Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

MTOTD: Top Chef - The first and best?


We caught this week's episode of Top Chef on the DVR last night, and it got me thinking back to something said during the first episode this season that really stuck in my head.

One of the contestants commented that in 3 of the past 5 seasons, the winner of the elimination challenge on the first episode went on to win the entire season.  (Our cable company only recently deemed our fair city worthy of the Bravo Channel, so I can't confirm that fact.  Well, I suppose I could look it up, but that would just be too much work for a Friday afternoon.  I'll trust him on it.)

Anyway, that statistic really blew me away.  With 15 or so contestants starting the season, you'd think things would be a bit more evenly distributed.  

The question that came to mind for me is whether the first challenge winner made it to the end because they truly are the Top Chef, or if the fact that they won the first challenge created an association in the mind of the judges that colored their future tastings?  (It would also be interesting to see how many elimination challenges overall these contestants won [e.g., how many challenges did the first place finisher win along the way].)

Of course, a first-mover advantage exists outside of the world of culinary competition, although it's never a guarantee (how much money did IBM make selling personal computers last year?  Oh, that's right....)  From a marketing standpoint, then, the question is how does one take advantage of it - or, as is more often the case, when not first to market - how to successfully overtake the early leader?  Microsoft is famous for joining markets late only to make a name for themselves (on both sides of the monopolistic side of things), and the iPod was certainly not the first mp3 player out there. How do you make sure that your potential customer is taking an unbiased view of your products?  How do you bend yourself to the worldview that may already be established to level the playing field.

Back to Top Chef - for this season, we'll just have to wait to see how things progress from here.  Kevin won the first elimination challenge, and from what I recall, he seems to have been called out in the top 4 a fair number of episodes since then. (I'm sure someone who's been watching more closely can confirm this.)  Think he'll make it all the way?