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A hard luck story appears to be mandatory on Chopped

After watching several episodes of "Chopped", it appears that a hard luck story is a prerequisite.

I'm not sure what a hard luck story has to do with who can outcook 3 other cooks but it certainly comes up. They always ask what are you going to do with the money or somebody volunteers that they beat cancer so they can certainly beat these other cooks.

If you disagree, certainly, state your position. If you agree, please state a few of what you think would be good stories.

I have a few:

I need the money and if I don't win, I will have to sell one of my kidneys next week.

My sister got picked up for prostitution again. This will be her 3rd strike so we really need a good defense lawyer.

I'm going to donate anything I win to "Chefs for Life". These people help overweight pastry chefs with diabetes.

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  1. "I need a kidney and the nice gentleman beside me said I could purchase his"

    1. The show just adds kitchen stuff to the original idea which was the old TV show "Queen for a Day."

      1 Reply
      1. re: Kagemusha

        OMGosh! I remember that show! kh

      2. Hank, appears true of 99% of the "reality" styled shows on air. Stories sell when production content does not. Why should viewers care? Tune in for weeks? Often because the contestants stories are more compelling.

        It's the made up stories that annoy me.

        1 Reply
        1. re: HillJ

          "It's the made up stories that annoy me."

          Like there's a difference?

        2. Agreed. It's gone even more overboard than it already was. In the most recent episode the Indian woman was clearly outmatched and yet won due to her sad story OF TOUGH TIMES LIVING IN NAPA! I was so very saddened that she couldn't get people in Napa to try Indian cuisine. Perhaps she should have surveyed the market before relocating her restaurant there. *sob*.

          1. The sob stories really bug me because it takes the focus off the food. Very few people in this world don't have a rough patch they went through somewhere in their past, I don't see the point of the contestants bringing it up.
            If asked why I'd want to win, I think I'd go with something along these lines: "Well, losing sucks, and who doesn't want $10,000?".

            5 Replies
            1. re: alliegator

              How about.. "i'm looking forward to a $10,000 drinking binge." ?

                1. re: Hank Hanover

                  10K buys a lot of cocaine...it keeps me going in the kitchen during those long nights.

                  (oh wait, that's what Bourdain would have said in his chef days...)

                2. Yeah, it does seem like they're busting out the violins more and more on "Chopped" lately. The other thing they do is, every time one of the contestants is black or latino or "ethnic" in some way, they have to talk about how much "soul" they put into their food and how they're doing this for their grandma who cooked every day for 47 kids. Sometimes I wonder if they ever feel uncomfortable about it.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Lady_Tenar

                    This tends to be what many white folks feel about non-white folks for some bizarre reason, anyway.

                    Hung Huynh, winner of Top Chef Season 3 [a Bravo TV show] and of Vietnamese extraction, was accused by the head judge (Tom Colicchio), no less, for "having no soul" when he cooked French-type food (which he was trained in and which he seemed to executing and cooking *quite* competently) and instead appeared to expect him to cook his ethnic cuisine with sob-sob tales attached. There was some furious commentary around that.

                    1. re: huiray

                      wow really? Ethic doesn't have to be non white, there have been French, German, Italians, Brits, Aussies to name but a few on Chopped not to mention white southern chefs too. Personally the sob stories are getting on my nerves I keep wondering if we're going to hear some new slant on 'my life was worse than anybody else's EVER' on Chopped.

                  2. I am bored to death with the stories, "I am doing this for my 2 month old son/unborn baby/drug addicted sister/grandma who died 27 years ago/dad who died yesterday."

                    I do not go to work every day for my kids, parents, dogs so that they will be proud of me. I work cos I've gotta, I do stuff for me. If these people want to enter competitions I wish they'd just do it and STFU about their lives. I'm guessing the producers think we like these stories.

                    1. I have to admit I am surprised. I thought some folks would disagree with me and challenge my unfeeling heart.

                      The last few chopped episodes, they, literally, solicited stories from the 2 finalists. "If you win how will it affect your life?" Clearly, they feel this will make it all more compelling.

