I just caught the first episode, “Heat and Meat”, of the new season of Next Iron Chef. There were two parts to the competition. In the first part, chefs worked in pairs cooking a pig (the meat) over an open fire (the heat) in the wilderness. In the second part, the two chefs in the losing team had to face each other in a sudden death cookoff.  If you get to choose your teammate, one obvious strategy is to pick the best chef standing.  This maximizes your chance of winning outright and hence avoiding the elimination round. In fact, chef-contestant Spike got to pick the teams and did exactly this by picking Marcus Samuelsson whom he took to be the best chef.  (I missed the start of the episode so I do not know how Spike got chosen to be in this powerful position).

Things did not work out as Spike hoped.  Marcus and Spike ended up at the bottom of the pile. Spike then lost to Marcus in “battle scallop”.

What did Spike do wrong?  Obviously, picking the best chef as your partner carries a big risk – if you end up in the elimination round, you will likely lose.  Better to hedge by choosing a worse chef.  This increases the chance you get into the elimination round but also decreases the chance you do not make it out of the round.  Spike should have picked Alex Guarnaschelli.  She is a good cook but she gets tense and nervous.  A good partner for round 1 and also a weak competitor in round 2.  Perfect.