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Friday, February 27, 2009

Will there be one less sibling on "Brothers and Sisters"?

Now, if you're not as into "Brothers and Sisters" as I am, you probably don't care about this week's dramatic who-will-die-and-who-will-live two-hour episode. Fair enough. I didn't either until I started getting wrapped up in the world of the Walkers, the wine-swigging, gossipy clan that I'm glad every week I'm not related to, but sometimes wish I were.

The living part is easy enough -- it seems that Kitty Walker (Calista Flockhart) and Sen. Robert MacAllister (Rob Lowe) will finally get their adopted baby. Cue the clash between new family and Robert's aspirations to become Governor of California. (Also, how meta is it to have an actor run for governor of a state that already has an actor-governor? Deeeep stuff, man).

The dying, well not so much. For months the rumor has been that it will be Tommy Walker, even through actor Balthazar (awesome name) Getty's rumored exit from ABC's "Brothers and Sisters" may not be all true.

Getty, who plays the black sheep Tommy, has been plagued in the tabloids about his not-so-secret affair with serial homewrecker Sienna Miller. In the current plotline, Tommy has delved into some illegal business dealings in an attempt to wrest control of the family business from his father's ex-mistress, Holly Harper (Patricia Wettig). This week's 2-hour episode seems to indicate a "death" in the family. Will Tommy die or go to jail?

Personally, I hope jail. Although few fans really like Tommy, I believe every family needs a black sheep in their midst. Tommy is the only brother or sister who seems to be playing out his father's legacy with his on-screen affair last season and his shady business dealings in this one. For those of you non "B&S" fans, the clan's patriarch William Walker died in the first episode, revealing a Pandora's box of secrets: two mistresses, an illegitimate child and a pension-skimming scheme that makes Bernie Madoff look cutesy.

While this season has been remarkably less full of pizzazz as the first and second seasons were -- partially because Nora (Sally Fields) and Holly have put their wife-mistress feud aside for the time being -- it's still a throwback to those great prime-time soap-dramas like "Knots Landing," thirtysomething," "Picket Fences" (well, Picket Fences sans the total David Kelley-inspired weirdness).

Here's my one of my very favorite clips:

"Brothers and Sisters" airs on ABC at 9 p.m. The first and second seasons are available on DVD.

--Malavika Jagannathan,


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Commercial Interruption: And the winner is ... The Bald and the Bland

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course, we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). For this post, girls rule and boys suck at life. Bloggers Sara Boyd, Malavika Jagannathan and Friend of Channel Surfing/Unofficial Stand-in For Thomas Rozwadowski Kelly McBride are still in shock over the decision to crown Hosea as Top Chef for nothing more than being the best of the bald and the bland. It was a disappointing finish to a season that started out with so much promise from runner-up Stefan Richter, the Finn who everyone thought could win, and a last-minute push from Ole Ostrich Eyes Carla whom we had all written off by the fourth or fifth episode.

Malavika: Cue the banners, the marching band, the parade ... the snoozing ... (I am softly weeping into my curdled souffle as I write this) Now I'm not going to be redundant and ask "what the hell happened?" but, seriously, what the hell happened? How did a dude who skated by with a couple of wins in the middle -- including a team challenge that didn't really include an individual winner -- end up on top other than by simply just being not as bad as the others? And, why, oh why doesn't the final judging take into account past performances? I understand that one bad dish can send you home, but does it make sense to declare someone "Top Chef" when they have not consistently shown their stuff or been on top as the title suggests? It's like getting an A all semester, but finding out your entire grade is based on the final exam that you failed. It just doesn't make sense.

According to the explanation given by Gail Simmons on her blog (see here), once Carla was dismissed as a contender, the judges put each course head-to-head in the battle of the balds. Both Stefan and Hosea were even in the appetizer round, Hosea pulled ahead of Stefan in the first course, Stefan won over judges with his squab in course number two, so it literally hinged on the last course of the night. In her words, Stefan's 1980s-era dessert plate, which I may or may not have seen served at The Olive Garden, "left us wondering if he had given up the fight somewhere along the line." Hosea's dish came out on top, so Hosea got the title. My only question is whether it was fair to compare someone who at least attempted to do a dessert, albeit not the best one, to someone who clearly played it safe knowing a dessert would probably wreck his chances? Is dessert even necessary to complete a meal or that just our way of traditional thinking about a three-course meal? (I can't remember the last time I could afford a two-course meal, but that's not the point here).

After last night's episode, I forced myself to critically examine the last few seasons. The one redeeming factor to last night's episode is that, as much as I hate to admit it, this isn't the first time a more deserving chef has had to settle for second or third place. As much as I think Stephanie was the right choice to win "Top Chef," Richard was the better chef last season. Marcel was (and still is apparently) a giant monkey ass, but he was a more consistent and creative chef than Ilan, who won season two. Casey, whom we also saw last night, won a slew of challenges back-to-back but was out of the running fairly quickly in the finale on a few mistakes. The Blaisanator -- last night's Top Sous Chef -- wrote this in his blog (that hit the nail on the head: "Sometimes, the best team doesn’t win the game."

Speaking of Casey, I have to ask my fellow bloggers -- do we think the darling from Dallas sabotaged Carla's chances?

Kelly: I'd like to defend Carla here, but the bottom line is that dear old Crazy Eyes was in charge. She shouldn't have let anyone, much less a previous non-winning sous chef, call the shots in her kitchen. Even though I picked Stefan to win, I had high hopes for Carla going into the finale. But she needed to stay true to her style and who she is as a chef, and it was on those counts that she failed to deliver. One can definitely argue that Casey should have kept her yap shut, but ultimately it's Carla's fate that's at stake. She should have trusted her instincts and cooked what she wanted, the way she wanted.

Carla's immediate removal from consideration for the top prize was just one element of last night's snoozefest. Many thanks to MJ for helping us tap into the collective Judges' Table psyche, but I simply don't buy their logic. Stefan, for all his baby makin' jerkfaceness, is hands down the better chef. Yes, the dessert was a bit of a disaster, but how can that one dish -- albeit an important one -- put the nail in Stefan's culinary coffin? The salty Finn was less consistent dish-to-dish, but still turned in a strong performance and didn't play it safe. And what of the alligator meat?! Who but a true "Top Chef" could take this exotic ingredient he's never cooked with and astound the judges the way he did? I can only imagine how Hosea would have fared, had the tables been turned.

There were precious few highlights to last night's anticlimactic finale. I was pumped to see the Blaisanator and of course our boy Fabio, and it was good to see Gail back in the mix (Lots of Gail. That dress had quite the neckline). Carla was out of the running but the more I see of this woman (crazy eyes and all), the more I like her. And Stefan's unexpected words of comfort for our third-place chef were sweet, if a little odd.

I'm also wondering, were we all let down -- at least in part - by the lack of someone like Lisa, the season 4 villain we loved to hate?

Sara: Apparently I must've been watching the wrong show last night. Here I thought I turned on "Top Chef" but instead, it appeared to be "Lucky Chef" that I was watching. Again, what the funkhouser, "TC?" Hosea?! Really? I mean, yes, Stefan toots his own horn more than, er, Louis Armstrong? (My knowledge of horn musicians is a bit lacking ... ) but point is, he's a talented chef and has the most talent of either Carla or Hosea. And yes, I know the judges have to look at it on a per challenge basis but c'mon ... the man won challenge after challenge. We dubbed him unstoppable! Talk about an anti-climatic finale. Even without Hosea's woop-de-doo win, I think I still would've been disappointed. It just didn't feel like a finale. There wasn't enough oomph or excitement and the "twist" was a half-spin at best.

