Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hell's Kitchen: When Satan Is Your Boss
I love Gordon Ramsay. If you haven't had a chance to see the excellent BBC show, Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, try to find it and watch it (it airs on BBC Canada and America, and the Food Network). It's a reality show where Chef Gordon Ramsay goes to restaurants (or res-trints, as he pronounces it) that are bleeding money and quickly going bankrupt, and he has 7 days to try to figure out what the problem is, and solve it. He then comes back 6 weeks later and sees if the restrint has closed or is still open and booming.

The basic gist of the show is, yeah, this guy can be a total jerk, but he cares. He wants to see these businesses succeed, and not fail. In one recent episode the chef was so fed up with Ramsay not being positive that he locked him out of the restaurant, and Ramsay sat on the step all day until the guy would let him in. Of course, chef got an earful when he finally did open the door, but he was also apologetic because he realized Ramsay's here to help, not hurt.

On Hell's Kitchen, it's not quite the same thing. Sure, Ramsay wants someone to win the game and go run an exclusive restaurant (I'm sure by "run" it's mostly show, but we'll let that pass) but he's not exactly wanting anyone to succeed on this show. And... it seems to be pretty staged.

In this season, on the second episode Rock nominated Josh and Eddie, after Aaron — the overweight, overly emotional chef who was SO incompetent there's no way he would have passed the initial audition, and therefore must have been an actor, I think — had screwed up, passed out, slept through competitions, and was the weakest link on the team. Why didn't Rock choose him? Because the producers needed to keep him around for another week, so they probably whispered something in his ear. The following week Aaron collapsed, was "rushed to the hospital" (my husband immediately noted he was picked up in a red van, but nowhere on it did it say hospital or ambulance or emergency or ANYTHING. Could have been the key grip's SUV for all we know), and then Gordon calls him in a completely scripted phone call where Aaron acts all eager to come back and Gordon tells him he just isn't coming back. Aaron, as per his contract, is crestfallen.

The following week the women totally killed in the breakfast competition (one woman had to come and actually deal with the guy's service after they were done), but had some misunderstandings in the kitchen during dinner so he declared them the losers. Why? Because week 1 was women, week 2 was men, week 3 was women. That's why. We've got to change it up, folks. Need to keep it even.

Last season the one thing that stuck out as more staged than anything was when a female customer got up and walked over to the kitchen to complain about her food to Gordon. On Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares, he insists that the customer is king, and that if they complain, they're right. Doesn't matter if you think the spaghetti is perfectly cooked and the chicken is magnifico, if they don't like it, it's shite. So this woman gets up, walks over, and Gordon, unable to even look up because he was so mortified that Fox was forcing him to deliver this line, said, "Get your tits off my hot plate and go back to your seat." The actress customer looked suitably offended, and left.

I was shocked to see the exact same scene played out this week. A woman said she would go straight to the chef to complain. This time he looked at her and she said she'd been waiting 2 hours for appetizers, he asked what table she was at, and she told him, and he said OK, then looked down (I thought, oh no...) and mumbled, "Jean-Phillippe, take the giraffe back to her table." Because she was tall with a long neck. Her jaw dropped. The director said, "No, no, open WIDER" so her jaw dropped further. She looked suitably mortified, and left.

Fox sucks. This is a reality show that I started watching because of the dynamic Gordon Ramsay, and it's not enough to have a foul-mouthed, abusive man who could just LOOK at Jeff Probst and make him wither; no, they have to make him SO much larger, and... unbelievable. Because that's what he is on this.

Fox is working on a Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares show for the fall, due to the enormous success of this show. But the show is already in trouble. One of the chefs of a kitchen Ramsay was supposed to be helping is suing him, claiming that the show is entirely staged. He's alleging that Fox crew members put rancid food in the fridges for Ramsay to pull out, that they replaced his furniture in the place with some shoddy chairs so they'd break when someone sat on them, and then, for the return, hired actors to come and fill the restaurant to show what an amazing thing Ramsay had done.

