Top Chef Power Rankings
By David Mumpower
November 20, 2013

I'm dating which season 5 contestant? Please be Fabio. Please be Fabio.

In last week’s initial Power Rankings, I positioned Nina in first place with Patty in last place. Two of Nina’s three work stations finished in the top group with one winning. Meanwhile, Patty was eliminated. In the Inglourious Basterds vernacular, that’s a bingo. I fully expect the most recent episode to be the only one I get correct the rest of the way, though. There has yet to be a great deal of separation among most of the current contestants, especially the ones not in the top five. I view them all as interchangeable thus far.

1) Nina
The one statement I have complete confidence in making is that Nina is the class of New Orleans thus far. I noted in last week’s Power Rankings that she has more victories and finishes in the top group than anyone else this season. During the Jazz Hands episode, Nina failed to win in the Quickfire Challenge, at least technically. 75% of her work was lauded, however, and Brian emerged victorious thanks in part to the sweat of Nina’s brow. During the Elimination challenge, Nina’s Green Team out-dueled the other groupings with the Floridian provided glowing praise for another gnocchi masterpiece. If Top Chef were scored like boxing or MMA, Nina would already be so far ahead on points that the other chefs need a knockout to win.

2) Justin
I recognize that his Blue Team failed to win while my third place selection was in the winning group. I will explain my thoughts on why below. What I will say about Justin is that the previews for this week indicate that a player I had believed to be so calm that he may not have a pulse instead has a fiery Cajun temper. Thus far, Justin has been presented as a genteel individual whose culinary skills are sublime. When Top Chef announced the online challenges to round out the cast this season, I presumed that the desire to add a local flavor was due to Anthony Bourdain. The frequent participant on the show in past seasons assailed Top Chef’s producers for accepting Hurricane Katrina relief fund money this season. Adding a pair of local chefs counterbalanced his concerns at least somewhat by demonstrating loyalty to Louisiana natives. Michael proved that he did not belong. Conversely, Justin is capable of winning this season based upon what I have seen. It would be unfortunate if his emotions cost him the opportunity to win the season in his backyard of New Orleans. I am very much looking forward to tonight’s episode for this reason. Hopefully, the editing proves to be much ado about nothing.

3) Carrie
Yes, Carrie’s team was the best last week. What cannot be denied, however, is that Carrie’s tiramisu was the least favorite item that the judges tasted from the Green Team. Had she and her companions finished on the bottom, Carrie would be in Last Chance Kitchen right now. Since the meal was a dessert and I am talking about a hypothetical that did not transpire, I feel no need to move her down any this week. If she struggles again, Carrie could slide quite a bit in next week’s Power Rankings. Two consecutive sub-par dishes is more difficult to ignore than a single hiccup on dessert.

4) Stephanie
The Boston BFF of last season’s champion, Kristen Kish, jumps into the top four after winning the Elimination challenge last week. I have previously mentioned how Stephanie can struggle in pressure situations on the show. What seems to be transpiring this season is that the deeper she goes into the show, the more that volatile cooking situations become the new normal for her. That constant stress is allowing the hysterically caustic woman to adapt. The most impressive aspect of Stephanie’s victory last week is that the judges all adored Nina’s gnocchi. For Stephanie’s dish to be their favorite, it must have been the stuff of myth and legend. Last season, the former basketball player experienced a brutal turn of events. First, she was not deemed unworthy of a chef’s jacket. Then, her best friend differentiated herself from the other competitors early in the Seattle season before eventually winning the whole shebang. I don’t care how great a friend someone is. Jealousy has to be a factor in play after such a scenario. How has Stephanie handled her humiliation? She has not only earned a spot in season 11, but she is identifying herself as a legitimate threat to win. That is a remarkable showing of personal strength.

5) Carlos
Another part of the winning Green Team, Carlos again demonstrated that he is great in a team atmosphere. I questioned Carlos’s range as a chef last week, which may prove to be an unfair criticism as we move forward. What I maintained then that was reaffirmed last night is that when Carlos cooks his style of food untethered by arbitrary, oftentimes silly rules on Top Chef, he possesses dazzling skill. There are not a lot of chefs I believe can win this season. Carlos is one of the few.

