Warning: the following column contains spoilers. If you read this column, you will find out the winner of the not-yet-filmed season of “Top Chef,” the fate of the “Lost” castaways, and the location of Mary Magdalene’s scapula.
Or … not.
Over the past four months, as I’ve blogged about the just-completed season of “Top Chef,” which featured three Atlantans among the contestants, I’ve learned quite a bit about the strange temporal reality of taped competitions on television.
Unlike live broadcasts of, say, football games or Oscar ceremonies, prerecorded contests dole out the thrills of victory and the agonies in a weird kind of time vacuum. Viewers know this, rely on this, take comfort in this. In this blasted 24 /7 news cycle, it’s their only break from real time.
I’ve done my best to play along the rules of this odd game, though now that “Top Chef” is over, I will come clean.
It was nearly a year ago when Magical Elves, the company that produces “Top Chef” announced a midwinter casting call in Atlanta. They rolled into town to interview hopefuls at Craft restaurant in Buckhead, and also called local observers of the food scene (full disclosure: including me) to gather a list of potential contestants. They clearly wanted a chef with a Southern culinary perspective, and likely wanted to gin up viewership in the Atlanta market.
By early summer, Atlanta’s food community was keeping — poorly — the secret that three local chefs had been chosen. It isn’t a hard fact to deduce: Chefs don’t leave their restaurants for five straight weeks with vague stories about training and traveling. Over the summer, the series was filmed up until the two-part finale featuring the four remaining contestants.
While at least two local blogs broke the story before Bravo announced the cast, most of us on the news side decided to play along.
In their contracts, the chef contestants signed liability waivers that would hold them to huge cash penalties if they revealed the outcome.
And yet, many people were involved during the taping of the show. Word gets around and tends to reach news-gathering organizations. Before “Top Chef” began airing, gossip about the outcome began making the rounds. I, of course, didn’t repeat any of it in print.
When I started blogging, my colleague Rodney Ho — ajc.com’s TV writer extraordinaire — warned me about alerting readers to spoilers in my copy, since many people record the show to watch at their leisure. I complied. Even so, early readers called me on the carpet for posting pictures of the week’s losers in the blog. That was spoiler enough.
Just before the finale, Atlanta contestant Eli Kirshtein got the cleaver. While I was vague at the start of my blog post, I did send Kirshtein good wishes in a Facebook posting. My online friends gasped: spoiler!
After the finale taped, there were many reports floating about that Michael Voltaggio had in fact bested Atlantan and fan favorite Kevin Gillespie for the title. I kept an eagle-eye for posters who tried to spoil this on my blog and deleted comments as they came in.
The finale aired. Late that evening, after the winner had been announced, I wrote a quick blog entry for ajc.com and began moderating the comments that came pouring in.
“Spoiler! Spoiler!” the commenters cried. Our home page announced the winner.
That seemed strange to me. Our guy lost: it’s news. But I contacted the home page producers and we fudged the link to “And the winner is…”
Not enough: the headline of my story announced the winner, and it showed up in RSS readers. I needed to change it.
By this point I wasn’t the only person getting exasperated with the anti-spoiler backlash. People all over Facebook and Twitter were asking essentially the same question:
“If you don’t want to know the outcome of ‘Top Chef,’ why are you on the Internet?”
Now that this whole business is over, I admit relief. As the chefs sliced and diced their way to half-competitive, half-scripted glory, I felt like I was always walking two steps behind them, stepping on their discarded eggshells.