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Ecks Factor: Welcome to Hell

Fewer shows on television are as intense as Hell's Kitchen. Whether or not that's due to editing in more drama, scripting certain parts or... oh for God's sake, of course Hell's Kitchen is heavily scripted! And for some reason, I still enjoy it immensely. Being a fan of trashy television (Big Brother column coming up in a few weeks), I appreciate the little extra effort to spice up what is essentially a cooking show.

Gordon Ramsay, up there with Seth MacFarlane for dominance on FOX (he also stars in Kitchen Nightmares and MasterChef), lords over the show with a fiery passion and a razor sharp tongue. Some (all?) criticize Ramsay for his practice of screaming at each contestant, but there's something to be said for whipping these people into shape to prepare them for the high-intensity world of running a kitchen in a high-scale restaurant. As far as I'm concerned, I also appreciate Ramsay's efforts to make things interesting.

Each season, a batch of contestants vie for the head chef position at one of Ramsay's new restaurants. Each episode, they take part in a "fun" challenge, often a quick cooking challenge to determine who has the best skills in the kitchen. Right away, this is where scripting comes into play. The contestants are divided into two groups from the start, so for this challenge, they compete as a team to win each challenge. Rarely does the decision not come down to one point. Scripted? Probably more than actual scripted television.

The in-between scenes in each team's homebase between challenges is a scary combination of confrontations, allegations and accusations. Virtually everyone chain-smokes, perhaps for the first time in their lives. I'm sure these are real people vying for a real position, but I'd be crazy to think they're not told beforehand to "liven things up" when talking, leading to some insane fights best reserved for the cast of Jersey Shore.

The fireworks don't officially start until they prepare dinner for dozens of patrons in the kitchen. Many a risotto goes undercooked here. In fact, I'm sure it's a Hell's Kitchen drinking game. Don't try it at home. You'll be suffering from a cirrhosis before long. Equally undercooked here are beef wellingtons, chicken, pasta and fish. It's a wonder we're not suffering a food shortage in North America for the amount of food thrown away here.

The dinner services typically feature cranky patrons, in-fighting between teammates and Gordon Ramsay tearing apart everyone (and I mean everyone) on the show who doesn't step up with perfect food. Drama? There's more drama here than Glee, Grey's Anatomy and Revenge combined.

Hell's Kitchen and Gordon Ramsay came under fire at the conclusion of its seventh season when winner Holli Ugalde was rejected as head chef of the Savoy Grill in London, due to "visa complications" according to producers. Holli later felt it was an excuse, but accepted an undisclosed amount of cash instead. How can someone win a job and then not get it? Who knows. But as of now, it's the only such complication reported for winners.

Entering its tenth season, Hell's Kitchen continues to accumulate scrutiny from critics for being overscripted. Yeah, I don't like watching a reality show, knowing so much is orchestrated by producers, but it's the same reason why I can't become involved in shows like Top Chef. I can watch a cooking show, competition or otherwise, for a while, but pretty soon my stomach is growling and I need food of my own. If I watched all these shows, I'd be as big as a house. Thankfully, no problem there with Hell's Kitchen. The edge-of-your-seat excitement, explosive arguments and raw food is enough to drive away your appetite for days. It's the ultimate diet plan.

The formula just works. I can't explain why, because many will disagree. And somehow, Gordon Ramsay (and producers, no doubt) come to the right conclusion as to who should win. Certain troublemakers are given more time on the show to boost drama, obviously, but I can't imagine how little interest I would have if certain people (Sabrina in Season 8, Elise in Season 9) weren't there until the almost-end.

So while many will steer clear of tonight's season premiere of Hell's Kitchen, I'll be glued to the TV, anticipating all the fun, dreading all the undercooked risotto and possibly chain-smoking for the first time in my life. All in a day's work while watching Gordon Ramsay.

Until next time, stay tuned.

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