, to quit when you have the chance to come back into the competition just feels so frustrating to me as a viewer. It's the same feeling I get when people ask to get voted off on Survivor. Sometimes things don’t go well or even as expected, and that's OK. Yet, there’s been such a quitting attitude on reality TV over the last several years that did not exist in such a large volume previously, and I think it speaks to a pervasive lack of stick-to-it-ness in our society right now. It also makes for a worse experience for TV viewers.

I’m not sure what the rules are when it comes to opting in or opting out of Last Chance Kitchen, but clearly the contestant was allowed to pass on competing in the additional accoutrement to the main course show. I’d love to see contestants finish what they start. Even if it’s not the best experience. Even if it didn’t play out the way they thought in their head. A person can’t get better at anything if they aren’t willing to learn from it.

That’s what Valentine did. He went out second in Season 21; he was disappointed in that outcome, but said he’d go into “Last Chance Kitchen” and give it his best for his daughter. While Soo ended up winning that particular battle, Valentine got a great edit and he earned my respect, and hopefully he'll take a lot of positives away from the experience.