Thursday, January 8, 2009

Top Chef: 3 Steps To Predicting The Loser


I started to reliably predict who was going to be eliminated around season two of Top Chef. This isn't because I am a super genius, it's on top of me being a super genius.

If you think about competition-based, reality television, each episode is a story with a winner and a loser. The winner and loser of an hour long television show are likely to get more airtime. When there is someone going home, it is in their best interest to make you as invested in that person as possible. This breaks down to three simple rules:
  1. The loser is the star of the episode.
  2. The star needs facetime early and often.
  3. The star of the show needs to have in-episode strife.
Today's episode (Season 5, Episode 7) is a great example. While livetweeting (f'ing shoot me now, I livetweeted something), I called Gene and Melissa being eliminated at nine minutes into the episode. This episode was extra easy as it was a double elimination. Here is a fourth rule:
  1. Double eliminations will often group the two losers together via editing
So, let's watch some Top Chef. Below this graf is a quick cheatsheet I put together watching a second time using my DVR. I had to clarify that because I don't want you thinking that I actually annotate Top Chef as I watch it.

02:32Gene comments on being pissed off and stands behind his dish, immediate cut to
02:40Melissa not realizing how much pressure there is on her, immediate cut and...
02:54Music goes from melancholy to upbeat
04:27Padma says there is a catch, cut to melissa's eye bulge, which cuts to gene looking uncomfortable, which cuts to sugar.
04:38Gene things he is F-'d
08:00Gene and Melissa edited back to back in elimination challenge.
08:39Melissa's one on one interview, complete with raspy voice and red eyes.
10:42Padma: "... least favorites" cut to melissa, cut to gene. Then they cut to the actual bottom three in the elimination: carla, ariane and jamie.
12:45Gene talking about how he needs to win and that he misses his family.

And the hits keep on coming... at minute 36 we see Gene and Melissa editing neighbors yet again.

I am about 80% accurate in the first 10 minutes. Funny thing is, usually I go off the rails as I get into the episode.

Don't believe me? Try it next week. Look for someone who is:
  • Disproportionate amounts of attention, especially early in the episode
  • Is especially emotional or going through a personal crisis
Report back here next week with who you think it is.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Altered Tastes: Unholy Mackerel

It is really uncomfortable to admit my love for fishing. Even before I started my culinary love affair with fish, I have always enjoyed the simple pleasure of casting a line out into the water and waiting for something to happen. And waiting. and waiting. Most of my angling experiences were in a southern Vermont lake, teeming with perch, large and small mouth bass, and trout. In the ten years we went up there, I think we caught about three fish that the state would allow you to keep.

In later years, I would occasionally get out on the ocean, mostly in New England and primarily blues and stripers. Just before new years I had the chance to go ocean fishing in the Florida Keys. According to our first mate, are likely to catch (in order of my personal preference): Blackfin Tuna, Grouper, Wahoo, Mackerel, King Mackerel, Sailfish, Barracuda.

As luck would have it, we caught about 15 fish in three hours, which was mostly barracuda, king mackerel and 1.5 Mackerel.

Mackerel and Kingfish Pile

"One point five", you ask?

One of the fish we reeled in was half eaten by a Barracuda as it was being reeled in.

Anyways, when I think of mackerel, my mind immediately conjures up the fishy, oily and almost always uneaten piece of sushi on any chirashi I order. So, I was pretty damned skeptical when we left the dock with a plastic bag filled with mackerel fillets and ice.

Mackerel Fillets... Will They Be Yummy?

At the captain's suggestion, we immediately drove to Dante's. After getting seated, we handed them the bag and said, "Cook it every way you can". About 30 minutes later, during which we were all anticipating what we were going to order after a disappointing round our lest favorite fish, the waitress put down a platter containing fried, blackened and grilled mackerel and kingfish.

Catch Of The Day

This fish was unbelievable. There was no ultra fishy flavor. No oiliness to report. It was a firm, white fleshed fish, that was just moist and delicious. All three preparations were equally amazing.

Maybe it was angler's bias. We caught the fish, surely that will make it taste better.

Maybe it was the freshness. I have never had mackerel that was an hour old.

This experience will go into the cold case files of... Altered Tastes.

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