Over the years, they've snuck up on me. First, it was American Idol. I hate the audition process where the main goal appears to involve humiliating as many people as possible. Once they've narrowed it down to their final group, I started watching. I missed the first year, but have seen it since. It's not must-see TV. If I'm doing something else, oh well, but I enjoy it.
Then I found Top Chef. I LOVE Top Chef, and cannot wait for the new season to begin on Wednesday. This was followed by Project Runway. Then to be really late on a bandwagon, I started watching Amazing Race last year. It's fun, but I mainly watch it because I'm doing laundry on Sunday evening, and there's nothing else I want to watch on. I was happy to see the catty divorceés come in last though. I consider that to be a karmic end.
The show that has really captured my attention recently, however, is The Chef Jeff Project on the Food Network. Chef Jeff is Jeff Henderson. He went to prison at the age of 24 for selling drugs. While in prison, he started working in the kitchen and found a love for cooking. After getting out of prison, he went to culinary school and then worked his way up the culinary ranks. He got out of that lifestyle because people helped him. He's now paying them back by reaching back and helping others.
He's chosen six young people who've had their share of problems. They've battled drug addictions, gangs, been to prison, or kicked out of their family homes. The main thing they all have in common is their desire to leave their past behind and get a new start.
This is an unusual "reality" show in that it's not a contest. They've already won. All they have to do to get a full scholarship to culinary school is make it through Chef Jeff's program. They've been responsible for catering events each week mixed in with some life lessons. You can see them growing, maturing, and making better choices.
I think what I like about the show is that those well balanced six -- three female, three male, two Hispanic, two African-American, and two Caucasian -- remind me of my students. I like that they're being taught how to come together as a team instead of competing to beat the other. I like that this show truly appears to be about giving someone a hand up and out. I'm not naive. I know that the show is about ratings and profit, but if it also helping six people who had been on the wrong path change their lives, then I can live with that.