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Summary:

Premiering this week, Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen is an online-only series in which chefs eliminated from the TV show get a chance to return to the competition. But as a case study in integrating web content into a series, it’s a potential disaster.

top chef last chance kitchen

UPDATED: Imagine watching professional football religiously all year long. Then imagine that it’s finally time for the Super Bowl, and, suddenly, whoever is in charge of the NFL announces that some team you forgot even existed is playing, because it won a whole other football season that was happening on the Internet. Ridiculous, right? Well, that’s what’s going on with Top Chef this season.

This week, Bravo.com premiered the first episode of Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen, an online-only series in which two chefs, eliminated from the TV show, compete head-to-head in one final challenge. The winning chef each week goes on to cook against the next eliminated chef; this proceeds until the finale, when the remaining chef will be able to rejoin the competition.

Last Chance Kitchen is fine, on a creative level — it’s a well-paced and professional package that adheres closely to the show’s format (overly dramatic music stings and all). But as a case study in integrating web content into a pre-established series, it’s a potential disaster, largely because of its distribution.

I will not make fun of the fact that the Bravo website, in lieu of embeddable video, is offering a widget to distribute Last Chance Kitchen — because I am kind, and also because the series is thankfully also available on Hulu.

But while super-fans may already be subscribed to Top Chef on Hulu or visiting Bravo.com on a daily basis, for most of the show’s 1.6 million viewers, the only way they’ll remember that Last Chance Kitchen exists is if the show uses precious ad minutes to nag them into going online and watching. As the Los Angeles Times’s John Horn complained, “you have to get up from the TV, start up your laptop and (of all the indignities!) be forced to watch the commercials.”

If Last Chance Kitchen were Hulu Plus and available on phones, tablets or other connected devices, that would be a significant improvement. Unfortunately, it’s not. UPDATE: Last Chance Kitchen can be seen on mobile and tablet platforms via this link or the Bravo now app.

In fact, Hulu’s note about Bravo programming is one of the more peculiarly-worded ones I’ve seen: “Hulu can offer a select number of full-length episodes from Bravo’s lineup each calendar month. The episodes featured and when they are posted are at Bravo’s discretion.” In short: Don’t blame us. It’s Bravo that’s being stingy.

Last Chance Kitchen also proves problematic when you consider how it changes the competition. Let’s say the winner of this first Last Chance Kitchen (no spoilers) goes on to dominate each subsequent episode — competing against chefs who were eliminated later and are thus, by the logic of the show, better chefs. While winning 12 cook-offs against arguably more talented cooks is an impressive feat, it’s an entirely different experience than the challenges the actual cheftestants will be going through — challenges meant in theory to evaluate each chef’s skill in handling a variety of situations. And so when the winner of Last Chance Kitchen re-enters the competition after not having been on television for potentially weeks, he or she will be altering the narrative of the show.

Top Chef has been nominated for Emmys for its efforts to integrate the web and TV in the past — some of the work they’ve done with online polling and Twitter is groundbreaking. In theory, this is what convergence culture creates: the blurring of lines between television and web to tell a story richer than the sum of its parts. But Last Chance Kitchen may well be a major misstep for the show.

That’s because, when creating an experience on multiple platforms, you either have to make sure that each element can be enjoyed separately with no consequences, or make sure that all elements of the experience are easily accessible. For Last Chance Kitchen, neither of these things is true.

  1. The whole point IS TO BE DISRUPTIVE. The challenge is also different, as this is a survival mode elimination, versus a best-of-a-group elimination. This is great!

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  2. How about putting some pressure on Bravo to put any of the Top Chef episodes online? Its not one bravotv.com and not on Hulu or Hulu+. Its only available on iTunes for a $30 season pass.

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    1. Take that up with your cable companies. They are the ones that restrict the episodes from appearing online in a timely fashion.

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    2. Patricia Tourand Friday, December 2, 2011

      You can watch the episodes online for free at “Project Free TV” and “Watch Series Online Free”. Unfortunately they don’t post the Last Chance Kitchen so those of us outside the USA have no way of watching it that I have found so far.

