1. Stronger personalities.
As has been the case with too many of the past few Top Chef seasons, I can remember very few of the contestants’ names. That means they’re not asserting themselves. By the second episode of a reality competition, I should know why each cast member is there, and it should be clear that it’s not to make friends. Aside from Josie and Bart (the latter of whom has the unfair advantage of an accent), too many of this season’s contestants are just floating by.
2. Get more adventurous with the Quickfires.
Make them cook rare game they’ve never seen. Force them to only use one color in their dish. Have the chefs transfer ingredients to one another using their mouths. (OK, maybe save that last one for Watch What Happens Live.) Overall, Quickfire Challenges have gotten duller: too many allow the contestants total freedom, and how much fun is that? For the Elimination Challenge, we want to see great food; for the Quickfire Challenge, we want to see them squirm.
Prioritize the best on-camera judges.
Top Chef has managed to snag a slew of culinary giants to judge its episodic competitions. That’s all well and good, but it means we get to see less of the standouts. This season, Hugh Acheson has continued to prove himself as one of the sharpest and most charming judges — think of him as a less acerbic Anthony Bourdain. While I appreciate the breadth of talent assembled, let’s keep the focus on the chefs who provide the highest entertainment value.
3. Bring back more past contestants.
A large chunk of Top Chef’s audience has been watching from the beginning, and we love callbacks to past seasons. The most recent challenge was particularly satisfying because it pulled from all previous installments — including a clip of Season 1’s infamous “I’m not your bitch, bitch.” More of this, please. Over the years, Top Chef has come to take itself more seriously with a higher degree of talent assembled. That doesn’t mean it should ever forget its delightful (if less refined) roots.
4. Fewer tourism-driven challenges.
I think Top Chef may have overestimated our interest in exciting location-based challenges, few of which have been all that exciting. (Pike Place, for example. Are we really that invested in pickles?) Back when the show was just Top Chef and not Top Chef: [Insert City Here], the season’s location felt important but secondary. I get that these are big food cities, but if I wanted to watch the Travel Channel, I would. And I do, because Bizarre Foods is great.
5. More special guests we care about.
The best episode this season brought on very special guests Chris Pratt and Anna Faris. That’s because Pratt and Faris are funny, attractive, and incredibly likable. While the show’s diehard foodie fans are probably content with the food titans who pop up from week to week, it’s nice to have the occasional guest who appeals to the mainstream. When in doubt, it can’t hurt to bring on a Bravolebrity — a lot of us are watching Real Housewives, too.
6. Get the judges involved.
Early in the season, we saw the judges being very hands-on — both in selecting the contestants and in the Thanksgiving challenge. Established talent like Tom Colicchio (Top Chef’s one constant) and Emeril Lagasse know how to play to the camera, which is why the show would be wise to integrate them into the action. It’s also fun to see them get their hands dirty, though to be fair, too much of this can take attention away from the competing chefs.
7. Tone down the product placement.
Did you know that Truvia can be used in your recipes instead of sugar? Yes, I did, but that’s gross. I get that Top Chef makes a lot of money from its relentless product placements, but when they start to interfere with the content of the show, it’s time to take a step back. Look, we all roll our eyes when a contestant describes the Prius v’s special features. That doesn’t take away from the challenge, though. Forcing the chefs to use garbage products, on the other hand, should be banned.
8. Eye candy.
Remember who you are, Bravo — a network prized by straight women and gay men. Don’t be afraid to pander to us: we love it. Work of Art did this well in its first season, when the adorable Miles bared his ass for … well, I’m still not sure what it was for, but no one was complaining. Just because Top Chef is focused on the caliber of chefs doesn’t mean it has to ignore their sex appeal. And know that it hurts us when you kick off the cute gay first. (Miss you, Jeffrey!)