Cooking under a strict time limit while TV
cameras capture your every mistake has to be difficult. Throw in some ridiculous kitchen sabotages
and the challenge becomes even more intense. But what else would a show called Cutthroat
Kitchen be? Here’s what you may not have known about the
show. At the beginning of each episode of Cutthroat
Kitchen, host Alton Brown would walk out with a metal briefcase and open it to reveal $100,000
worth of crisp bills. The contestants’ eyes would light up as he
handed them each $25,000 to use for bidding on tortuous scenarios for their fellow competitors. But here’s the thing: that cash was completely
fake. Whether it’s Cutthroat Kitchen, Let’s Make
a Deal, or a big-budget Hollywood crime drama, studios rarely use real money on camera. There’s simply too much liability when using
real cash, so instead, studios use prop money. Studios take great care to ensure that the
prop money doesn’t look completely fake on camera, but still adheres to strict U.S. counterfeit
laws. Even though the cash in the briefcase was
fake, the excitement from contestants who won the actual cash prize was very genuine. Cutthroat Kitchen didn’t have much in common
with Good Eats, the show that launched Brown’s Food Network career. But the show did have something in common
with another Alton Brown vehicle: The Next Iron Chef. In a few of the Next Iron Chef episodes, the
competitors participated in a series of challenges where certain ingredients would be auctioned
off based on how quickly a chef claimed they could cook them. Brown said that the scenes proved to be incredibly
fun for both the chefs and the audience, and this led to discussions of how the auctioning
concept could be expanded on its own. The host added: “My thing was, the judges shouldn’t know what’s
going on, because then everyone’s judged on a level playing field, and that makes the
game more fun.” Of course, what Brown might consider “fun,”
Cutthroat Kitchen contestants probably considered downright evil. When it came to just what went into food prep,
judges really didn’t know what was going on. It wouldn’t be much fun if the judges knew
a chef had to make chicken marsala while wearing Mickey Mouse gloves, so they were kept in
the dark about what sabotages unfolded during the cooking portion. Cutthroat judge Simon Majumdar said: “I am locked away, and I can tell you that
they are really strict about that. I go and hide away in my very comfortable
trailer, but the guys in makeup don’t tell me a thing.” The judges do eventually find out just what
sort of kitchen torture the competitors went through, after the tasting. For the truly dedicated Cutthroat viewer,
there was an aftershow web series where Alton Brown walked the judges through the various
sabotages that resulted in both the winning and losing dishes from the contestants. “A whole canned chicken.” “Ugh!” Sometimes the judges themselves even tried
their hand at cooking with the sabotages in place. Majumdar added: “I just hope that they keep it to a level
where the chefs can still cook, because otherwise, apart from anything else, I still have to
eat the stuff.” There seemed to be no limit to the mayhem
that chefs inflicted on each other in Cutthroat Kitchen. Sabotages ranged from something as simple
as having to use really burnt bacon to obstacles as weird as having to work at a constantly
moving “hula station.” But they all had to be possible. Brown explained: “Not only do we test them multiple times to
make sure they’re doable, but we actually test them in tandem with other sabotages that
we might put in the same round. We would like for people to be able to survive
two sabotages.” Brown said the Cutthroat team often worked
for weeks before a show taping to put challenges into practice. It wasn’t uncommon for sabotages to be so
ridiculous that they had to be cut. Brown said that around 20 percent of the sabotages
pitched ended up being just too over-the-top or tricky to pull off, so they never made
it to the show. Some cooking shows pay all their contestants,
while others only pay the final winner. Cutthroat Kitchen was one of the shows where
the victor and only the victor took all the spoils. Cutthroat veteran Joe Arvin, who appeared
on one of the show’s Thanksgiving-themed episodes, said: “We were not paid to be on the show as a competitor,
however, all travel and expenses were absorbed by the network.” Arvin didn’t win his episode, but noted that
doing the show was still worth his time. The media exposure had its benefits, he said: “Probably more than anything, I learned to
adapt to being on a studio set and in front of the camera.” And it’s called Cutthroat Kitchen you didn’t
expect them to give money to everybody, did you? Arvin said that he was contacted by the show’s
producers after they stumbled upon his cooking channel on YouTube. He explained, “They initially wanted to know how strong
of a competitor I was and if I thought that I would be able to handle the pressure of
competing on a show like Cutthroat Kitchen.” It was apparently pretty common for the show’s
producers to reach out to potential contestants through YouTube or various other social media
platforms. Once a chef said they were interested in appearing
on the show, they would send in a resume along with a few photographs of their best dishes. From there, contestants would have Skype calls
with the show’s producers to discuss their culinary background. Arvin said his audition process took around
four months and, oddly enough, there was never any actual cooking as part of the process. It would honestly seem a little out of place