Carla the Choke went down in flames and yes, I do feel bad for her but in the end she didn't go with her instincts and let someone else run the show. Hosea played it safe and made an appetizer and three middle dishes. He admitted there was no way he was going to risk doing a dessert because -- well, he knows he can't. And the point was made -- a very valid point -- a TOP chef should be able to do dessert. Then again, you'd think a top chef would be one who, oh, I don't know, is consistently on top? Perhaps, as Malavika and Blaiser point out, perhaps we've been thinking all wrong and really, this is "Almost Top Chef." Also, I think Fabs' comment (p.s. I can't believe he led us astray in the interview! He knew the winner ... darn that Italian Stallion) really swayed the judges' decision. Way to throw Team Euro under the bus! And speaking of the judges, someone should tell Miss Gail to put a cardigan over those clam shells. This isn't "Top Shelf," Gail.

As for Kelly's point, I would argue Hosea nearly became a She-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named-Suckface villian. He makes out with Skanky-fish Leah, wants us to feel bad for him, focused all his time on taking down Stefan and wore that damn "I heart Padma" shirt every single day. Throw a bandana on that baldy and he's on his way. I think everyone was sick of Hosea by the end. He started out as an interesting competitor but then followed his pecker to near disaster and never fully regained himself. He became obsessed with beating Stefan or having a leg-up on the guy that I think he lost sight of the true competition. And the fact that he was so intimidated by Stefan -- you'd think that'd be just one more reason Stefan should've been "Top Chef." Hosea sure thought he was.

It's a little sad that this was the way "Top Chef" chose to send us off into a non-"TC" world. One can only hope next week's reunion will give us the closure we're desperately looking for.

Oh yeah, and Livin' La Vida Dusty correctly ranked his picks and beat the snot out of the rest of us. Way to go, Dusty! Now burn in hell for choosing Hosea to win. I mean, congratulations.

Catch the reunion special at 9 p.m. next Wednesday on Bravo.

(In an effort to leave you on a happy note: Check out this crazy picture of Tom Colicchio with hair!)

This just in ... Looks like Carla's little sous chef Miss Casey has been riding the resentful train. She tells SideDish all about how she "carried" Carla and how she's putting "Top Chef" on her do not call list.

Here's her response:

"Carla was not prepared and in over her head. The show did not talk about how the first course (crab) took her half of the friggin’ cooking time that day, I was left to work the rest of HER dishes.

She also did not have a plan. The ONLY thing she had in mind was a cheese course! I would NEVER do a cheese course. And where in the hell did french come from!? She is not even classically trained! It (the show) didn’t talk about how I worked on a sauce for 2 days and Carla forgot to put it on the plate… It didn’t show how the 2nd course (fish) was MINE. It didn’t show how she took the sous vide idea and decided to GRILL it last minute causing it to be tough… And it didn’t show how she WANTED to do the souffles which she does not even know how to make! That was HER food, because it certainly was me asking her how she wanted to do this and that while she was busy picking crab the entire time and making a souffle that didn’t rise!

I am done with TC. I did not influence her. She has NO ideas of her own, oh, except a cheese course."

Bitter, party of one, your table is now ready.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's almost over: Final 'Top Chef' power rankings

As the wise and ever-insightful Nelly Furtado says, "All good things come to an end."

I think someone may have said that before her, but point being -- it's that time. Our joyous lives that were filled with "Top Chef"-goodness are nearly over. Yes, over. For the final "Top Chef" course, we'll be serving sugar-free strawberry twist Kool-Aid with a light rat poison finish.

OK, perhaps that's being a little dramatic but really, once "Top Chef" is over -- so are our Wednesday nights. Between "American Idol" and "Gary Unmarried," I think I'll opt for the Kool-Aid.

But enough about our death wishes caused by a lack of Colicchio and Padma. Let's move on to the New Orleans finale predictions! Hooty-hoo!

As we said last week, the winner of the power rankings, and in life, really, will be decided after this episode. For the finale, the power ranking rules are as follows: All players must rank their chef choices from 1 to 3 (one, being the supremo champion, two the runner-up and three the mayor of Loserville). The player to correctly identify the order of rank will be awarded 25 whopping points! If the order is wrong, but the player still correctly identified the winner, they will receive 10 points. If the player's name is Rozwadowski, he gets negative points for sucking at life. Oops, I mean, what? The Channel Surfers have provided a little explanation in their choosing of numero uno, so any players -- feel free to do the same.

Here's where we're at:

First place, 29 points (tie)
3. Hosea
2. Carla
1. Stefan

I'm sorry, Carla, and in a way I hope I'm wrong. But at the end of the day I think the baby-makin' faux German will get his attitude in check, put away the smokes for half an episode and do something amazing in the finale. He's certainly got the talent, and after having the 'tude scared out of him with a near-miss last episode, I think Stefan will rally with a sprint for the finish. Hosea is talented but boring, and while Carla has been unbelievable these last few episodes, I'm just not sure she can take the crown. That said, I'm still mourning Fabio, so maybe my judgment is clouded. Redemption, thy name is Team Euro.

-- Friend of Channel Surfing, Kelly McBride,

(Editor's note: Mr. Roz is on mandated furlough this week, meaning he is not allowed to work. Just to be clear -- he sent this to me last week when he was allowed to be human, er, I mean allowed to work.)

3. Hosea
2. Stefan
1. Carla

Why Carla will win: Every time I've moved Stefan off the top spot, that bald baby-maker has caused me to regret it. While that may also hold true here, I can't ignore the lightning in a bottle phenomenon that seems to be propelling Crazy Eyed Carla's loooooove bus. I'll no longer be surprised if the Ostrich lady pulls it out. She's come THAT far since the definitive challenge that almost had her packing her bags. You'll remember that one: it's where Stefan and Carla both made desserts, and one was smarter than the other in working around a faulty freezer. Everything has changed since that point. The momentum is undeniable, and it's no longer a fluke that Carla is a finalist. She's cooking amazing dishes (even perfect peas, for chrissakes.) She's confident, but not overconfident. She's in the South. Carla ... follow that bird to the "Top Chef" crown. You actually deserve it. Hooty-hooooooo!

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

Second place, 24 points
3. Hosea
2. Stefan
1. Carla

Forget talent. These three chefs have all proved to have varying levels of competence and shortcomings. Hosea is a very skilled technician, but lacks creativity. Stefan can cook basically anything, but is lazy, and his cockiness gets in the way of his abilities. Carla is probably the least qualified of the three, but she's got heart, determination, and the sense not to take herself too seriously. Lately the story of "Top Chef: Season 5" has overshadowed the contest, and Carla has emerged as the plucky heroine, destined to take the throne. Stefan is the villain of the story, who always seems to have the upper hand every step of the way ... until the very end, when the forces of good triumph. (Besides, who do you think Diet Dr. Pepper wants pitching their product next season: a bouncy, crazy-haired former model, or the evil, bald Finn? Ba-dow. BA-DOW.)

-- Adam Reinhard,

Third place, 22 points (Ms. Quarter rolls in at 23 points)
3. Hosea
2. Carla
1. Stefan

Why Stefan makes good babies and will win: It's Stefan's game to lose. It always has been. Sure, he's had a few pitfalls during the last couple of challenges -- and a formidable opponent in Carla in the finale -- but if anyone can roll with the punches, it's Stefan. Carla's good, but her weak point has always been coping with the potential wrenches thrown her way. (Frankly, Hosea doesn't really count because he's just been a non-entity since his lip-lock with Leah). Stefan is calm, he's collected and he's creative. Plus, if Stefan's good enough for Fabio (oh, how we miss you), he's good enough for me.

