Cheating! Lies! Crap Sportsmanship! Is this the 7th best season of Top Chef?

Okay, given, the sixth season of Top Chef was going to be hard to top. Two brothers going head-to-head, one a practical master, one a tempestuous artist? I pretty much needed weekly therapy as the Voltaggio brothers played out their sibling rivalry across a hundred cutting boards, and even then, I couldn't stop from sobbing as their mom showed up at the finale. So yes, bringing viewers back to that level of emotional commitment to the show was always going to be a challenge for the producers, I'll give them that. What I don't understand is how this season became such a hot mess.

Is it the seeming lack of genuine talent in the kitchen? The lack of real chemistry between Angelo and the food he insists is "sexy?" The lack of critical thinking skills from "Alex is my funny Jewish Uncle" Amanda, or ego tear-downs from Tom Colicchio, or post-preggers wardrobe choices for Padma Lakshmi? I can't say for sure, but I do know that this season has been especially weird for at least a few reasons.

  1. Pea-gate. Or for those who didn't see it, the competition in which one contestant's missing pea puree seemingly showed up on another's dish. I mean, seriously, what on earth are viewers supposed to feel when 6-years-of-inexperience Alex wins a challenge using sweet and shlubby Ed's unwilling help? And yes, for the record, I'm aware that love-of-my-reality-life Tom (sigh) has made it clear on his blog that the judges themselves had no idea what was going on in the kitchen, but the episode was cut to give viewers an opinion, and my opinion is that the show integrity slipped a notch right there.
  2. Speaking of integrity, is it just my imagination or are the chefs actually meaner this time around? You wouldn't know it from this season's stinginess (I'm talking to you, Kelly "Salt Miser" Liken), but I swear I remember rivals helping each other plate, something that always made my heart sing a little. These are professionals. They know how to help. And yet, with the exception of Tiffany's super sweet "I don't want to compete against you at your worst" speech last night, we've got a pack of rats in the kitchen this season.
  3. They killed Kenny! (Those b@stards!) Listen, he may not have deserved to win after this many missteps in Restaurant Wars but with the elimination of "The Beast," the only rivalry worth watching has officially packed its knives and gone, leaving Angelo spinning on his store-bought pastry wheels. Yes, I realize this is directly at odds with my integrity-of-the-show rant right above, I'm just saying, I felt like all of the fight in the room left with Kenny's middle-finger of a sign off, "It's anybody's game now…"
  4. It really is anybody's game now, and that's not a good thing. With six contestants left, I should be gunning for someone, and yet…I got nothing. Slick, snoopy-faced Angelo? Not after last episode's culinary mayhem. Amanda, who might as well wear a sign that reads, "What-Am-I-Doing-and-Did-It-Work?" Stingy Kelly? Not-genius-but-decent Kevin? Ed, who I mostly like because he stole Angelo's "hot" girlfriend back in college? Honestly, if anyone has my vote right now, it's Tiffany, but more because I admire her work ethic that her actual dishes, and that just ain't right.

What do you think? Are you loving or hating this season? If you had to give the prize of Top Chef to one of the contestants right now, who would it be?