                      I have to think that someone properly preparing to compete on this show would be wise to invent a sob story and tell it over and over again. Maybe even better an inspirational story and then a sob story.

                      They should, also, know not to make french toast for dessert, double dip, use cheese with fish, tell the judges that they just don't like you and put one of the components on as a garnish only.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Hank Hanover

                        don't forget bleeding all over the chopping board or food!

                      2. Yeah, where do they find these people (including the Food Network hacks who think up all this hokey ...stuff...?

                        1. After watching many episodes-- I've concluded that many of the cooks/chefs just don't seem to get paid very much so therefore cannot afford luxuries and in some cases can't even support their families adequately. They need some very fortunate turn of events to buy something that many of us take for granted. That is their life and doesn't seem to be the exception, but rather the rule.

                          Am I wrong?

                          4 Replies
                          1. re: lenwood

                            Unfortunately, the rise in popularity of cooking shows has led to a dramatic increase in the number of culinary schools and their graduates. This leads to people owing $48000 in student loans and making far less than is required to pay it back.

                            I saw an article where I guy was working as a line cook at a bistro in Austin for $10.50/hr working side by side with the other line cooks making $10.50/hr and they didn't go to culinary school. He actually had to endure the other cooks making fun of him about his student loans.

                            The good news about getting on "chopped" is it allows you to audition for executive sous chef positions at the 3 - 4 star restaurants in Manhattan.

                            1. re: Hank Hanover

                              sorry, but why should the culinary school guy not have to work "side by side" with the cooks who have been working in the restaurant for years, and why should he expect higher pay, when they are more skilled and experienced at the job?

                              1. re: soupkitten

                                I think he should have to work with the other cooks.. The point of the story was that his $48000 culinary education had bought him very little. Those other line cooks had paid nothing and worked maybe 2 years to be a line cook. He had paid $48000 and went to school for 10 months to accomplish the same.

                                Honestly, I suspect he will go further and have more opportunities than the unschooled line cooks. Still a very expensive way to get into a very competitive low paid industry.

                            2. re: lenwood

                              That's more or less what I've taken from it. That cooks/chefs really have a hard road to travel, perhaps much harder than many people realize.

                            3. "I want to prove....", "I want to show them ....", "I'm doing this in memory of ....", "I want .... to be proud of me", "I didn't go to cooking school but I can ..." "I've never cooked ..... before.". The standard lines in every show. Stock comments. Yawn.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: Antilope

                                Crying. It is mandated that every contestant, when asked to share a personal story, must cry. Without tears, how can we know how much soul you've put into a dish that reminds you of a loved one?

                                1. re: ooroger

                                  Oh, so true. It drives me nuts that every time they bring up a father that died 20 years ago they tear up. My mom died three years ago and I can talk about her without crying.

                                2. re: Antilope

                                  Joe became an orphan at an early age after he played with matches and burned his home down, also killing his parents. His aunt took him in, but he soon became homeless when he burned her house down, also. He regrets he never got the chance to tell his parents about his twin brother that they never had a chance to meet. For a while he managed to support himself by stealing Gideon Bibles from hotel rooms and selling them on Craigs list. He learned to cook in tin cans over campfires in hobo camps. He got his first cooking job heating samples at Costco. He is now Sandra Lee's sous chef. Last week his pet gerbil died. He's lactose and gluten intolerant. If he wins the $ 10,000 he wants to finish his whole body tattoos. He's doing this in memory of his parents and aunt. The memory of them gave him the fire in his belly to succeed.

                                3. It has nothing to do with who can outcook three other cooks. It has everything to do with making for better TV by giving the audience someone to possibly root for.

                                  If they didn't pick contestants based in part on the compelling stories they can bring to the table, then they'd probably concentrate on picking the most telegenic, perky, and cheerful chefs to compete.

                                  1. As hard as I have been on Chopped, I still like it. I think it is the most difficult cooking contest on TV. I have learned a lot watching what someone comes up with after being given impossible ingredients and an impossible time limit.