6) Shirley
The words that resonate in my head while Shirley is onscreen are “jibber jabber." The unspoken thought is not a concept that Shirley understands. Yes, that can make her annoying at times, but I still find her endearing because she is a maximum effort, maximum focus contestant. Who happens to talk too much.

7) Nicholas
I am not sure how to proceed with Nicholas right now. Based on talent, he is in the upper half of the remaining players. He also happens to have a communicable disease, and I don’t mean the kind that requires penicillin. Nicholas wore gloves for most (but scarily not all) of the Elimination Challenge. He seems to be recovering. The only true cure for strep throat is a tonsillectomy, at least long term. I suspect that Nick recovers from his illness, and we all forget about this incident. I have dropped him two spots not because of his performance last week – it was a miraculous performance for even half his food to be lavishly praised – but due to the uncertainty regarding his health.

8) Sara
Sara did not win the Quickfire challenge last week. What she did manage, though, was that she worked on half of the winning dish. Brian’s food came from the station she manned twice. Given the struggles Sara faced the previous week, this upturn in performance was enough to reassure me that Sara is not in the downward spiral. The editing indicates that she will be a presence for a while, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if anyone from this point downward were eliminated. All of them have struggled more often than they have excelled. On the plus side, we are at roughly the point in the season where Joshua caught fire last year (but not in the Katniss Everdeen sense).

9) Brian
I am conflicted about where to rank Brian. Yes, he “won” last week but he only crafted 25% of the dish. Also, he worked at the end, which is like vulturing a TD from the one-yard line. All he had to do was scoop and plate. Meanwhile, a dish that finished on the bottom last week was one that he basically passed on improving. His group also finished on the bottom during the Elimination challenge. Brian was artificially rewarded for not only a lousy performance but even worse effort. Still, he did win and that is all the judges will remember. How much does that perception enhance Brian’s profile? Well, it’s just a Quickfire so it only matters if Brian starts to differentiate himself more from the rest of the competition.

10) Travis
The final two spots are virtually a tie in my estimation. Travis is obviously a talented chef. The primary factors preventing him from being a serious threat this season are maturity and insecurity. The maturity issues stem from his self-centered nature. They bleed into the insecurity issues. Travis simply cannot accept criticism, and that limits his ability to improve on the fly. The judges, particularly Tom Colicchio, are trying to tell Travis what he needs to do to excel. He. Just. Doesn’t. Listen. Travis is convinced of his competence in a way that is not belief but rather desperation. It’s a cliché about cocky people that underneath the façade is naked fear. Travis’s behavior identifies that the philosophy is based in fact. I suspect that if Travis returns to the show in five seasons, he will be a much stronger competitor. Right now, he reminds me of Marcel, which is a statement that I hate to inflict about people since NOBODY wants to be like Marcel.

11) Louis
In my estimation, Louis falls into the same category as Bene and Patty. Nobody will ever assail their skill in the kitchen. These are all badass chefs. An engaging aspect of Top Chef is the novel nature of the challenges. Anyone who has ever watched Top Chef Masters knows that even the greatest chefs of our generation do not always mesh well with the complexity of the format. I strongly suspect that Louis is in the conversation for most talented chef this season or at least second after Nina. Why is she first while he is last? Her skill set translates to the show format. Louis has the respect of his peers yet he has struggled to make a mark in challenges. Maybe he just needs to find his confidence but that is the same hope that Patty and Bene had. They’re out of the running for Top Chef now. I fear that the same fate awaits Louis soon.

12) Janine
Last season, I celebrated C.J.’s run of half a dozen consecutive wins in Last Chance Kitchen. In the process, he eliminated seven chefs. While Janine has “only” won four consecutive challenges, she has matched C.J.’s memorable performance by beating seven other opponents. In case you were wondering, Kristen’s run was five wins over seven opponents. Janine is poised to become the most successful player in the (brief) history of Last Chance Kitchen if she wins again this week. That statement alone speaks volumes about the injustice of her being voted out of the game instead of Travis a few weeks ago. Travis has done nothing to distinguish himself in the winner’s bracket while Janine has established her reputation through Last Chance Kitchen dominance.