1. They don't live together.
The first shots of the show isn't of the cheftestants waking up from bed in their undies, yawning, and brushing their teeth. Another plus of not having them shoved into the same living quarters: No possibility of head shaving incidents, hidden-camera kanoodling, and other Real World-type histrionics. The least interesting part of regular Top Chef happens when they go home.
2. No sobbing, farewell confessional.
There is none of the played-out, teary-eyed blubbering of "This is what I was meant to do, and I go home proud that I did my style of cooking, blah, blah, blah." Also, none of that oh-so degrading solo-walk of shame, especially for that cheftestant who is first to be eliminated from the season.
At Top Chef Masters, the winner walks out together with the rest of the group, slapping each other on the back, having had a grand ol' time with chums.
3. Host Kelly Choi can e-nun-ci-ate.
Unlike Padma Lakshmi, this host can speak clearly, without sounding like she's slogging through a mouthful of molasses. Moreoever, she does her job and gets out of the way.
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4. The respect the show gives the cheftestants.
They're rated with stars like their restaurants would, and the whole competition seems fairer. And while they await their scores, they aren't corralled into that back room storage closet. Instead, they get to sit at a round table plied with wine so that they can talk like adults, not snipe at each other like dogs. The Critics Table also focuses on the positives. I do miss the scathing color commentary of Anthony Bourdain and Toby Young, though.
5. Each week, new people.
Every episode, four new faces, four new styles of cooking, which makes for a whole new show each week. But there's always someone to root for, usually someone from your hometown or favorite style of food. And if you tire of the personalities on this show, you don't have to tune out, just tune in next week.