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    3. you can watch it on Amazon for $1.99 an episode ($2.99 for HD)

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  3. Liz, when I first heard about Bravo’s plans for Last Chance Kitchen, I was really excited as I felt (and still feel) this is yet another step in recognizing how media is converging across channels. While it’s easy to criticize minute executional tactics, the concept of Bravo providing its viewers (who want more) with online content that begins to match the quality of its sister broadcast content is pure awesomeness. And it’s choice-based — One doesn’t have to watch it to get the backstory of a contestant who could potentially come back into the broadcast show. But for those who want it, they have have 7 more minutes per week of compelling Top Chef content in an inherently on-demand format. As for those who criticize having to watch one 30-second pre-roll ad, having to get up off their couch and “start up their laptop” — are we back in the 1990s? More and more people have their second screen with them while they’re watching TV. And the point of the Last Chance Kitchen series is that it is optional. People watch TV online — this is far from a new concept. Bravo simply took it to a new level that interlinked the “storyline” of the online content more directly into the TV broadcast and thus making it that much more compelling for those who choose to watch it. I don’t disagree with you that there could be a more open/accessible distribution strategy but in its pioneering debut form, I think it’s pretty innovative.

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    1. Anthony F. Coleman Sunday, November 13, 2011

      I completely agree Mike.

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    2. All of that would be great if the online version of Last Chance Kitchen was available in the rest of the world where there are lots of fans of the show. I’m in Canada and I cannot access any online version of the show online. That’s very discriminatory and seriously annoying.

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  4. @Mike: @Mike, I agree that “Last Chance Kitchen” is not only innovative but provides an enhanced experience for avid Top Chef devotees. Many of us already interact with Top Chef contestants and judges via Twitter during the initial broadcast, so we’re already online and it’s not that much of a chore to navigate over to the video. I would liken it to the post-credits “monk’s rewards” that many summer blockbusters are in the habit of providing movie goers. It’s an added bonus for true fans. http://bit.ly/slHqDq

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  5. i think it’s genius, but being from argentina i can’t get over the fact that it’s not available for me to watch.

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    1. I agree. I am from Canada and can’t believe that I don’t have access to a major part of the competition because I am on the wrong side of the border. If it is going to play a critical part in the show, it needs to be available to EVERYONE who watches the show, whether they choose to follow it or not.

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  6. Andrew Donohue Monday, November 14, 2011

    I agree with you and disagree with you. As far as changing the dynamic of the competition by maybe introducing an inferior chef where they don’t belong, I think you are right. On every other count though you are dead wrong. This is it, this is what everyone who is reading this website wants to exist. I not only applaud Bravo on this, but I will watch as well to see how it works out.

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  7. Top chef’s methodology is crap anyway. Without blinded judging and with the producers’ say its BS. Worrying about some Internet contest is small beer.

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  8. Sorry the content is not available for my country, and well, it sucks, it would be nice to be able to watch it even if you’re not from the states.

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    1. http://www.dailymotion.com has some but not all and its bit confuzed hop at mit help

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  9. Don’t miss last paragraph | Transmedia fail: Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen http://t.co/0h5tC5Zs

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  10. Transmedia fail: Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen – GigaOm http://t.co/L8b4uCFH

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  11. #Transmedia fail: #TopChef: Last Chance Kitchen – http://t.co/apWk3WrB

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  12. #Transmedia fail: #TopChef: Last Chance Kitchen – http://t.co/apWk3WrB

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  13. Sorry, my comentary wasn´t available for this region

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  14. #Transmedia fail: #TopChef: Last Chance Kitchen – http://t.co/apWk3WrB

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  15. It’s not available in my region of CANADA. Er….can we say discrimination?

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  16. http://t.co/L8b4uCFH Transmedia fail: Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen – GigaOm

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  17. It’s frustrating for me. I’m from Canada and there’s no way to view these episodes which is freaking annoying!

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  18. I would agree that the convergence of the 2 distinct story lines that were not accessible in the same format would be problematic, except that there’s a simple solution (which I have no doubt Bravo must be planning). Prior to the episode where they reintroduce the Last Chance Kitchen winner, they just have to air a special episode as part of the regular TC season, in which they air the Last Chance contests. Problem solved!

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  19. It’s a great idea, but the last eliminated chefs have an advantage over the early eliminated chefs.
    Nyesha got a raw deal in the regular show, but with just Chef Tom’s fickle taste buds, she was defeated a second time in Last Chance.

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