-- Malavika Jagannathan,

Fourth place, 19 points
3. Carla
2. Hosea
1. Stefan

Again, I'm taking a bit of a risk here but I think maybe this time, it'll work. I think ultimately, Stefan is just a better chef. He's cocky and I hate him, but I have to admit, he's the best. The finale challenge is to just "cook a good meal." Having that much freedom can be both a burden and a blessing. A burden in the sense that it's not focused, you don't know what the judges are expecting at all. A blessing because well, it's the opportunity to really show your skills. Stefan has been hit with a rolled-up newspaper just enough that I think he'll try to put his arrogance aside and let the competitor in him shine through that Mr. Clean head of his. As for numero dos, I think Hosea may surprise us. He's been the dark horse and let's be honest, no one likes him after he smooched Leah but I think he wants this really bad -- perhaps bad enough to nail a runner-up spot.

-- Sara Boyd,

Others contributing to this splendid "Top Chef" stew: Ms. Quarter, 23 points; ACon, 12 points; Dusty, 13 points; Dilido Fan, 8 points

Submit your power rankings now and don't forget to catch the final episode at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo.

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Conan O'Brien bids farewell to later time spot

No more vomiting Kermit. No more, er, self-fondling bear. No more poo-eating duck and probably, no more inappropriate Asian gay boyfriend jokes for announcer Joel Goddard.

Conan O'Brien bid farewell Friday night, not to his fans or his show, but to his late night New York spot. A spot he’s held since 1993. He heads to sunny Los Angeles, California on June 1 to take over Jay Leno's infamous "Tonight Show" spot -- a move that he promised fans, won't make him "grow up."

“That’s just not going to happen,” he said to a roar from the crowd. “This is who I am, for better or worse.”

And really, thank God for that.

Even if this doesn't mature Conan or his show's comedy, still, an hour earlier switch means certain bits and characters just won’t work. Can’t let the kiddies get a taste of La Bamba sporting a thong – or Maxy having another one of his Conan fantasies. But I’m confident that the heart and soul of the show – and what has given Mr. O’Brien such a supportive fanbase – will remain the same. The silliness of his general being, the awful-yet-hilarious impressions and the goofball interviewing that makes him such a treat to watch.

For his last show, Conan ended on a high note – recapping the moments that made the show great. (I secretly hope they put those “Best of ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’” on DVD or something.) From releasing scared, wrinkly Abe Vigoda back into the wild – I nearly died laughing – to bringing past-sidekick Andy Richter back on stage one last time, the night was full of hilarity. And what would a Conan send off be without a little leprechaun, also known as Will Ferrell in tight green briefs and a green hat.

Putting the funnies aside for a moment, Conan spent his last moments on set, or what was left of his set (he promised pieces of the “late night” stage to members of the audience), to say goodbye. Even though the show hopefully won’t change with the location and the time difference, Friday night was still an emotional farewell to the “Late Night” program that once was. Conan handled everything like a champ, thanking those who helped him get to where he is and expressing great gratitude in those who “took a chance” on our Big Red. It was a perfect send off. And it just goes to show that at the end of the day – joking aside – our favorite late night ginger is all class. After all these years and so much fame, he’s still humble and you still feel like he’s a genuine, non-douchey human being. (Hey Carson, take notes.)

Check out some fine Conan moments:

-- Sara Boyd,

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Wolverine "jacks" up 2009 Oscars ratings, can't quite slash the length

And the Oscar goes to... Hugh Jackman!

No, really, Wolverine should get an award for spicing up what is normally a drudgery of a show, punctuated by painful acceptance speeches, gratuitous shots of Jack Nicholson looking pissed and Ryan Seacrest. OK, so there was no Jack this year on the Red Carpet, but there was a lot of Ryan Seacrest and we'll address that tragedy in a moment. A preliminary report shows that the ratings for the 2009 Academy Awards were up 6 percent, which sounds like a lot, but isn't much considering the audience for last year's boring, bumbling ceremony was the smallest ever for an Oscars telecast. But, let's credit Jackman for making the Oscars watchable, again. He was cute, he was satirical and, in spite of the ridiculous musical number, he kept the show moving to a pace that was ever-so-slightly faster than my grandma (compared to last year's glacial pace, that's pretty good).

Here are a few of our favorite and not-so-favorite moments from the Red Carpet and beyond.

Favorite Moments

Malavika: Ben Stiller's Joaquin Phoenix impression. Eeriely reminiscent of Presidential candidate John McCain's wandering around the debate stage, Stiller perfectly captured the ridiculousness of Phoenix's recent appearances since his "retirement." Natalie Portman's line about him resembling a Hassidic Jewish meth head was a perfect zinger, and the whole thing came at the most boring part of the telecast.

Sara: When certain awards are given out -- no offense, sound mixing -- I tend to drift off. However, this wasn't the case when Kunio Kato came up to accept his award for Best Short Film (Animated). Typically a snoozer of an award, and acceptance speech, Kato made the best of his limited English. After simply saying "thank you" before each person or group of people who helped in the film's development ... "Thank you, my producers, thank you, my company, Robot, etc.," he ended completely awesomely with "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto." Best. Speech. Ending. Ever.

Adam: Not only did Kate Winslet finally win her Oscar, but she provided the evening's best moment during her acceptance speech when she called out to her father to whistle so she'd know where they were. He obliged, and camera quickly found the elder Winslet, decked out in a bad-ass, wide-rimmed black hat. It's Hollywood law for winners to thank their parents, but for Kate to actively engage them in her moment of glory was classy and heartwarming.

Adam and Malavika: Danny Boyle's shoutout to Tigger from Winne-the Pooh in his acceptance speech for Best Director mostly because it's hilarious to imagine the director of "Trainspotting" and "28 Days Later" as Tigger. Also we hear the British-Irish director's bottom really is made out of rubber, and that the cast and crew describe working with him as "bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!"

Kendra: Things didn't go so smooth when the "Slumdog Millionaire’" kids were subjected to Ryan Seacrest on the red carpet (see Malavika's post and cringe), but they fared much better when they bumped into Meryl Streep. During carpet coverage on the TV Guide channel (co-hosted by a horrendous-looking Lisa Rinna) the cameras captured Mama Meryl crouched down next to the kids and being all animated and gushing over them. Then one of the little cuties held up a notebook for her autograph. A rare genuine moment amidst all that posturing, posing and pretending.

Malavika: Peter Gabriel's refused to sing his nominated song from "Wall-E" actually kinda worked out. The John Legend (with the Soweto Gospel Choir) version coupled with the two nominated numbers from "Slumdog Millionaire" performed by A. R. Rahman was both a visual and listening treat. Jai Ho, indeed!

Adam: I haven't seen Best Documentary winner "Man on Wire" -- about Philippe Petit's daring high-wire walk between the World Trade Center buildings in 1974 -- but after Petit's charming acceptance last night I'm going to seek it out. Anybody who can balance a notoriously heavy Oscar statue on his chin deserves to have his movie seen.

Not-So-Favorite Moments

Kendra: Love a great musical ("The Sound of Music’"). Love even just a good musical ("Grease’"). But what I didn't love was Baz Luhrmann mashing them all up together in a hokey tribute to the genre that included "Mamma Mia!", that couple voted "High School Musical's" most likely to be overexposed and Beyonce's lip synching. I really didn't like that they wasted our time with that when it had been 90 minutes since the last award anybody cared about, Best Supporting Actress. Note to telecast producers: This is why the show is still four hours long.

Sara: I'm sorry -- love Hugh Jackman, love Beyonce -- but that tribute to musicals was just annoying. Perhaps it was the incorporation of "High School Musical"-ers, Vanessa Hudgens and Zak Efron, but man, I just felt like that dragged on for much longer than it should have. It was a musical tribute -- I shouldn't have been bored and wanting to switch channels, and yet, the only thing that kept me glued to the channel was the chance of a top hat dancer taking a spill on stage.

