Top Chef Power Rankings

By David Mumpower

January 22, 2014

Shirley in her natural state (talking).

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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.

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