Post Academic


What Top Chef teaches us about plagiarism

Posted in Absurdities,Surviving Grad School by Arnold Pan on February 24, 2011
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One of the sillier things we’ve done on the blog over the past almost year is the “Top Grad Student” fake virtual reality show series, based on my fave reality show, Top Chef.  But who knew that Top Chef could also tell you everything thing you wanted to know about plagiarism, how we react to it, and how people can get away with it?  Just like every school has an honor code that students are presumed to abide by, apparently there’s something called “Chef Law” where you aren’t supposed to steal someone else’s culinary ideas.

Richard Blais (aka the plagiarized) by Godofbiscuits (Creative Commons license)

So to recap what happened on this week’s episode (spoiler alert!): It began with a seemingly innocuous scene where Richard Blais, the mad scientist and (imho) the most creative cheftestant, was showing Mike Isabella, a skeezy operator (again, imho), a Moleskine notebook full of his crazy musings, complete with drawings.  So flash forward to the Quickfire challenge, when apparently Mike preps a Fried “Chicken Oyster” in a shell that was originally Blais’ fantastical creation.  So throughout the challenge and the judgement, Blais gives Isabella the stink eye, while Isabella avoids his gaze; on the voiceover confessionals, Blais calls Isabella out for plagiarism, as Isabella claims that, though he got the idea from his competitor, others have done it before so it’s not copying.  You know how this turns out–Mike beats Richard, and pockets 5K out of it.  Richard is bent of shape, and Mike rubs everyone’s face in it by saying he was inspired by Richard.

Cut to post-challenge, when Mike is somehow pissed at Richard for not acting like either a winner or a loser should.  Meanwhile, Antonia tells the other contestants what happened, that Mike basically cribbed off Richard (we get a flashback scene here, I think) for the win, to which everyone invokes “Chef Law” and how dastardly Mike is.

Ultimately, Richard bests Mike at the end of the episode, then talks some mild s**t (Blais might be full of himself a bit, but he’s too geeky, nervous, and seemingly well-meaning to be a brash trash-talking type) about keeping his best recipes for himself.  So there’s order to the universe in the end, right?  Not so fast…

Here are a few lessons we learn about plagiarism and plagiarists from the episode…

1. Keep it to yourself: Whether Richard was willingly showing off his little notebook or Mike is one of those nosy people who’s always in your bizness — in Chinese, his type roughly translates to “butt-following bug” — there’s no reason to let anyone know more than they need to, especially in a competition.  I don’t know, I guess I know how Richard feels, since I liked sharing notes and all, but it’s something else to give someone your thesis and outline.  Hold on to your best ideas for yourself and resist showing off more than you need to.

More of what we learned about plagiarism from Top Chef, after the jump…

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