Malavika: Ryan Seacrest's interview with the "Slumdog Millionaire" kids. Seriously, somebody take the microphone away from this dipdoodoo. Seacrest couldn't pronounce their names, so he held up a piece of paper with their names written down at the camera because clearly THAT was going to help him. Then Seacrest fired a bunch of rapid questions at Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail (OK, that's a mouthful, but so are Marion Cotillard and Stellan Skarsgård) before someone had to tell him that the kid doesn't speak English . Luckily the kids saved it for him by being totally adorable and excited.

Sara: I love Jennifer Aniston. Love, love, love her. But I have to say her little award presentation with Jack Black was just awkward and uncomfortable. I know she was probably dealing with the stress of having to look directly at her ex Brad Pitt sitting with homewrecker Angelina Jolie, right in the front row, but I couldn't help but feel bad for her the entire time she was struggling through her lines. I was kind of hoping Jack Black would start doing somersaults to take the pressures off her or something.

Adam: The "In Memoriam" segment always induces some cringes, given the audience's determination to clap louder for one dead person over another, turning the entire proceedings into a macabre popularity contest. The producers probably thought having Queen Latifah sing "I'll Be Seeing You" as the montage rolled would be a good solution, but it didn't help that they only showed the clips full-screen half of the time, and relagated them to the background the rest of the time to show Latifah belting out her song. And we could STILL hear the audience clapping more for their favorites. (Luckily there's this clip on YouTube of the entire montage.)

If there are other gems that we left out, moments that stuck out as either horrendous or brilliant, do let us know by leaving a comment or two.

Earlier today, two of Channel Surfing's own blog crew and another Press-Gazette Oscar junkie dished out the best, worst and the Miley Cyrus of the 2009 Awards. Read the transcript here.

--Malavika Jagannathan,; Adam Reinhard,; Sara Boyd,; Kendra Meinert,


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Greatest Channel Surfing Moment in History: The Fabulous Funnyman Fabio Interview

Fabio Viviani has a simple motto in life: “It is what it is.”

The latest victim of Bravo’s “Top Chef” uses the expression to talk about the elimination challenge that had him packing his knives Wednesday, life on the reality cooking competition and life in general.

The Florence, Italy, native’s sense of humor provides the framework for his “take life as it comes” approach. It’s also the reason producers gave the Italian Stallion so much interview time on the show — who else among the cheftestants could turn a simple explanation into a bumper sticker quote?

Maybe it’s that charming Italian-accented English. Maybe it’s his enthusiasm. Maybe it’s his ability to admit a few mistakes (“I’m a cook. I am not a magician.”) Whatever it is, it’s working.

After his exit from the show, TV’s newest celebrity chef spoke with the Green Bay Press-Gazette’s Channel Surfing blog about his love of Italian food, how he’s handling fame, and of course, the show’s Super Bowl challenge that had him stirring up local cuisine after he was unexpectedly matched with the Green Bay Packers.

(BONUS! Hear the audio files from our interview with Fabio. Just click on the links below.)

Fabio: I apologize I didn’t kick Spike’s a-- on the Green Bay challenge, but you know what, it is what it is. I done a perfect venison, it sat there for a little bit, was very thin and it got overcooked. I apologize.

Channel Surfers: It’s OK, you still did us proud.
Fabio: I try to make something sexy for the cheese maker in Wisconsin. And that dude over there, I don’t even remember his name (guest judge Scott Conant), he told me my salad was missing lemon, and I said listen, “I will let you come to the people of Wisconsin and see what they think about put lemon on cheese.’’

CS: Yeah, you don’t do that.
Fabio: See, tell him. Do an interview with him and tell him Fabio's the judges, not you.

We're just sorry you had to work with venison.
Fabio: It’s alright. I love venison, I can not problem with venison, my problem come with, I cook a piece of venison, I let it sit on top of hot potatoes, with hot sauce on it for 10 minutes, it’s not getting eat. It’s a very thin portion, what you want me to do? I’m a cook, I’m not a magician.

CS: So, did you know anything about Green Bay before you did the (Super Bowl) challenge?
Fabio: You know guys, I do apologize, but I like soccer a lot. So I don’t know a whole lot about NFL. When I done it, I said, “Guys, it does not matter to me, so you pick whoever you wanted and I go with the rest.” But I was very, very happy. You know, the propane and cheese. I love cheese. And you know, that was a great challenge for me.

CS: Were you bitter about being eliminated so close to the finale?
Fabio: You know, I’m happy. I want to tell you one thing, last night I was at Craftsteak with (head judge Tom) Colicchio looking at the show. The restaurant was packed full and when I got kicked out, everybody started crying, “Boo hoo, boo hoo,” to the TV and I was laughing my a-- off. At the challenge, they told me, “Fabio, you may go home tonight,” and I was like, “Well big deal, what you want me to do, cry? It’s national TV, I’m not going to look like a fool, if I go home tonight, I go home tonight, how does that sound?” It’s a game. You can’t always win. As long as my restaurant is successful, I’m happy. And my restaurant is successful. You know, my business is great, my book is coming out, I’m getting a lot of contracts — you’ll see me very soon again. So my life is very happy in this moment, in this bad economy. So if I go home, you know, I can live with that.

CS: What was going through your mind when (host) Padma (Lakshmi) asked you to pack your knives and go? You looked really surprised.
Fabio: I was a little bit surprised though, because all the judges they did all bunch of critiques to Stefan’s plate and they did lot of compliment on mine. So I was surprised that they decided to send me home, but in the end, it’s the judges’ opinion, it doesn’t really matter. I think the reason why he stayed and I went home was because he did two dishes that they were straightforward from New Orleans and I did one New Orleans and one Italian.

So, you know, Italian food is what I do. If you ask me to do sushi sashimi, I can probably put something out but it’s nothing that I’m happy to do. I was happy to do New Orleans food, I had a chance to throw in something Italian. I done it, it was an unhappy choice and I pay for it. It’s OK. It is what it is.

CS: Did you get the sense that it was more the producers' choice, or do you think that was the judges' true choice to send you home?
Fabio: Producer guys, I don’t think they have a whole lot to do with it. It comes down to the food. And it is what it is, guys. I don’t have control what goes on behind the scenes. I'm not there when they make their decisions. So I just agree with them, or like I said, I can agree to disagree. I don’t make drama out of things. I’m not a drama queen. So you won’t drama with me, you won’t get tears with me, you’ll laugh with me, yes, I like that.

But it’s the judge’s decision, it’s the producer’s decision, it doesn’t matter. I’m not there anymore. Whoever decision who made it, he made the wrong decision for me, but I guess it was the right one for them. So they’re happy, I could be happier, of course, if I was in the finale. But I’m happy anyway, like I said I was laughing my a-- off.

So what are you doing now? You mentioned things are going well with your restaurant and a new book?
Fabio: My book is coming out on April 15, “The Café Firenze Cookbook.” It'll be nationwide everywhere, Wal-Mart, Cost-Co, Target, Sam’s Club, Barnes and Noble. I’m opening my Web site and foundation, which is, which I’m trying to promote wellness and good nutrition through families and kids. And then I’m opening two other restaurants in Ventura County (Calif.). I have a consulting company and I just opened a catering business. Plus I’m doing my own line of chef products, plus I’m about to starting to write a second book. ...

CS: So do you sleep at all?
Fabio: I sleep on Wednesday and Friday. (Laughs)

CS: What was your favorite challenge? Was it the Green Bay Packers Super Bowl Challenge, maybe?
Fabio: fabiochallenge.mp3 I didn’t really have a favorite challenge, really. I’m very happy that I done really well in the challenge that matters to me — (the show your) craft, I won, the morning (Today) show, I was in the top three, I won the restaurant wars with the service, I was in the top three in Le Bernadin (chef Eric Ripert’s restaurant) and I won the last one. The one that went wrong, I don’t know what to do with oatmeal. It doesn’t really change my life. I don’t even eat it. Martha Stewart doesn’t like my food. It doesn’t really matter. I don’t even know who Martha Stewart is. What else? I did so and so with a can of food. Too bad I don’t eat can of food at this point.

