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Sunday Column: Spoiler! Spoiler! Don’t read this post!


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 —’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 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.

16 comments Add your comment


December 20th, 2009
3:28 pm

People need to realize that certain TV shows should be watched either live, or as close to live as possible because of the internet. The world can’t stop because you didn’t watch a TV show. I knew that I’d be on the internet Thursday morning and would inevitably see who won Top Chef; therefore, I chose to watch it starting at 10:15 that night. Nothing was spoiled for me. People need to get over it and stop their whining and complaining!

On a totally unrelated note, John – after reading your omelette tests, I ate at the Bagel Palace in Toco Hills – one of the best cooked omelettes I’ve had in recent memory, not a tough brown spot in sight!


December 20th, 2009
4:41 pm

I think the spoiler issue is not so trivial as just “whining and complaining” because we want to watch things at our leisure. I work nights and rely on TIVO to keep up with the few shows I watch. I don’t have a problem with spoilers within articles, I can avoid them… but when the title or images tell all within the first 24 hours, it really is disappointing. I rely on the Internet for news, so it’s not feasible for me to avoid going online. I do try to watch my TIVOed shows as soon as possible, but that doesn’t always work out. I think it would be pretty easy for the headline writers to just not put the spoilers up front for everyone to see.

Needabailout, too!

December 20th, 2009
8:28 pm

Keep up the good work, John, any which way you want to do it.


December 20th, 2009
8:38 pm

I don’t mind reading who won at all. I do DVR the shows but often I just don’t have time to watch right away. Plus I appreciate John’s insight too.


December 20th, 2009
11:14 pm

I’m over the Top Chef series. I was drawn into the latest because of the ATL focus, but, having a good understanding of the judges/producers selection process, I thought it’d be another Atlantan coming into the finals and being a ‘disappointment’ to a superior method of prep/fancyscmancy placing on the plate. If they want that kinda finale, drag Gunter/Soto over to the taping, and let them smoke the competition. But the ‘finale’ was ludicrous in the extreme. I’m glad Kevin won the important gifts – he is a very talented chef, and will do very well in the exhibitions that actually mean more than Top Chef. But anyone that has an inkling of what it takes to be a competitive chef will see that Top Chef is the equivalent of ‘Housewives’. Sad commentary for the professionals in charge of the show. Hope they realize it and adjust, but somehow I don’t think so.

Spoiler, spoiler, don’t read this

December 20th, 2009
11:15 pm

[...] the story on Topix Posted in [...]

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December 20th, 2009
11:25 pm

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December 21st, 2009
7:20 am

Write all you want about the episode in your column/blog. BUT…do not allow the link on the front page to announce the winner/loser.

Top Chef / Runway are both on a bit late for us, so we record and watch the next day. I have no problem with you writing about it, but putting the headline on the front page of the is not needed.

People like “AJ” obviously don’t give a dam* about anyone but themselves. Not everyone can watch every show live. A little courtesy about not announcing the winner on the front page of the is not to much to ask.

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December 21st, 2009
8:36 am

Who cares about those people, really? If people’s lives revolve around TV shows THAT much, they need to readjust their priorities. I watch shows about a week in arrears due to work, travel, and home priorities so by the time I watch I’ve already gotten the gist of what happened. Do I get bent out of shape about it the next day? Heck no. Some people really need to get a life. I agree with you…if they didn’t want to know, why are the on the internet? It’s like recording a football game and then getting pissed when you find out who won. Nonsense


December 21st, 2009
8:41 am

LOL – a similar thing happened to me when, after the first episode, I posted a congrats to Kevin for winning the first challenge on FB – my friends who hadn’t watched yet chastised me for spoiling the outcome.

A couple years ago, I was doing something on a Sunday night, and missed the season finale to Survivor. I carefully avoided all TV-related news Monday, and went to watch it on demand – Comcast wasn’t working for some reason, so I went to to watch it online – the minute the page opened the winner was there for all to see! Oh, well – what are you going to do? I didn’t expect the world to stop just because I didn’t watch a show when it was broadcast.


December 21st, 2009
9:44 am

It’s an interesting discussion topic. It’s a long-standing tradition in film journalism/criticism to not spoil a plot twist in a movie when writing about it. Imagine if these had been actual headlines:

May 2, 1941 — New York Times
FILM REVIEW: Citizen Kane
Orson Welles’s ‘Citizen Kane’ Proves a Sensational Film about a Childhood Sled Named Rosebud

August 6, 1999 — New York Times
FILM REVIEW: The Sixth Sense
Bruce Willis Ghosts It Up as a Psychologist Who Doesn’t Know He’s Dead

And as much as I appreciate the tension of wondering who’s going to get voted off the island in Top Chef, I think that there’s an argument to be made for not treating this show the same way a writer would a scripted show when it comes to spoilers. This is a reality show — a competition no less.

I record the Oscars and Emmys so I can forward through the boring bits and watch the actual awards presentations the next day, but I don’t expect the news outlets to keep the winners a secret in news headlines for 48 hours.

Nonetheless, a show like Top Chef lies in a gray area between an awards broadcast and a scripted fictional show. New rules will have to be developed.


December 21st, 2009
10:24 am

My wife and I love your reviews of Top Shelf. Spoiler or no spoiler, they are fun to follow and really showcase some of the unstated hiliarity that makes up the show. In today’s quick media market, if you don’t watch it at the time of the airing, then chances are, someones going to spoil it for you.

Keep up the great work and love your reviews!


December 21st, 2009
3:10 pm

Get over yourselves! Before TiVo you knew you have to tune in or find out “in the streets”. Just because you’ve gone all digital with yourself does that really mean we owe you anything? I love my TiVo but I tune in live when I want to know first.


December 21st, 2009
3:20 pm

Wow Rod, you really categorized me accurately. Get over yourself.

John Kessler

December 21st, 2009
3:25 pm

Darin – What would be your Janel Maslin-era headline for “The Crying Game?” Actually….never mind that…

It is interesting how reality shows skirt the line — not wholly news, not wholly scripted. I have avoided hearing anything about the last season of “Weeds” because we download it from iTunes, but that seems to me like not wanting to know the end of a movie. I wish Showtime didn’t always take so long, however….

We do have to be more careful on the AJC site, however, as we continue walking in lockstep behind the script writers and casting agents for reality TV. Why so many Atlantans? Top 10 market, that’s why…


December 21st, 2009
9:24 pm

Wow, Gretchen, such hostility! DVR’s are great, especially for us that work nights taking care of your friends, family and possibly *you* in hospitals at night. It’s great for the cops, paramedics, and all night shifters that keeps things rolling while you are home lying on your sofa watching real-time TV. You bet you owe us. But of course, it seems you live in your own little corner of the world and have no idea about anything outside of it. People like you are just plain annoying… always wanting and never thinking that there might be other people in the world besides you. You need to get over *yourself* and just grow up.