The holidays are a time to hit pause. To gather round, reflect on the year, and watch that weird Folgers commercial with the siblings. Millions of people will be traveling home to visit family and perhaps you are one of them. This is not an article about “how to put up with your family over the holidays,” which has become a psychotic American media fixation. It does, however, acknowledge that you will have a lot of downtime. Probably in front of a television, likely surrounded by relatives of varying ages and tastes. You could get sucked into the vortex of the guide channel until you all crumble to dust on the couch. You could try to make your nana watch Euphoria. Or you could take charge and bestow a true Christmas miracle upon your loved ones by making everyone equally happy with the chosen entertainment choice.
Just put on Chopped.
Yeah, Chopped, the cooking competition show that’s been running on the Food Network since 2009. Hosted by the gentle yet firm Ted Allen, every installment features four chefs going head-to-head in an elimination contest to win $10,000. In each round, they’re given a “mystery basket” filled with food products to prepare a dish for a panel of judges under an extreme time limit. The challenge is that there are always freaky and incongruous ingredients paired together: fish with beets and marshmallows, or pork floss with grapefruit and a pizza cookie cake. (A pizza cookie cake. Pretty sick and twisted.) You probably already know all this, because Chopped is an unstoppable, inescapable behemoth: there are 50 seasons, 635 episodes not including specials, and they’re still cranking out more.
Maybe you think Chopped is too normie for you. I assure you it’s not. By this point of the year, your brain is basically a glorified bowl of oatmeal. (I know that because you clicked on this article.) (And also because I wrote this article.) It may not be prestige TV or even one of those shows pretending to be prestige TV. And it has remained way more lo-fi than any of the new food competition shows. But there is heavy drama, and a reliable rollercoaster of both tension and triumph. For those who enjoy reality TV, it is reality TV. For those who hate reality TV, there are zero moments of actual confrontation. And nothing beats the sturm und drang of watching competitors decide to use the ice cream machine with five minutes left on the clock.
Occasionally, there are even celebrity charity episodes. Participants include, but are not limited to: Brandi Chastain, Coolio, Sinbad, the dad from Girls, and my king Michael Imperioli, who at one point during his appearance mixes ice cream with his hands. Crucially, they are all at the perfect level of celebrity to give your parents the opportunity to say, “hey, it’s that guy from that thing.”
For the very online among us, despite being wildly popular, Chopped exists in a blissfully discourse-free universe. It’s always extraordinarily pleasing to watch something that nobody is currently inspired to share their opinions about (trust me, I binged all of Monk—before the pandemic). There is zero chance of encountering a screengrab of three people standing next to each other on Chopped with the caption “this looks like a Renaissance painting fr.”
Most important, Chopped is a crowd-pleaser, best enjoyed as a group activity. It’s appropriate for any age, equally enjoyable to your kid, your stoned teen cousin, and your grandma. It transcends television tastes and political affiliations. Chopped is America’s great unifier, bringing everyone across our nation together to say, “noooooo, you fucking idiot, step away from the ice cream machine!!!”
And, if you run out of Chopped episodes—no you won’t.