I’m happy guys, I’m really happy with what I’ve done. You know, somebody said my crab cake for the 12 days of Christmas challenge was a little bit greasy, you know, I was cooking out of a freaking camp burner and had like a $500 budget for 300 people and they got upset with us because we did deviled eggs. You know, you have $500 for 300 people, thank God they got to eat something. You know? It is what it is, guys. You gotta roll with the punches. I had fun. Everybody’s been great in the show and again, it’s a show. It’s a show on the food competition, so challenges have to be entertaining, you know. It’s a TV show. I did enjoy it a lot doing it, I would do it again. Great exposure, I got some good friends, all the people behind the scenes, everybody was great. No regrets at all.

I just have a little regret that I cannot kick Stefan’s a-- next Wednesday. This guy’s gonna win probably, hopefully — if he doesn’t get too confident again. He’s gonna win. He had one chance to lose and that chance was me, and now that I’m gone, he’s probably going to get the title.

CS: Speaking of entertaining, can you actually cook monkey a--? And how would that work in a clam shell?
Fabio: I am able to cook monkey a--, but the only problem is I’m really sorry for the little monkey. Let’s set this straight, I had two, three beer. I had to do this interview. It was late at night. I was very, very tired. I was very happy that I was running the front of the house (in the Restaurant Wars challenge.) So I come up saying something that I could’ve done it, you know, you don’t do monkey a-- with fried banana in it or in empty clam shells. So that was just to represent how confident I was in the dining room. I never had to cook it, lucky enough. In the restaurant business, who knows, I may cook it tomorrow in some restaurant in a remote island, some natives who want monkey a--, I guess I'd have to. But you know, I never said it twice. That was one sentence that they spread in two episodes. I don’t have a thing with monkey a--. I’ve never had one, I hope I never have to. I think monkeys are great. I’m a great supporter of PETA. I will never slaughter a monkey to get the a--.

CS: You did really well in the last meal challenge for famous chefs. If you could have a chef cook you a last meal, who would it be and what would you have them cook?
Fabio: That would be my grandma. She died two years ago. She was the best cook that I ever met in my life. And she probably would've done some fresh pasta and some chicken as well, I guess. That would be it.

CS: So the night you made it to the semifinals, how did you celebrate?
Fabio: I won the bottle of Terlato for winning the challenge and that bottle between me and Hosea was gone in about one hour. I was hammered. I was in the house and it took me like two and a half hours to go from the second floor to the ground level. It was brutal. But we were happy. Hosea got the things going with Leah, they were happy together. So I got the fun. I got the s---stick. I couldn’t really be happy with my better half because he looks like, well, it’s Stefan. So I decided to party with the bottle of wine.

CS: We hear you’re the private chef for William Shatner?
Fabio: fabioshatner.mp3 Yes, he’s actually one of my best friends in this country. I cook for him. He’s a great character and we have some business together. He's helping me with my Web site, you know, the kidshealthcafe Web site and I help him with his foundation. So he's a good person to know and a great person to be with. Truly honest, smart, very, very talented person. He deserves everything he has. ... We go along very well. He likes simple foods. He is here and he comes to my restaurant pretty much every other day, for lunch, and he never orders off the menu. Ever. Never touches the menu. He come to me, and he goes, "Are you going to sit down with me?" and I'm like, "Sure, let's eat something." I make something for him, I make something for me, he likes it, get a coffee, go away, (and he) shows up the next day. It's a great relationship.

CS: You talked about leaving Italy in late 2005 to come to America. Do you miss Italy?
Fabio: FabioItaly.mp3 I decided to leave Italy because there is one problem: there are too many Italians there. I had a huge business, I had several restaurants and I had a dance club and things were getting a little bit out of control. So before I fell flat on my face without a safety net, I decided to sell everything and move. One of my best friends, which is my actual partner, was managing this restaurant in downtown Ventura (County) and he got me a spot as executive chef. So after one year, in beginning of 2007, we did open our restaurant, Café Firenze, and the rest is the story. You know that.

CS: So you’re opening two restaurants, would you ever consider opening one in Green Bay?
Fabio: Well, one for sure in downtown Ventura and the next one, I think at this point, I’ll come to Wisconsin, how’s that?

What would be your specialty there?
Fabio: Let me guess, sashimi sushi? No. I'm Italian food, guys, really, give me a break on that. I do Italian food. People are trying to make me to cook Lousiana, sushi sashimi, vegan, I do Italian food. There's nothing vegan about it, there's nothing, it's Italian food. That's what I do.

CS: How's your mom doing?
Fabio: My mom, she's great, thank you for asking. And this thing has been a little misunderstood, she's not dying. She's not dying but she's sick. She has a calcium deficit in her bones and her joints in the wrists and the hands are falling apart. So she's almost paralyzed with her hands and every six months she needs to have surgery. And the surgery is really expensive and guess who's paying for it so far. So in Italy the economy is really bad, so they don't have money to do it, so I send money over there every month. It doesn't really matter if you have to help your mom or you gotta buy a microwave, if the next day you have $100,000 more in your checking account, that's nice. So that's why I said what I said.

CS: Well, we don't want to take up too much of your time. We know you're a busy man but we do want to let you know you have quite the fan support here in Green Bay.
Fabio: Nice! I would love to come there one day. Thank you so much! Have a great evening and I do apologize to the cheesemaker in Wisconsin.

Don't forget to watch the "Top Chef" finale at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo. Check back to Channel Surfing before, during and after the finale for our take on crowning the new "Top Chef."

-- Sara Boyd, and Malavika Jagannathan,

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Tony Shalhoub: The Channel Surfing Sit Down

Contrary to popular belief, the words "Green Bay native and Emmy Award winning actor" have not been legally attached to Tony Shalhoub's name.

So aside from the deluge of information the Press-Gazette continually disperses about its hometown boy done good, the fact remains: the hometown boy has done, well, pretty darn good.

The three-time Emmy winner and star of "Monk" is a known commodity in Hollywood, and more than a year into Channel Surfing, we always thought it'd be fun to have Green Bay's biggest TV star talk shop with us. That opportunity came this week when Shalhoub, in town this week filming the independent movie, "Feed the Fish," sat down with us at his hotel in Door County.

Starring Shalhoub, Ross Partridge, Kathryn Aselton and Barry Corbin, "Fish" is about a California writer who comes to Wisconsin to rediscover his creative sensibilities -- particularly by jumping into icy Lake Michigan as part of Jacksonport's winter Polar Bear Plunge ritual. The film is directed by Shalhoub's nephew, Michael Matzdorff, also a Green Bay native.

Because of slippery road conditions, Press-Gazette photographer Corey Wilson and I left early on Wednesday so we could give ourselves enough time to arrive in Sister Bay for the 11 a.m. interview. When we walked into the hotel at 10:50 a.m., we were surprised to see "Fish" producer Alison Abrohams already waiting in the lobby for us.

Oh, and Shalhoub was standing right next to her ... except because of dim lighting, we couldn't really see his face and realized kinda late that he was waiting to shake our hand. That and his thick mustache kind of made him look like the Soup Nazi from "Seinfeld."

Shalhoub couldn't have been more polite and pleasant; it's great to see he's maintained his humble Midwestern roots. The bulk of the interview was spent on the film, but we snuck in some TV questions at the end since we had this blog in mind. Plus, "Monk" wraps up its eighth and final season later this year.

Special thanks to Abrohams and producer Nick Langholff for making it happen. Look in Saturday's Press-Gazette for a full behind-the-scenes story on the film, and check our Web site for an awesome video produced by Wilson (who also took the photos in this post.)

On with the Q&A ...

I have to ask about the mustache. I assume it’s for the role.

