Learning the lessons of reality TV

By Paula Hendrickson

Contributing Writer

I’m not really big into reality shows, but the foodie in me enjoys Bravo’s Top Chef. Well, maybe not those episodes that involve chefs butchering their own meats, or the elimination challenge on the recently-concluded sister series, Top Chef Masters, that had chefs preparing street food using ingredients like beef tongue and heart. I’m squirming in disgust just remembering that episode.

I also cringe when watching shows where people live in clutter-packed homes you just know haven’t been cleaned in years. I’m no clean freak, but there’s a huge difference between a little clutter and outright hoarding. But I plan to check out A&E’s new reality series, Hoarders, which debuted Monday.

Why subject myself to cringe-inducing subject matter, you ask?

Because seeing the extreme conditions some people live in makes my house seem so much cleaner. It’s also good motivation to set aside more things for another garage sale.

Another reason I want to watch Hoarders is because a friend of mine tried to nominate one of her friends in Los Angeles to be on the show. That person keeps saying she needs help with her “clutter,” but refused the chance to apply for the show. That’s sad, considering the series addresses hoarding for what it is: a psychological condition. Each episode will follow two people (or, in some cases, families) through the process of cleaning, organizing and dealing with the psychological component of hoarding, but that still doesn’t mean all will be strong enough to break the cycle.

If a series about hoarding doesn’t appeal to your tastes, perhaps Top Chef: Las Vegas will.

As you probably deduced from the title, Bravo’s popular reality competition show moves to Las Vegas this season. Seventeen contestants endure weekly “quickfire” tests of their cooking abilities, as well as an elimination challenge. Professional kitchens are known as fast-paced, pressure-filled environments, and Top Chef producers seem to enjoy turning up the heat on the “cheftestants.” Cooking skill isn’t the only thing being tested. Judges also consider kitchen etiquette, presentation and creativity.

Head Judge Tom Colicchio is back, along with host Padma Lakshmi. (Lakshmi also has a sitcom in development at NBC—which means it’s still in the planning stages. If the sitcom gets picked up, she would likely be a producer and may, or may not, star in the sitcom.)

Given the new season of Top Chef takes place in Las Vegas, I suppose one of the challenges will have to involve a new take on one of those infamous Vegas buffets. Maybe the cheftestants will have to cater a massive poker party or a big event at one of the casinos. And what do you bet Wayne Newton and Celine Dion show up as guest judges? No matter the city, Top Chef producers have a knack for highlighting some of the elements that make the city unique, so you know they’ll have plenty of fun in Vegas.

Program notes

Hoarders airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on A&E.

Top Chef: Las Vegas airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on Bravo.

Paula Hendrickson is a regular contributor to Emmy magazine and Variety, and has been published in numerous national publications, including American Bungalow, Television Week and TVGuide. Send in your suggestions to tubetalking-paula@yahoo.com.

From the Aug. 19-25, 2009 issue

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