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An Expedition Into Top Chef Branding Wormhole

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If you've watched Top Chef for more than thirty seconds, you've inadvertently been exposed to around 500 brands. It's like brand Chernobyl in there. No show I know of has taken advantage so furiously the possibilities of wedding content and advertising. But unless you're strange, I doubt if you've ever really explored the diverse microsites that constitute the "360 degree integrated added value proposition platforms" for which sponsors pay serious coin. I, however, do this as part of my job and so I can report from the front lines of product placement. I recently traveled to the hinterlands of the Hilton Top Chef microsite and filed this report.

BRANDISTAN—Boots on the ground, 16:31. Some guy named Todd Kelly is staring at me when I land. He's wearing a toque but he doesn't look familiar. A banner says he's a Hilton Signature Chef. I wonder what that means. What are the other chefs at Hilton then? Hilton Meh Chefs? Kelly, I read, works at Orchid, The Grill & The Bar in the Hilton in Cincinnati, Ohio. Oh my lord. He's just changed to Carissa Giacalone, of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, San Diego, CA and she to Andre Coté from the Hilton Washington D.C.. It's like Michael Jackson's Black and White video. What does this have to do with Top Chef? Who knows but look! A Top Chef D.C. Gallery, I assume this will offer exclusive content for dedicated Top Chef fans like me!

Oh! Previews! [Clicking sound. Groan] Hmmm, these previews are of last week's episode. Charlie, this is Delta Bravo. All clear. Move out! Move out! Move out! It's like for a special collector's edition of Blood on the Tracks with special exclusive content like....liner notes by Pete Hamill. Not cool.

Back on the homepage, I stumble across a sweepstake which buoys my spirits after a long hard patrol. "Win a trip to Barcelona!" a banner calls to me, like a small child, crying out for help. I better click. Hmm, a trap? The boy turns snarling into a terrorist! Just like fuckin' 'Nam. I have to register for HHonors, (Hanoi Hilton?) and I could win "6 nights of deluxe accommodations at the Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona, plus $5,000 towards airfare and culinary experiences of the winner's choice" at places like the "world famous El Bulli."

JDS: Hola! I just won a trip to Barcelona from Hilton. I would like to eat at El Bulli?....Wait, what do you mean you're booked through 2012? I'm entitled to culinary experiences of the winner's choice and I'm the motherfucking winner! Things are gonna change! I can feel it!

Back in the Green Zone. I consult a map. Surely this must have something to do with Top Chef, I mean, right? I didn't come all the way out to bumblefuck Hiltontopchefville to watch reruns of previews of past episodes, read about Hilton chefs with nothing to do with the show and register for a chance to get turned away from El Bulli with a sniff and a "El dinero no puede comprar el felicidad!" or did I? Oh dammit to all Hilton Hell, the map illustrates where I can find Hilton restaurants.

Exhausted and wary, with a new HHilton number but no exciting glimpse at Top Chef, I begin the long and lonesome climb out of the product placement branding integrated platform desert. I can't wait for the relative purity of the actual Top Chef episode, as pure as a Dial Nutriskin scrub.

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