Yeah, the director said he’d like to see him with the mustache, the local sheriff. It’s always good to try and make something different from what people are used to seeing, like Monk. I first grew an entire beard just to see what we’d end up with, and this is how it came out.

You seem like the kind of guy that could get a full, grizzly beard going.

Oh yeah, I had a few weeks to work.

Let’s talk about how you got involved with this project. You’re the uncle of the director (Michael Matzdorff), correct?

The writer/director, correct.

So does he just call and ask if you’re available?

The project, you know, has kind of been evolving over a couple years, various drafts of the story, of the movie. And so he showed it to me early on, gathered some people, and we did some reading, table reads. I was intrigued by the whole idea. And he said, obviously we have to shoot it in the winter. That works for me because I’m usually on hiatus in the winter for my show. And he said, do this part of the sheriff, if you’re interested. And I liked it.

Is there room to improvise or create beyond what’s written on the page for the Sheriff character?

You always sort of bring your own kind of spin to it. That’s sort of the challenge and the frustration of acting (Laughs.) Sometimes what’s on the page does not lend itself to an individual’s input. Sometimes, in the case of this material, it really does. It’s more of an outline. Obviously, there’s dialogue written. But the characters are well rounded, they’re diverse, they’re interesting, they’re multi-layered. In a way, they’re dependent on each actor really engaging and participating in the creative process.

I’ve read that “Feed the Fish” is a romantic comedy of sorts – a down on his luck writer (Joe) who uses the Polar Bear Plunge to serve as inspiration …

Yeah, it has comedy and it has romance …

You don’t have to label it as a romantic comedy if you don’t want to.

(Laughs.) Sometimes that term, romantic comedy, I don’t know, it turns me off sometimes. This is a lot more, this is better, than just a romantic comedy. It’s really kind of, as you say, about this guy who has been down on his luck, a failed children’s book writer. And he winds up in this very unlikely and harsh environment. But instead of getting completely turned off, he’s sort of inspired by the characters he meets. He finds love. He sort of gets back in touch with who he is and what he’s really all about. I think that’s really at the heart of this movie.

So do any of the characters have ties to Wisconsin, or is Joe coming here having only heard about the Polar Plunge?

He comes to visit a friend, who does have ties to the area. His friend does the Polar Plunge every year. It’s kind of tradition for his family to do this plunge. He asks his buddy out in L.A., our lead character, to come out and join and help train for it. This guy agrees to it. And he has no idea what he’s in for.

His reaction must be the same as when anyone hears about actual people in Wisconsin jumping into Lake Michigan in winter.

Yeah, and once he arrives and sees … this is a character we establish early on when we first meet him in Los Angeles. He wears a coat there. So he even thinks that’s too cold, running around with a parka. So when he gets here, he’s completely out of his element. And hopefully, comedy ensues.

There seems to be a lot you can pull from in terms of Wisconsin, interpretations around the country of what Wisconsin is really like, who we are. We endure this brutal weather every winter … you can probably mine some unique material out of those elements.

You can. But in the end, in a way, it glorifies the place. And the sort of hidden beauty of it. So it’s as much a homage to the people and the area as it is a comedy about it.

What’s your specific role as the Sheriff and what level of impact do you provide on Joe’s journey?

I’m a guy who is all about the locals. A guy who has been here his whole life and is protective of it. Suspicious of any outsiders. Why would this person be here at this time of year? (Joe) then befriends my father and my daughter, so he’s not high on my list. And he appears to be a complete idiot.

Ultimately, though, (the Sheriff) is about his family, his community, and he kind of sees himself as the guy who makes sure that it all stays together.

The glue, if you will.

Yes. Hopefully.

Do you consider yourself to be in a unique position having Green Bay roots, having spent time in this area, at least for the Wisconsin imprint of the film? Are these unique circumstances for you to work under?

It’s very unique in the sense that I’ve lived in a lot of places, worked a lot of places as a director and an actor, and yet, the few decades I’ve been doing this, I have not worked here, since college really. So it’s long overdue.

You’re a supporter of the tax incentives for film making in Wisconsin. Do you see the film industry thriving here? (Note: This was asked before Gov. Jim Doyle's proposal to end tax incentives was revealed.)

I hope so. It’s a fantastic thing that the state is trying to do. And hopefully this will be one of the early things that really kicks it up a notch. We want to come back and do more. If this movie does well, and we think it will, we’ll want to do more things. Some will be in Door County, some in maybe other areas of Wisconsin.

Not that you can ever stop thinking about work when the camera is rolling, but is it also unique to be working with family? So close to family?

It’s the best of both worlds. I get a chance to see my family and friends. Locals up here we’ve known ... my folks started coming up here the year I was born, so to be working and contributing something to the whole area, it feels good -- rather than just coming in, a week or a few days, and eating as much smoked fish as you can. Actually, I can kind of bring something back here, and as I said, hopefully, helping to launch films in Wisconsin.

You’re still a fairly regular visitor to Wisconsin, right?

I still have Packers season tickets. My family, we have a reunion in Door County every summer. It’s a big part of our lives.

Does anything from childhood frame your perspective of the area, anything you can bring to the film?

In the summers, it’s the water. That’s the thing that really, is kind of the focal point, (being) in and around the water as much as possible in the summer.

Does being here in the winter still offer a lot of natural beauty that can really showcase the area in the film?

I hope so. I hope it inspires people to come here in winter, to see what it has to offer. It’s really special. Beautiful in the fall. A lot of people come for foliage in the fall, or at least people in Wisconsin who know about it. If the movie is seen around the country, maybe it’ll draw some more folks into the tent.

Any chance to get away and make some other stops in the area this week?

I’ve been really, really busy. I did make a trip to Green Bay, see some family. Mostly I’ve been focused on the film. Can’t get away too long.

Are you pretty hands-on as a producer?

Mike and I have lengthy discussions that have to do with story and casting. He and I sat just prior to coming out here, and went through the script, did extensive last minute notes. As a producer, I try to draw other investors into the project, and make sure that we can do it right. It’s something that I’m kind of used to. I’ve been a producer on “Monk” since the beginning, well, seven years now.

Is it a pretty organic process for you, pulling in the community for a small independent film?

Over the years, I’ve become familiar with the area and have a lot of really good relationships here in the community. They’ve bent over backwards to embrace the whole project, given us the benefit of the doubt. They could not be more supportive.

What expectations do you have for the movie?

Obviously, we’ll have to – when all is finished in post-production and sound mixing – find a distributor for it. I assume we’ll try to get it in film festivals. That’ll be a good place to find a company that will help us get it into the theaters. We want to get it in theaters all around the country … slowly or all at once ...

I wouldn’t characterize this as an art film, so it’s not just for a niche audience. It’s not going to be in art houses, there’s nothing pretentious or super … it’s really a commercial product. It should be able to do well in a mainstream theater.

What are some of the obstacles involved in getting it that kind of mainstream acceptance?

The whole key to, well, my understanding, the whole key to getting movies released is that advertising can really, really be prohibitive. It’s so expensive. What we’re really trying to, what we’re looking at, is a way to do it on the Internet. Not to show the movie on the Internet, but to promote the movie on the Internet. Get some eyeballs, raise awareness … Mike, the writer/director is really knowledgeable about how to roll something out, and taking full advantage of the Internet. I think that will be the tack.

Does the recent history of films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Juno” and this year, “Slumdog Millionaire,” give some hope that smaller films can really catch fire and make an impact that forces the mainstream to take notice?

It’s possible. If you look at Academy Awards pictures right now, very few are gigantic studio blockbuster-type movies. With the economy the way it is, and the entertainment business going through these kinds of growing pains, you know, in terms of people downloading material, that sort of stuff, is going to be a challenge. But I just think, this material and the way it’s being handled, I think it really has a great shot.

What’s the biggest difference between film and TV work?

