13. Season 11: New Orleans
Winner: Nicholas Elmi
That a show so heavily based on culinary prowess and heavy-hitting chefs could bomb in a city as culturally rich as New Orleans is, frankly, confounding. And it wasn't even that the chefs were overwhelmingly uncreative, overly combative, or tediously boring, or that the challenges were uninteresting or poorly executed. No, this time, unfortunately, the epic failure falls on Top Chef's royal court, the quirky, opinionated experts we all know and love: the judges.
After a fairly eventful season that saw a group of legitimately skilled chefs giving their all to each competition, New Orleans finished with the chop heard around the world: the unfriendly, technically troubled, and uninspired Nicholas Elmi beating out fan-favorite Nina Compton, despite a resoundingly flawless final meal and a consistently killer performance. Those of us who stood by Elmi's lame attempt at heightening bad boy-dom were rewarded by seeing a classically trained white boy from Philly prevail over a highly inventive female cook with a knack for marrying unlikely flavors and a limitless ability to think outside the box. USA Today went so far as to liken the incident to, "The disappearing pea puree, near head-shaving and Kristen-sent-home-for-Josie controversies all rolled into one," and the AV Club immediately put out a 1,400-plus-word thinkpiece on how Bravo had finally tarnished its brand. More than a few dedicated viewers fell off the wagon after that wretched excuse for a finale, and really, who could blame them?