                                    I just wish they would let the competition stand on its own. I wouldn't even mind hearing the hard luck stories if I didn't think they had an impact on the judging.

                                    1. Yay Hank! You're just saying what a lot of us are thinking.
                                      "I don't have the money to go to Italy (wherever) and visit Nana"
                                      "I want my dad to be proud of me" (from the grave)
                                      "I want my kids to be proud of me"
                                      Oy vey! The mummy and daddy issues...
                                      Blech. STFU and cook.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: monavano

                                        One from last night was almost comical (from Holly, the runner up) - she speaks Spanglish, and would use the money to travel to South America and learn Spanish, so she can better communicate with her coworkers.

                                        1. re: paulj

                                          I have 2 words for her.... Rosetta Stone.

                                      2. watched a Chopped last night waiting for husband to pack.
                                        had to kill time.
                                        it was the lamb heart episode with a lady that wanted to see her grandmother that raised her.
                                        she said something like her grandma had raised her and taught her everything she knew and that's why she was there. the sweetheart of a guy that was competing against her was a kind hearted man.
                                        I thought they were kindred spirits and his kindness gave way to her getting a trip to visit her grandmother.
                                        it seemed to get reactions from the judges and certainly got one from me.
                                        tears flowed

                                        9 Replies
                                        1. re: iL Divo

                                          They really were the nicest cheftestants. So many have huge egos and I love it when they talk over Alex. It really gets her torqued.

                                          1. re: Hank Hanover

                                            Posters comment about Alex's 'sour' expression almost ad nausium.

                                            Did you see Alex on the latest episode, which I believe played last night before the lamb heart repeat? I thought all the judges, but Alex especially, tried to be helpful in their comments. Maybe I was just aware that posters keep saying that she need to learn what it was like to a contestant; that it would make her (appear) more empathetic. Not that I buy that assessment. But we just finished seeing her compete on NICA.

                                            It's worth keeping in mind that while participants in shows like this are not following a script, they are playing roles in a drama. In addition there's the unseen hand of the producers and editors.

                                            1. re: monavano

                                              mona, agree with you.
                                              they often have awful demeanors and it shows. those two were lovely last night.
                                              and Alex, yep, love her and like watching her on tv but she is a bit entitled sometimes, like, "listen to me, I'm talkin here"........

                                              and HH, I'll add 2 more words, "Lima Peru" for the best in bargains of RS :)

                                              1. re: iL Divo

                                                "Alex, yep, love her and like watching her on tv but she is a bit entitled sometimes, like, "listen to me, I'm talkin here"........"

                                                I think you have to have a little bit of that attitude if you're going to really succeed in that world as a woman. I mean, check out the egos on a lot of the guys! I personally find her refreshing. She is authoritative but never arrogant or cruel. I much prefer her to the countless female chefs that I see who, regardless of talent, are always second-guessing themselves, putting themselves down, expressing how threatened they feel etc. It's so frustrating! Alex gives you the impression that she doesn't let people push her around.

                                            2. re: iL Divo

                                              Did he recuse himself from the contest so she could win or offer to donate his winnings to give her the trip? My wife says she thinks she saw that episode. She said that after he won, he offered to pay for the ticket so she could see grandma.

                                              Oh that would be brilliant! Counter the hard luck story by offering to donate your winnings to that person. Then after the program, back out of it.

                                              1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                He offered to pay for her ticket and she accepted.

                                                1. re: monavano

                                                  I thought that was great. The winner was a classy guy.

                                                  Between her story and her messy accident where she got burned pretty badly, I thought she was a lock to win. When he gave up some of his winnings I was pretty surprised.

                                                  I don't love the stories either but I thought this episode was pretty cool.

                                                  1. re: acgold7

                                                    Oh, I forgot about her taking a spill! She was tough as nails and I too thought she'd get the win just for tenacity.