I do hour long episodic TV, and especially on cable where the budgets tend to be lower, it’s very similar to independent movies. You’re shooting a lot of material in a very short period of time, with limited funds. So there’s a real crossover. Unlike studio movies where the budget is enormous and schedules are strung out over months. If you don’t finish something, someone throws some more money at it. I’ve done those kinds of movies, too. But with independent movies, cable television, in a way it’s more fun. It’s really about problems being solved quickly, and sometimes that fosters that little creative side of everybody involved.

You’re making do … something might not be the ideal location, or the ideal thing, so you need people to really start to get creative. Sometimes happy accidents occur and you get some really good stuff.

Did you always want to do some behind-the-scenes work?

For a while I was only focused on acting. I worked on a series or two, and really wanted to have a voice. I wanted to, I could see things, how to solve a problem, or fix a situation in short order. When you’re just an actor, you’re not always allowed to kind of stick your (opinions) in there. So when I started “Monk,” I asked about being a producer. And they were really open to it, the network totally embraced the idea. It can be really gratifying. Because (as an actor) we have enough experience, I think, that we can really, actually contribute something.

Where’s “Monk” at in terms of production?

The second half of Season 7 finished in December, and has been airing over the last month and a half. Season 8 starts filming in March.

Do you know how it’s all going to end in the final season?

The writers are holding the secret and not sharing it with me. I’m pretty sure they’ll wrap up Trudy’s murder, that mystery, that case. Possibly Monk will get reinstated to the police force. But there’s really… I can’t get it out of them. Believe me, I tried.

Have you thought about your post-“Monk” life?

I’ve been kicking some ideas around. I would like to produce some things, I have some ideas. Maybe not jump right into a series. I don’t know. We’ll see how it all plays out.

You took some time away from TV after “Wings,” right?

I did films for a number of years. Then I realized I wanted to stay local in Los Angeles where my family was. “Monk” came along and it was the perfect, perfect situation.

Do you want to always be working on TV in some form?

No, not necessarily.

Have you had time to reflect on “Monk’s” legacy, how the show will be remembered?

I feel and have felt proud of the show and what we’ve done, and I think it will have a long life in syndication …

I guess I’m primarily asking because some shows are made, have nice runs, but peter out after they’re off the air. “Wings,” it seems, had a nice life in syndication and is thriving on DVD …

I have no regrets. I did “Wings” for the right amount of time. I feel the same is true of “Monk.” Had there been fewer seasons, I’d probably feel a little frustrated that we didn’t do everything we could. Had it gone on too much longer, you know, eight seasons is a good amount of time. By the end of eight seasons, we’ll have done 124 episodes. That’s a huge number. If it had gone longer, maybe it would have started to dwindle. People’s interest might have begun to wane. It feels like the right amount of time. The right amount of episodes.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski,

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Commercial Interruption: Eeeets-a Goodbye-a to Faaaabio. (Sniff, sniff.)

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course, we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Bloggers Sara Boyd, Malavika Jagannathan, Thomas Rozwadowski and Adam Reinhard are deeply saddened by the death of Team Euro -- and having to watch our beloved, Italian Stallion chef, eeeets-a meee Faaaaabio! -- pack his knives and go home. However, we can't complain too much because that ... was ... one ... CRAZY ... episode. Crazy enough to make us stand on a balcony, flash the goods and beg for beads! Yahoo!

(This is also not the "as promised Greatest Moment in Channel Surfing History," but since we haven't given any hints yet and the act has been completed, we can tell you that some good came out of Fabio's departure ... wink, wink ...)

Sara: Mardi Gras never disappoints. Not with the food, not with the floats, and definitely not with a visit from "Top Chef." For the pre-finale, guest judge Emeril Lagasse really brought the "BAM!" to get "TC" to its final three. Anyone see the return of past contestants coming? I sure didn't. But I was glad to see Leah once again go down in flames and Mimbo Jeff make a triumphant return. Usually a girl likes to be warned when she gets a visit from Mr. Dilido, but this time, it was a great surprise. (uhh, I'm talking about his beach club, obviously.)

With the added twist of the past contestant Quickfire -- Mimbo Jeff had a chance to knock someone out of the top three. All he had to do was win the Elimination Challenge. No problem, right? I'll admit, the big switch-a-roo from "TC" was a little shady, and you could tell the final four wasn't thrilled about it. But the surprise did add some intensity. Not only were they competing for a spot in the top three, but now, they had to try to win the challenge so Jeff wouldn't. Drama, drama, drama.

Watching the chefs prepare for this challenge really brought out the best in some contestants and you could see how badly they wanted this. However, it also brought out the, er, crappy ego-maniacal jerkface-ness of others. (*cough* Stefan! *cough*) I'm sorry -- I know the guy can cook, but man is that guy arrogant. The fact he kept going for smoke breaks during one of the most intense challenges of the show AND that ballsy statement he made to the judges -- more or less, whatever happens, no biggie -- made him totally sound like he's too good for this show. Last night, for the first time, I was ready to see Stefan pack his knives and go.

But alas, it was our dear, dear Fabio who was sent packing, taking both the humor and the expletives out of "Top Chef." So MJ, now that Fabio is gone -- is there anything to look forward to with a finale of Carla, Hosea the Ho and Stefan? Do you think word got out about Fabio's love of dressing up as a woman on Halloween, and that led to his eventual boot?

Malavika: I think there's plenty to look forward to, although the lack of Fabio-ness will be duly noted in the finale. "Theees eees a Thop Chef, not a Thop..." A lot of us here had Stefan running away with this competition in the stretch, but Ostrich model Carla has pulled a fast one and I actually think has a great shot to win. (I never thought I'd write those words in my life). Stefan's Achilles Heel -- as well pointed out -- is himself. While he's off comparing, ummm, sausages with Hosea, Carla has proved that she's a calm, conscientious and caring chef. Much like Top Chef winner Stephanie last year, slow and steady might just win this race. I will be looking to see in this finale how far these cooks will go because, so far, it's been a little shaky in the creativity department -- I long for some white chocolate wasabi sauce to pour on my jicama sweetbread!

As for last night's surprise inclusion of an already eliminated cheftestant, it totally proved to be a winning strategy to push the other chefs to do their best. In retrospect, Fabio went home on a lot fewer mistakes than previous rounds. In fact, you could argue the judges had to nitpick to find a reason to send him home.

Also, RIP Toby Young and his stupid movie metaphors. Tom, how does it feel to have Gail back?

Thomas: Ah, Gail! How I've missed your warm and inviting ... smile.

If this season of "Top Chef" proved anything, it's that Toby Young should never be allowed to speak on TV again and that Fabio deserves his own show. Start the online petition now. Stick him in as the personal chef for the "Real Housewives of the O.C," if that's what it takes. "Everybody Loves Fabio," the sitcom. JUST. DO. IT.

Like Boyd, I was prepared to see Stefan go home. The man almost deserved such a cruel fate for being so flippin' conceited. It's sort of been his shtick up until this point, and except when he's insulting Hosea, it's been rather playful. But last night, he was totally coasting on past accolades. Smoke breaks? C'mon, Stefan, you're better than that.

And what's up with the extra pounds? Has Stefan been eating suitcases full of gumbo with Jay Mohr? You won't get to make babies looking old and bloated, buddy.

I liked the surprise addition of the dismissed cheftestants, but was also glad Dilido Head didn't pull it off. Nothing against Mimbo, but it would have been unfair to take two spots away from the four who made it that far without a previous elimination on their resume. And Crazy Eyes Carla? My God, what a transformation! Is there steroid testing for chefs? I'd like to know the secret ingredient (and it ain't LOVE) because she and Stefan have switched brains and spatulas these past few weeks.

Adam, could you ever have envisioned the final three we have before us? And is it nice to not have a clear cut favorite anymore?

