Friday, February 25, 2011

Depravity and Top Chef

I am an unashamedly huge fan of the reality show, Top Chef. This is in spite of the fact that I know next to nothing about food and generally dislike reality shows (with one other notable exception). This season is an All-Star season, where some of the best runners-up are put back through Top Chef again.

Top Chef differs from some other reality shows in that all of the contestants (whom, embarrassingly, the show calls “Cheftestants”) are all fast-rising professionals in their field. They put them in absurdly difficult situations, in which tempers and dramatic tensions are sure to arise—after all, that makes good television. And each week, after one of the contestants are sent home by the judges, I read their interview about what they thought.

As you might imagine, many people do not come across all that well on the show. They are in a tense, high-pressure environment, and that sometimes brings out the worst in people. (Or, more accurately, it brings out the way people really are if you break through and get down to the “real”, sinful, imperfect person at the heart of each of us).

In most interviews, the contestants tend to be upset at the way they are portrayed. They will invariably say something like, “I got a bad edit”, or “They didn’t show you how I was really friends with half of them,” or, “They cut out the part where so-and-so really liked my dish,” or, “They didn’t show when I apologized.”

I do not doubt, of course, that Bravo cherry-picks the juiciest parts on camera to make for good drama. But any time I read one of those responses, I immediately think of how we go to such great lengths to avoid seeing ourselves in our imperfections. We want to see ourselves in the best possible light at all times. How often have you thought, after being mean or petty or sinful, “Well I’m not perfect, after all. Besides, he/she did ____ to me, what was I supposed to do?” We always have a list of excuses for our behavior a mile long: we were tired from work, or we were distracted, or they were mean to us first, etc., etc. It all really comes down to the fact that we much prefer to justify ourselves as “good people” based upon our works…and ignore all the works that are contradictory to that fact. Apparently it is no different when you see yourself on television; you simply have a convenient editor to blame for cutting out all of the excuses that would have explained your otherwise-bad behavior.

But boy, did this week’s elimination go differently.

Dale Talde was one of my favorites in his season. He is obviously a talented chef, and very passionate. What I love is that he manages to walk that line of having a biting sarcastic sense of humor without being mean-spirited—kind of like a college buddy who can talk trash to you pretty hard, but you both just have fun with it.

Anyway, there was one highly noticeable imperfection for Dale in his season (season four, I think, and am too lazy to Google to be sure)—anger issues. He was just an angry guy. When he got into stressful situations, his emotions overtook him: he would punch the walls, throw things, yell at people. This season, though—in Top Chef All-Stars—has been totally different. He has been calm. Patient. Unflappable. Even when he begins to stress, he handles not with anger but in other, healthier ways.

This week, Dale ends up getting sent home. In his emotional ‘farewell’ discussion, he said something that just blew me away. It wasn’t the typical response. Instead, he said something so real and raw and—well—Christian, that I really liked him even more.

In discussing watching himself in his first appearance on the show, Dale said, “I wasn’t happy with who I was, and I took it out on everyone around me.” His follow-up interview reiterated: “I didn’t like who I was. I didn’t like seeing myself like that. You really see yourself in a different light when you’re put in front of millions of people. Some people dig it and are like, ‘You’re kind of a jerk’. When your mom is embarrassed of your behavior, it says something. I don’t ever [again] want to put my parents in a position where they’re embarrassed to see me.”


I don’t know anything at all about Dale’s personal beliefs, philosophy, religion, or anything else. What I do know is that he is closer to the kingdom of God than a lot of people who fill pews every weekend. Because he gets it. He understands his role in his sinful behavior. He doesn’t make excuses for his behavior, or say that he just got a “bad edit”. He takes responsibility for his actions, and says (like Paul, in Romans) that he (i.e., the “real Dale” or the spiritual part of him) is not okay with the actions he does. He knows that it was wrong. And he sees that his wrongness hurts not only him, but brings shame to his parents. And because of that, he is open to accepting the need to change.

If only we all could be so honest. If only we all could take responsibility for our sinful natures, rather than saying that there was an excuse or another, justifiable way to view our actions (“a bad edit”). It only we all could see ourselves and think, “I don’t like who I am and I need to fix that.” If only we all could see that our wrongness not only shames us, but also shames our Father who made us.

See you later, Dale. You’ll be missed.

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