                                                    1. re: acgold7

                                                      Yeah, I'm not going to lie, I was rooting hard for that woman and I teared up a little when the winner offered her the ticket. And so did Jeffrey! I've never seen that. Amanda is a waterworks (And Aron and Alex and little too) but he's usually pretty stoic. :-P

                                              2. I love Chopped, but totally agree about the stories. Let's focus on the food / challenge / cooking.

                                                I'm wondering how hard it is for the judges when one dish is just absolutely BAD. They obviously have to make it sound "passable" so there is the suspense. Must be kinda funny on the set...

                                                4 Replies
                                                1. re: jbsiegel

                                                  I did see an episode once where they wanted to send two contestants home but had to pick only one.

                                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                                    HH that episode was also shown in the last 7 days or so.
                                                    they weren't good or worthy.
                                                    as I recall even the final winner was a C-

                                                  2. re: jbsiegel

                                                    There's no way I would want to be a judge on Chopped, but I love watching it, especially when the judges get their buttons pushed. Love when Conant gets served cheese with fish or raw onions and he gets his drawers in a bunch. Love when Alex shoots death rays out of her eyes when anyone dare speak.

                                                    1. re: jbsiegel

                                                      Chopped does seem to be highlighting contestants "back stories" more than it used to do. Still, it's nowhere near as bad as some other reality shows. I don't get the sense that hard luck sagas factor much into the judging on Chopped. I like the fact that the judges are for the most part polite and professional, even when a contestant isn't or a dish is really awful. There's no screaming, insulting contestants, spitting food out or throwing it in the garbage can à la Gordon Ramsey on Hell's Kitchen or Joe Bastianich on Master Chef.

                                                      I'd love to know who gets to pick the ingredients that go into the baskets. I'm always impressed when a contestant can take ingredients that I would never dream of putting together and turn them into something that the judges like.

                                                      1. re: scubadoo97

                                                        I rarely watch it if not on my DVR. I breeze right by the beginning. I don't care about their stories.

                                                        1. re: monavano

                                                          My trick is to turn on closed captioning and mute the sound. It is easier to ignore words on the screen than spoken one.

                                                      2. It's ridiculous and predictable. What does that have to do with cooking?

                                                        1. Playing the sympathy card always bugs me too. But the judges, to their credit, don't seem to hesitate to cut the ones with the hard-luck stories.

                                                          But I did feel sorry for this week's Moroccan chef, with the screws in his spine and the spinal tap just two days before. That inedible lemongrass sandwich on a croissant was the most appalling plate I've ever seen presented on this show. It was embarrassing to watch.

                                                          1 Reply
                                                          1. re: Boswell

                                                            that Moroccan guy actually out-cooked the winner, one of Colicchio's sous chefs, through the first two courses. the winner's dishes didn't seem that appealing, with so little variation in texture, repetitiously soft and flaccid according to the judges. one thing the show does convey well is the physical challenge of cooking and composing at the hyper speed demanded by the show's requirements, which is a condensed version of what cooks have to do during a busy service, only for 5-7 hour stretches instead of 30 min.

                                                          2. Also - Don't forget it's a Food Network show. Y'know, that network with "The Next Foodnetwork Star" where that Fogelson woman and that whats-his-name-fellow (but that woman in particular) always, ALWAYS, keeps harping on how they want to KNOW MORE about the aspirants to FN-Stardom, to know the intimate details of how they struggled with every setback in their life, everyone of which were earth-shattering, their most fleeting CHERISHED memories of their Nana, mama, papa, whoevera, or how they cried buckets and buckets while making great strides in OVERCOMING their crushing difficulties, or if none of those applied then how they remembered all these life-changing rhapsodic moments in their lives when their SOUL flowered and soared etc etc etc.

                                                            1. I really like Robinez's comment. "I need a kidney and the nice gentleman beside me said I could purchase his"... good sob story.

                                                              1. I have to agree, as a "Chopped" afficionado. There IS always one person who's beat addiction, cancer, or some other hardluck circumstance. They DO bring it up. But in defense of the judges and the show's producers, I've not noticed anybody getting any special play, judgement-wise, at the table. When they tell their story they get the coos and nods of sympathy, but get chopped just the same.
                                                                Love your examples. But just FYI, prostitution is not a violent offense and would never earn even a single strike, what with it's being a misdemeanor offense and all.........even the third time.

