Top Chef Power Rankings
By David Mumpower
December 4, 2013

Royalty indeed.

Last week’s episode was confusing in that everyone did so well that differentiation is a virtual impossibility. I will try to do it anyway because I’m just that naïve. Spoilers: odds are that I get it very, very wrong.

1) Nina
Despite not winning for consecutive weeks, Nina remains head and shoulders above the competition. Her “losing” performances have both seen her finish in the top group. If being a medalist but not a gold medalist is her worst crime at the minute, everyone else on the show would KILL to be struggling like that.

2) Carlos
I am shaking things up a bit this week. A key reason for my adjustments is that there are a lot of tiers this season. I should not fall guilty to finite thinking with regards to how I perceive the individuals within those tiers. I have had Carlos at the bottom of the Not Nina But Still Strong grouping for a while now. When I watched the most recent episode, I had the epiphany that what I have viewed as a weakness of his is also a strength. Carlos may not have the range of some of the other contestants this season. Sometimes, that helps. It’s the Carla Hall scenario wherein Carlos can attain momentum if he keeps focusing on what he does well rather than attempting to be something he is not. From that perspective, he is a viable contender. In addition, he gets bonus points this week for winning a challenge where all the players killed it. Being the best when everyone else is at their best is all the more impressive.

3) Shirley
Out of all the players this season, Shirley seems to be enjoying the challenges the most. That could be reflective of her personality as a whole. She seems upbeat and optimistic at all times. Amusingly, this behavior bugs the crap out of her fellow players, as does her inability to allow a thought to go unspoken. Still, Shirley delivered an amazing dish last week that not only tasted great but received the praise of the locals for being the purest in tone for a boucherie. She is rising to meet the obstacles presented by Top Chef, so I have elevated her position in the game.

4) Carrie
Last week, Carrie created a hot sauce that was too hot for a Louisiana native. Personally, I think she should be lauded for this but she finished in the bottom group. She turned around and delivered a dazzling entrée in the Elimination challenge yet she wound up with nothing to show for her efforts. Out of all the great dishes, hers was one in the middling batch. I cannot ding her a lot for such “struggles” but momentum matters on Top Chef. Ergo, Carrie gets dropped a couple of spots today even though I still view her as a legitimate championship contender.

5) Nicholas
Nicholas is good people. His comments about how getting up at all hours of the night gave him an advantage over the others made me smile. Parents get used to some crazy stuff. That sort of standing chaos is good trading for the controlled madness of Top Chef. I had Nicholas ranked a bit lower last week due to the fallout from his illness. Now that he is on the road to recovery, I have slotted him ahead of a couple of players that I believe are better but that didn’t show it last week. Don’t sleep on Nicholas, though. Anybody who can cook a decent dish while suffering from strep throat is an impressive human being.

6) Justin
Justin is dropped this week solely because of the elimination challenge. Everyone did well, but he was deemed as one of the weakest three. I actually think Justin caught a break in that Louis was judged a bit for his body of work (no matter what the judges say). All that Justin has to show for an episode wherein he started and nurtured a fiery grill and cooked some delicious looking pork is a string of insults from Nina.

7) Stephanie
After a huge win in the prior episode, Stephanie spent a little too much time worrying about alligators rather than foods. The end result was a finish in the bottom group. On the plus side, Dr. John likes her hot sauce if you know what I mean and I think you do. Stephanie is probably my favorite player this season, but she needs to demonstrate more consistency to have a chance to win the title of Top Chef.

8) Sara
What we learned about Sara last week: she doesn’t like to be in the middle and she hates to be on the bottom. You’re going to have to rip out about 70% of the Kama Sutra if you want to date her. With regards to Top Chef, Sara is undeniably stuck in the middle right now as she finished there in both challenges in the most recent episode. Something’s gotta give as the numbers dwindle.

9) Brian
I feel like Brian is worthy of upward movement after his hot sauce victory last week. The problem is that I honestly do not believe he is a better contestant than Sara based on what I have seen thus far. As such, I have to run the risk of offending Dr. John by leaving Brian near the bottom of the power rankings. On the plus side, he had a very strong episode so he is upwardly mobile.

10) Travis
Travis also had a stronger than normal episode last week even though he finished in the middle grouping in both challenges. For once, he didn’t seem unduly confident or in over his head. I still think he is the least mature player remaining in the competition, though. With all of the casting misfits eliminated, Travis strikes me as the most vulnerable contestant. On the plus side, Tom does seem to like his cooking a great deal, which helps.

11) Louis
Louis may have been eliminated in the last challenge, but he did usurp Janine. He has been crowned the reigning champion of Last Chance Kitchen. He also possesses a skill set that may fit better in that format. In a large group of people, Louis seemed to feel comfortable blending in anonymously. In a one on one setting, his natural talent and the confidence that comes from winning could be enough to sustain him for a while. Louis is a really nice guy who I will remember fondly after the season ends.