Top Chef Power Rankings
By David Mumpower
January 22, 2014

Shirley in her natural state (talking).

I want to give you some context for this season’s power rankings. Back in 2000, the Baltimore Ravens won the Super Bowl. During that season, they benched their starting quarterback, Tony Banks for… being Tony Banks. Their new QB1 was Trent Dilfer, someone everybody who has ESPN knows quite well. The Ravens were absolutely terrible on offense the rest of that season. They had a stud running back in Jamal Lewis, a long in the tooth tight end in Shannon Sharpe, and not much else.

The Ravens defense was historic. Ray Lewis was in his prime at the time, and whenever I watched them play, I knew how dangerous they would be in the playoffs. For most of that season, I believed that Baltimore would win the Super Bowl. The top seed in the AFC that year was an AFC South foe, the Tennessee Titans. On the morning that the Ravens played the Titans, I changed my mind and decided that the Titans were too complete a football team to lose to an unbalanced opponent like Baltimore. The Ravens won that game 24-10 and the outcome was never in doubt. I learned an important lesson that day in jumping off the bandwagon after pinning the right horse (well, bird). I keep this philosophy in mind whenever I have an impulse to switch from a longstanding favorite to another contender. I say all of the above to emphasize how much has to transpire before I would make such a change.

1) Shirley
As high as I set the bar for change, Shirley has cleared that hurdle by quite a bit. With a dominant showing in the most recent episode, she added two more victories to her total. Shirley has won seven times during Top Chef: New Orleans. Carlos, Nick and Nina have nine victories in combination. Putting her dominance another way, Shirley has emerged victorious more times in the past three episodes than Carlos has all season. She is also tied with Nick in this regard with three wins apiece.

I frequently mention Carla Hall whenever a player emerges like this in the latter part of the season. I do this for a couple of reasons. The first is to note that sometimes a player does not find their comfort level within the Top Chef dynamic until they have been participating for a while. The second is to offer the reminder that Carla, the person who has had the best post-Top Chef career of anybody, did not win her season. So Shirley is far from a slam dunk at this point. She is undeniably the strongest performer relative to in-game accomplishment, though. Shirley is also easily the most likable of the remaining four people in the winner’s bracket. She is a ray of sunshine amongst a moody, turbulent group.

2) Nina
I expected Nina to dominate her counterparts as the numbers dwindled. Seeing her get her ass kicked by Shirley on a repeated basis has forced me to reconsider my evaluation of Nina this season. I still believe that the episodes are being crafted in a way that the finale comes down to Nina versus Carlos. I could be reading far too much into the editing, though. My opinion the entire season is that Nina has stood out from her peers. I even believe that focusing too much on victories misses the point a bit with Nina. Even when she has not been declared the winner for a particular dish, she still is frequently the silver medalist. That sort of consistent excellence is the hallmark of a potential Top Chef champion. So while I have bumped her down to the second spot for the moment, I still view her as a likely finalist who will have a strong chance to cook her way to the title.

3) Nick

Nick has narrowly staved off elimination so many times by now that I doubt I could consider him a worthy champion even if he does win Top Chef. He is like Kevin Sbraga in this regard. Still, he has maintained a spot in the winner’s bracket by doing just enough to survive each week. The one time he would have lost was conveniently the only time this season that Padma and a guest judge enjoyed his food enough to provide immunity. Nick is living a charmed life that could very well take him to the end. Then again, there is a 25% chance he loses tonight and if he does, I do NOT like his chances at Last Chance Kitchen.

4) Carlos
Carlos outperformed everyone but Shirley last week so I was tempted to slot him higher. I like to focus on recent results later in the competition. The problem is that while Nick narrowly avoided elimination last night, Carlos managed the same the previous two episodes. In fact, the feuding fellas are eerily similar in this regard. Nick would have gone home without immunity during that challenge. Carlos would have been sent home if his team had lost. In evaluating the most recent three episodes, I have determined that Carlos has been slightly better than Nick on the whole. I did not slot him higher for the same reason that I did not like his candidacy earlier in the season. I simply believe that Carlos’ cuisine is too limited to challenge seriously as the Top Chef winner. That is the stage of the game we have reached. It is not about who can advance to the finale. It is about who can win. At the end of the day, I believe that Nick is better qualified than Carlos. Prove me wrong, Mr. Gaytan!

5) Louis

There is only one remaining Last Chance Kitchen battle for Louis. I suspect he is better than both remaining men so I would favor him in either of those clashes. He is not as good as either of the women, though. So I see Louis’ odds of making the final four as right at 50/50. If not for the coin flip odds of survival, I would have slotted him in third in the power rankings. With seven straight wins in Last Chance Kitchen, he has set a record that I doubt will ever be broken. A great player would have to be voted out of the Winner’s Bracket and then survive an unholy amount of time to do so.

At this point, the logical conclusion to Top Chef is obvious. Louis would beat all five other remaining chefs in consecutive heads up competitions. After that, he would challenge Tom Colicchio in battle with the title of Top Chef head judge up for grabs. And Louis would win that as well. After seven straight wins in Last Chance Kitchen, Louis is more machine than chef. He is a human 3-D printer whose only task is to provide Michelin star-quality food upon request.