When I went to bed last night, warm in the glow of rediscovering my love for cooking competition shows, I laid my head on the pillow comfortable in the knowledge that the next morning, I could just tell you about it, without opening with a long digression, reiterating how the AV Club is wrong about stuff.
I mean, who would have thought they'd even have bothered reviewing Cutthroat Kitchen, much less missing the point in such spectacular fashion? But they did, because it's what they do, and so now, since a lot more people read that than this, I must provide a certain counterpoint.
Cutthroat Kitchen is a game show. All cooking competitions are game shows, but the rest of them are all ashamed of that fact, somehow thinking it's more prestigious to be Reality TV, with fake drama and arguments and lots of talk about how important the competition is and what it means and people miss their families and overcome adversity and NEVER STOP VOMITING BLAAAAAAAAA.
It's why I stopped watching Top Chef, even Top Chef Masters. It's why, if I stop on Chopped while channel-flipping, I try to just watch the middle of the show, like a sandwich with the dramatic crusts cut off. It's why I can barely even tolerate the Next Iron Chef, which at least has stakes high enough that the drama is a little less forced.
For fuck's sake, even Sweet Genius, built around the premise of a CANDY SUPERVILLAIN, treated the competition as if it was the most important thing in the universe, with no irony at all.
But Cutthroat Kitchen is a game show. I mean, it's more Jeopardy than Match Game, but it's the closest Food Network has ever come to "just fucking around", so give them credit for trying.
The most important thing to remember about Cutthroat Kitchen is hat nobody's there to prove anything, nobody's there to win for their family, nobody needs the money to climb out of debt, nobody lost 200 pounds or won a battle against cancer or just wants their daughter to be proud of them. That, in and of itself, makes this show worthy of your eyeballs.
The premise is sort of simple. Each of the four chefs starts out with $25,000. Alton Brown comes out, gives them the name of a dish or concept, gives them a time limit, and gives them 60 seconds in the pantry. Then there are the auctions.
There are three or four of them during each of the three rounds. Some before the clock starts, some after. Players bid some of their $25,000 on items. Some are helpful to the contestant, most are ways to sabotage your opponents, a few are both. The most notable one from the premiere was "cook using only a Swiss Army knife", but the most effective one was "make French toast with burnt brioche".
It's very much in the spirit of a board or card game with lots of fuck-over-your-opponents mechanics. Strategy goes out the window quickly in the heat of the moment and as opportunities for revenge arise. Which makes the game theorist in me cringe watching someone spend 2/3 of their money in the first round, but I suppose most of the players being bad at the game is part of the charm.
The food, by the way, is judged entirely independently of the sabotage. The judge didn't know WHY the French toast was weird and tough and dry as hell. She just knew that it was, so the guy that did the best he could with the burnt brioche still got eliminated.
Alton Brown's the host, and his attitude, which the AV Club mistakes for a failed attempt at devilish leering, is really more of a Monty Hall vibe. His role is to gently tempt and goad the contestants with the possibilities of the auctions, not ham it up, and he acquits himself admirably. Also, "gimme my money back" kicks "pack your knives and go"'s ass every time.