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: mamachef

                                                                  Maybe not in San Francisco but in Texas, it's frowned upon. ;-)

                                                                  1. re: mamachef

                                                                    I'd be shocked if you brought four people together and you didn't have someone with a hard luck circumstance.

                                                                    Do some posters here live in a fantasyland where no one they know ever has problems? The whole point of getting life stories out of contestants is to give viewers something they can connect with. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with a TV show trying to manipulate viewers like that.

                                                                  2. I think Chopped has gone through one other "contestant cycle". Now they're on the hard luck story.

                                                                    Last season and previous to that, they seemed to be on a "who's the bigger jackass" cycle. A while back (maybe a year) it seemed like every group of contestants had to have some clown who made a big deal about "talking smack", dogging everyone else, annoyingly singing out loud while cooking, smirking or even laughing when anyone else was chopped, and generally acting like a really bad sport.

                                                                    They seem now to be selecting more sympathetic contestants who need to pay for little Tommy's iron lung.

                                                                    When this type gets too predictable they will move to a different contestant type, for enhanced drama. :)

                                                                    1. I didn't want to start a new thread, and this one seemed like an appropriate place for this: http://deadspin.com/5924495/our-drew-...

                                                                      A must-read if you watch Chopped.

                                                                      7 Replies
                                                                      1. re: LurkerDan


                                                                        Thanks for sharing.

                                                                        Actually, that list of questions is eyebrow-raising. It certainly affirms the perception that sob stories and personal revelations of how you were cast out and a child and forced to fend for yourself on the streets begging for and stealing food (hence your appreciation now for food etc etc) are de rigeur nowadays for Food Network.

                                                                        1. re: LurkerDan

                                                                          I really hope he makes the cut.

                                                                          I wonder, though, how he'll act when he's on camera and not sitting behind the keyboard. $10 says he'll be a dud.

                                                                          1. re: LurkerDan

                                                                            not sure if this is where to post here or not regarding last nights' chopped episode.
                                                                            it stated NEW, so it recorded as I was sitting watching it about to start.
                                                                            one thing it wasn't was NEW. it's a repeat and not sure why they list something as new when it's a repeat. new to you maybe but not new to others who've seen the episode.

                                                                            1. re: iL Divo

                                                                              That must say something about the similarity of the episodes. It looked new to me, even though I must have seen it back in January (I just looked it up on the Wiki episodes list)..

                                                                              My guess is that the 'new' label came from some low level employee at FN, or maybe it was Comcast's doing; i.e. a mistake. I don't think FN had anything to gain by conspiring to mislabel it.

                                                                              1. re: paulj

                                                                                I watched the Chopped episodes last night for the hell of it and also because I had not seen one for a while.

                                                                                That episode last night with the female sous chef who was encouraged to go on Chopped by her boss "to gain confidence" was eye-rolling for me w.r.t. the sob-sob/heart-rending/tear-jerker stuff. It was a trial for me when the judges questioned her on this aspect and they d-r-a-g-g-e-d out her almost-in-tears response and dwelt lingeringly on the responses from all parties concerned. GAG. I stuck with it just to see if she would win in the end - **because** her "personal story" pointed SO STRONGLY in terms of FN's current values towards her eventual TRIUMPH - annnndddd...guess who won. :::rolleyes:::

                                                                                1. re: huiray

                                                                                  Her sob story was a little much, though I was rooting for her.

                                                                                2. re: paulj

                                                                                  As I watched the DVR I thought of your post il Divo and yes you are right I had seen that episode before. It took me 2 rounds to be sure.

                                                                                  Adrienne's sob story was too much, how her brother was so mean, jeez haven't we all got mean siblings??
                                                                                  Seems like reality TV has to always give us a sob story or personal story these days, can't somebody just want to win it for themselves?

                                                                            2. I watched 4 episodes of Chopped that my DVR had saved for me after a weekend away and in every single episode, one of the chefs mentioned that he or she had lost a family member within the previous month. One chef said his father had died YESTERDAY.