Adam: What's wrong with you people? You're being so flippant and ironically detached. Are you that heartless? FABIO IS GONE! Don't you understand what this means? No more explanations of TC goings-on in charmingly broken English! No more shamelessly bromantic embraces with remaining Team Europe member Stefan! NO MORE MONKEY ASS IN A CLAM SHELL!

What is he to do now, after being so cruelly cast into a society that doesn't appreciate the beauty of an overly sweet red pepper martini? All he has are his knives, his fauxhawk, and his piece of poop car. He's out there right now -- alone, scared, probably hungry ... a Top Chef in a Top Scallop world. Addio, Fabio. You shall be missed.

(Please observe a moment of silence, "Top Chef" fans ...)

-- Sara Boyd,, Malavika Jagannathan,, Thomas Rozwadowski,, and Adam Reinhard,

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Commercial Interruption: It's gotta be the Christian Shephard shoes!

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email of course, we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). Grab some delicious Ajira Airways peanuts and slip on your favorite pair of funeral loafers! Yep. Thomas Rozwadowski and Adam Reinhard are about to talk "Lost."

(Also, while this is a very lively and engaging discussion, this is not the "as promised Greatest Moment in Channel Surfing History." Sorry folks ... you'll have to be patient.)

Thomas: Good God, man! After last night's "316" -- "Lost" is getting very biblical these days -- my head feels like it's been through the Minkowski blender. Whew ... no nosebleeds, that's just red marker on my hand.

I mean, how fast and furious was that off-island action? For the first time while watching this show, I actually wanted it to slow down a bit; not only so I could process what was going on, but because I wanted to indulge in a bit more tension and emotion as everyone boarded the return flight to Destiny Island. I so badly wanted Jack to shake Sayid and scream, "WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE AND WHY ARE YOU IN HANDCUFFS?" Or slap that new Arab-looking guy (Sayid 2.0?) in seat 4B and yell, "WHO ARE YOU AND WHY ARE YOU GIVING ME CONDOLENCES LIKE IT MEANS SOMETHING!" Or splash some cold water on Kate and bellow, "LOOK ALIVE, WOMAN! WE'RE GOING BACK TO CRAPHOLE ISLAND! BY THE WAY, THANKS FOR THE IMPROMPTU SEX LAST NIGHT. WHY AM I STILL SHOUTING?"

Instead, having whined about dragged-out, laborious plotlines in the past, I have to give a hearty kudos to "Lost" producers for racing through the Oceanic Six madness and shipping our reluctant heroes back to ... well, the last place any rational human being would probably want to return to. I thought for sure the opening sequence was a Jack fever dream once he went all Greg Louganis off a cliff. Nope. It was the real deal. I also thought the sequence with Hawking and Desmond (look out for that giant pendulum, brutha!) was far too subdued. I'd have asked about a billion questions about the physicist's (Faraday) blackboard, Desmond's warning, Ben's incessant lies ... man, I could go on and on and on.

But as foggy as the reasons may be for everyone so calmly agreeing to board that Ajira Airlines plane, how can you not be salivating at the prospect of learning the answers? It's not as if Ghost Charlie and Ghost Claire are anything new to Hurley and Kate. What could have possibly scared the bejeezus out of them (and Sayid) so that'd they buy a ticket, pack some light luggage (or perhaps a guitar case full of Twinkies) and return to the place they so desperately wanted to leave ... seemingly no questions asked? Most important, though, what's Ben's role in this? I had the feeling as he boarded the plane that it wasn't HIS doing that finally convinced everyone to head back to the island. He was too busy returning a favor and earning some battle wounds in his scuffle with ... gasp ... Penny Widmore?

Say it ain't so, Linus. Say it ain't so!

Adam: Any episode that introduces us to a new Dharma station is destined to be a classic. And the reveal that Mrs. Hawking's bad-ass pendulum of death actually resided in the Lamppost, our first off-island hatch (what, the Dharma Initiative never heard of just renting office space?), in which the island was first discovered, proves it.

Sure, the whole explanation that the island is constantly moving ("Why do you think you were never rescued?") seemed a leeeeetle too crazy, even for "Lost," but luckily our crew bought it without too much time-wasting questioning. Otherwise the whole hour could've been eaten up by Jack, arms crossed, brow furrowed, saying, " that by me one more time..."

Probably my biggest question is this: Just how old is Jack's grandpappy, anyway? You'd think, with Jack pushing 40, that Old Man Shephard would have to be in his 90s, at least. But damnit if he doesn't look that much worse for wear than his son, Christian. Sure, he's got some white hair, a few wrinkles, but he gets around pretty good, seems pretty alert and spry for such an old coot -- even trying to escape the nursing home multiple times. Hmm ... who else do we know that looks and acts younger than they're supposed to be... Something tells me we haven't seen the last of Grandpa Shephard.

Tom, what do you make of the two literary references in last night's episode? First Hurley reads the comic book "Y: The Last Man," about the last man on earth, and then Ben reads "Ulysses," a book which, supposedly, you can start at any page and it forms a never ending loop.

Thomas: Gramps Shephard ... yeah, that came out of the blue. A lot of focus on those shoes, too. Maybe if you click them together three times they magically transport you on and off the island. That way you avoid all the general messiness of you know, AN AIRPLANE CRASH.

By the way, can we even be certain that the plane actually crashed? The flash of light is a familiar device, but I doubt any wreckage will be found like the first time. And did everyone on the Ajira Plane of Destiny get sucked into the wormhole o' fun? Again ... I have more questions after this episode than probably any other I've watched. Or at least since "The Constant." A second viewing will be needed.

I also can't delve too deeply into the show's bookshelf since I've basically ignored all the other literary reference that came before. But your "Ulysses" take is quite interesting. Maybe I should crack that literary masterpiece open sometime and put my mind to good use instead of obsessing about, well, a TV show.

That said, I love how calm Ben seems to be during all of this -- scratched-up face and all. From next week's preview, it appears he is present when Locke tightens the noose. It also appears Locke visits Charles Widmore. This is all getting supremely incestuous. Next week's episode should be one of the all-time greats. At least I hope.

I will also pat myself on the back for being right about the coffin connection -- Locke's about to be reanimated, or at least turn into a Christian-like apparition? Hmmm. I have this sneaking suspicion he has a bigger link to Jacob than anyone truly knows. I'll stop the theorizing there, however. Also, after last week's resurrection reminder, the Jesus-Thomas connection made me smile quite wide.

You mentioned a few big mysteries, here are three more you need to size up for me: Where is Aaron? Did Kate sleep with Jack intentionally to somehow "replace" Claire's baby boy? And finally, Jin is Dharma? Please discuss.

Adam: My current favorite theory as to what happened to Ajira Flight 316 comes from, of course, Entertainment Weekly's Doc Jensen. In his weekly "Lost" recap, he recalls early Season 3, when captives Kate and Sawyer were being subjected to breaking rocks by the Others. They were told they were building a "runway" of some sort. Now, whether or not Team Darlton are THAT CRAZY they'd bring back such a seemingly throwaway line to explain why there's no wreckage, well, it's quite the Lockian leap of faith.

As for Aaron, Kate sure did seem upset about the whole thing, didn't she. Even more upset than you'd think she'd be if she merely gave him to Claire's mom, or dumped him at an orphanage. This was "There Will Be Blood," Daniel Day-Lewis "I've abandoned my child!" upset. Kate either gave Aaron up to Ghost Claire ... or she ate him. Only two options I see.

But how freaking cool was that final reveal -- Jin pulling up in Hurley's party van, toting a semi-automatic. The van and Jin's spiffy Dharma duds looked brand new, which can only mean one thing: Our heroes are back at the island, but now they need to get back to the future.

-- Thomas Rozwadowski, and Adam Reinhard,

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