Chopped is the Food Network's answer to Top Chef. Or, better yet, the answer to this question: "How can we make a show that sort of combines the premises of Top Chef and Iron Chef, but in a way that is not interesting at all, and looks like it was filmed in a basement?"
On Chopped, which I will assume no one else in the universe is watching, four chefs I have never heard of are given a basket of mildly dissonant ingredients and 20 minutes to make an appetizer with them. Three judges I have never heard of evaluate the dishes and eliminate one chef. The three remaining chefs are given a new basket of mildly dissonant ingredients and 30 minutes to make an entree. One more is eliminated. The final two chefs are given a new basket of mildly dissonant ingredients and 30 minutes to make a dessert. One wins $10,000. The other does not. They all go home, and the following week there are 4 new chefs.
Chopped is frustrating because the problems with the show are mostly not about the concept, which I think is fine, but in the absolutely horrendous execution:
-- The show looks like it's filmed in a basement kitchen somewhere. Maybe it's the lack of natural light, or the lack of a studio audience, but something about the filming makes the show feel so completely irrelevant to anything. On Top Chef, the chefs go out into the world, they shop at the supermarket, they interact with each other, you get the sense they really care about the competition, and they want to impress the judges, and there are some stakes. Here, you get the sense they plucked some chefs off the street and forced them to take part in this show. It doesn't even really seem like they want to be there. They're all crammed behind a counter and not given enough room to work. We don't get to know much about them at all. The show just feels empty.
-- For whatever reason, no products seem to have agreed to let the show feature them, so every ingredient is labeled with a generic, intern-produced label, like "CORN" or "BEEF." So even when you know it's a bottle of Heinz ketchup, it's been covered with a white sticker and labeled. It makes the show look really cheap. This is a tiny nitpick, but it really makes a difference.
-- The chefs don't seem very good. One week, one of them dropped a piece of meat and served it anyway.
-- Top Chef works in part because we get to see chefs creating food we might like to eat. Iron Chef works because the chefs are forced to be creative with the secret ingredient. In Chopped, they occupy the boring middle ground between these two approaches -- chefs are forced to create unappetizing food no one would ever want, because no one would ever mix the ingredients they are given. Putting canned peaches, rice cakes, tofu, blueberries, and a lamb chop together into a salad is not appealing, and even if the contestants can figure out a way to make it palatable, who cares? No one will ever make this at home, and they're not really given enough time to do something super cool, so it's just all a pointless exercise in sticking to the rules of the show.
-- The judges then pretend the rules don't really exist, by saying things like "the rice cakes didn't really go with the peaches at all, those are very hard ingredients to use together." Well, fine, but you forced them to. Or, "you didn't cook the lamb long enough, lamb needs three hours to get tender." Well, fine, but you only gave them twenty minutes. So what do you expect?
-- And contestants seem to do best when they use half the forced ingredients as garnishes and basically get around the rules. So that's no fun.
This show is no fun at all. It is a mess. It is the worst cooking show I can imagine. And yet I keep watching it. I should be prevented from continuing to watch it.