for contestants on a show with the format and title of Cutthroat Kitchen to be buddy-buddy
with one another. Competitor interaction on Cutthroat wasn’t
scripted, but producers definitely tried to nudge the chefs in a certain direction. Contestant Joe Arvin said: “There is not any ‘planned drama’ per se,
but the producers highly encourage the competitors to bash each other.” “That looks like a TV dinner, bro.” The show even had a lawyer on deck to help
ensure things never got too heated, and that each episode had a balance of real world versus
the Hollywood-produced experience. Shows like Top Chef and Mind of a Chef have
been lauded with praise by critics, but Cutthroat Kitchen never garnered similar accolades. At best, it was called “intriguing” by an
Entertainment Weekly critic. But that same critic also discussed the difficulty
of watching it and keeping one’s, quote, “faith in humanity intact.” “Good luck.” “Oh, yeah.” The AV Club’s review wasn’t much kinder, questioning
whether Alton Brown possibly had a twin brother without any sense of shame, saying that the
entertaining thing about the challenges were, quote, “the fleeting glimpses of improvisational
thinking.” Why so much critical hate for a show that
turned the standard cooking competition on its head? Plenty of TV cooking competitions have competitors
trying to prepare a dish within a time limit using, at times, out-of-the-ordinary ingredients. Cutthroat Kitchen took the premise one step
further and injected an element of comedy. The competitors were serious, but the show
never took itself too seriously. Perhaps Cutthroat was just too lowbrow for
foodies. As one review from Vulture pointed out, the
real stars of the show weren’t necessarily the chefs. What made Cutthroat Kitchen work were the
writers, who episode after episode, found a way to take the standard cooking competition
and combine it with circus-like absurdity. In 2015, Cutthroat Kitchen got it got its
own spin-off with Camp Cutthroat, a version of the show that took chefs out of the studio
and put them out in a “secret location” in the wilderness. Rather than bring aboard Cutthroat newbies,
the spin-off series brought in previous competitors and upped the prize money by putting $75,000
on the line. As for that “secret location,” well, as viewers
noticed pretty quickly, it wasn’t exactly uncharted TV territory. Camp Cutthroat was filmed in Santa Clarita,
California on the set of a defunct Fox reality TV show called Utopia, with just a few cosmetic
updates. Utopia was described as having elements of
the reality show Big Brother, but proved to be far less popular and only lasted 13 episodes. As for Camp Cutthroat, well, perhaps it was
too extreme, because camp ended for good a year later. The writers of Cutthroat showcased their devilish
creativity with each episode and occasionally turned the reins over to the fans when it
came to coming up with new sabotages. Because what fan of Cutthroat wouldn’t want
the chance to make the chefs sweat a little? The show’s website offered this invitation: “Food Network is currently accepting submissions
for upcoming challenges, and it’s up to you, Cutthroat fans, to decide with what disruptions
future contestants will have to adapt.” Who knows how many fan submissions actually
made it onto the show, but there were certainly some creative ones thrown out there. One fan suggested strapping a competitor to
a Silence of the Lambs-style dolly. Another suggested hiding the clock with only
the highest bidder being able to see how much cooking time was left. It’s pretty obvious that there was definitely
some strategy — besides just being handy with a skillet — to walking away with the
cash on Cutthroat Kitchen. One of the biggest pitfalls that way too many
chefs fell victim to was bidding too much money in the first round. Judge Simon Majumdar explained: “While this may help them survive in the short
term, their overspending will often come back and bite them in the backside during the latter
stages. On more than one occasion, I have seen the
better chef lose because they had insufficient funds to counter their opponent’s bidding
in the final round and were sabotaged to defeat.” Poor shopping habits can also really do a
chef in before the bidding or cooking even begins. If a chef is making a cheesecake and forgets
cream cheese and sugar, they’re going to have an uphill battle. Alton Brown said: “The No. 1 sabotage is the sabotage the chefs
do to themselves in the pantry.” There’s also a high probability that chefs
will lose at least some of their ingredients in the sabotages, so Brown added: “Finding alternate acceptable approaches to
dishes is always a really good idea.” Cutthroat Kitchen had a solid run on TV, and
over the course of four years churned out 192 episodes of culinary mayhem. The show still regularly airs and is available
on various streaming platforms, but Food Network officially pulled the plug on new episodes
in 2017. Cutthroat viewers got the bad news from Alton
Brown himself when a fan asked the host on Twitter if there were any new episodes in
the works. Brown kept it short and sweet, telling the
fan that Cutthroat Kitchen had been cancelled, adding a hashtag that indicated it was probably
his fault. As to why the show was canceled, it’s likely
that Brown simply wanted to do something else. He relaunched Good Eats in 2018 and has indicated
he’s working on a new, quote, “internet venture.” Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
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