Are Ramsay and Fox guilty of fraud? Probably. Does that mean the BBC version is also staged? Maybe, but for some reason, while Fox goes for the over-the-top insanity, BBC keeps their show suitably believable. There's a chance Fox staged theirs, but the BBC's was an honest reality show based on bad restaurants they'd scoped out ahead of time. But now Fox's version will not only put a damper on their show, but everything else Ramsay touches.

Gordon, you've broken through to America. But maybe it's time to turn around and go back before America breaks you.


Colleen/redeem147 said...

I thought all reality shows were scripted.

I remember the first season of Survivor (remembered in that they kept a tally of the losers on the front page of the Toronto papers, cause no way I'd watch that) and it was boy/girl/boy/girl - yeah, totally spontaneous voting.

Kristin said...

I think a lot of reality TV is scripted to a certain degree. As for Gordon yelling and cursing at the help, if you have ever been in the military, you know this tactic works. So this part of it I believe.

The idea is that you will make a team out of these folks if everyone has a common enemy. You will want to perform well together to prove to the 'enemy' that you can't be broken, that you can succeed under pressure.

Either Aaron was an actor plant, or they purposefully chose a few super-weak types to make it more interesting. If all of these contestants were 'together' kinds of chefs with all sort of experience, it would be a boring show.

I'm also pretty sure they chose Julia, the Waffle House cook, and created the breakfast challenge to showcase what her strengths were.

It is no surprise that these shows choose 'characters' vs. people who would actually be worthwhile competitors. Personally, I wish they would concentrate more on the small challenges, like cutting steaks or trimming certain cuts of meat...I find that interesting. How do the pros prep all these things? To watch Ramsay do it and then have the competitors try to do the same is always fascinating to me.

There is too much time spent in the kitchen doing the same dishes every night. He ALWAYS has them make the risotto and the Beef Wellington. How about something NEW??

Kristin said...

Also, Nik, note it is the CHEF suing Ramsay, not the OWNER of the restaurant. That's all I have to say on that. What do the breaking chairs have to do with the chef? Nothing.

Considering some of the loser chefs I've seen on the BBC version (for example the 21-year-old running the dirtiest kitchen ever!), I can believe more in the litigious nature of a bad American chef...he was humiliated on national tv and booted. And in America, that means a suing.

If he were such a great chef and had such a sparkling, clean kitchen, why would the show even bother coming? I am sure there are more than enough real nightmare kitchens in New York that there would be no need for a show to have to bring in rotting food. Why go to all the trouble? Why not just find one of the truly bad kitchens?

Eh, I guess I like "Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares" so much, I just have to believe in it!

Anonymous said...

It is truly sad that Ramsay is sticking with Fox - I constantly tell people that they have to watch the BBC Kitchen Nightmares to see the REAL Gordon (or at least I like to believe it is the real Gordon - it's certainly not over the top and ridiculously scripted like Hell's Kitchen) - the difference is that he does care - I'm with you Nik - I think that if this is what the American version of Kitchen Nightmares is going to be then Gordon should go back to the U.K. with some dignity left - he doesn't need this crap to make a living - it's sad that "reality t.v." can't be real -was there ever a reality show that was true to reality? or did they always have to have staged parts in them to keep the interest of the viewers going? British t.v. seems to do so well with the reality show that appears to be quite real and remains interesting - I'm a sucker for a few reality shows, but I've never seemed to get sucked into the really sad and demented ones, though I feel like Hell's Kitchen is becoming quite sad...which makes me sad because I really do love Gordon.

Kristin said...

Anonymous, you should try watching shows like "Ice Road Truckers" on the History Channel or "Deadliest Catch." Those are true reality shows. No scripting. Just editing to give it some pizzazz.

Oh, and "Dirty Jobs" is also a hoot. Some of the people Mike Rowe, the host, works with are the best of quirky America.