10 Top Chef Contestants Who Should’ve Won, According To Reddit

Fan favorites falling short is always a disappointment, but the pain stings more when it’s something as simple as an irritable sous chef or an undercooked chicken breast. Contestant-based reality shows like Top Chef have always found a way to warm the hearts of viewers watching at home, through sweet sentiment and sizzling hot drama. Who could forget Heather’s berating in season 9, or the heartbreaking but medically-advised departure of Lee Anne Wong in the first season of the show?

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Whether forced out through drama or by their culinary choices, there are plenty of contestants who fans believe should still have taken the cake. While conversation goes on about the current season, Redditors still discuss and debate the many contestants that came before, and if they deserved the title of Top Chef.


Shirley Chung – Seasons 11 & 14

Shirley Chung smiling for the camera in Top Chef.

Often the most powerful competitors find difficulty keeping their stride through to the finals, and Shirley was no different. Riding her victories all the way to a spot in the top three, Shirley came just short of the title and took third place in season 11.

She must be the most consistent contestant of all-time,” Redditor Due_Outside_1459 claims, “Just seems to let the pressure get to her at finals.” Shirley was definitely a favored contestant for her consistency with her dishes, and her likable demeanor. She even had a second chance in season 14, where she once again rolled to the finals, only to take second place.

Nina Compton – Season 11

Nina Compton on Top Chef

Sharing the stage in the final trio of season 11 with Shirley, Nina Compton stood tall as a fierce competitor. Dominating her season, Nina led as a top-end competitor every week, and a tied number of challenge wins with the season’s overall winner.

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Watching a powerhouse of a chef lead the season only to find a runner-up position in the finale is heartbreaking. Redditor Atasteofazia had three words to say about the finale: “Nina was robbed!” Whether one believes that the finale was stolen from her, or that it was a fair match, no one can take away the substantial wins that Nina had in season 11.

Sheldon Simeon – Season 10

In some cases, a simple compliment can speak volumes. That’s what Redditor Verucasalt888 thought when they claimed, “Tom gave Sheldon one of the best compliments I’ve ever heard on the show.” They, of course, are speaking of Tom Colicchio, judge of Top Chef and esteemed chef himself.

When a world-renowned chef claims that a contestant will take their place among the greats, it’s not a line to take lightly. Sheldon won not only the respect of judge Tom Colicchio and the love of the fans, but Sheldon made his mark on the season as well. Sheldon reached third place, but his time as a fan favorite chef on Top Chef left an impact on the community.

Carla Hall – Season 5

The old tune that never stops plays: losing in the finals. It’s no wonder why so many fans love the runner-ups, and Carla Hall is no different. Carla’s journey just goes to show that one mistake is all it takes to lose the title of Top Chef.

Carla’s track record was filled with wins and great finishes, making season 5 of Top Chef unforgettable. “I’m a little biased because I also loved her personality, but she was putting out great food and just flubbed in the finals,” says Redditor Chickfilamoo. The surest way to the heart of the audience is having a heart of gold, and Carla’s personality and her cooking took her win-after-win to the finals, but the winning spot just eluded her.

Lee Anne Wong – Seasons 1 & 15

Certain competitors inspire with more than their cooking skills or knife work; Lee Anne Wong stands among them. “I still think if she wasn’t sick that last challenge we’d have had a different first season winner.” states Redditor Gdex86. To fight through one’s own pain and discomfort to content in the finals is truly inspiring. But it doesn’t stop there.

Lee Anne Wong returned in season 15 to take another shot at the title, and this time, she had brought her own little sous chef. The first-ever contestant to compete in the show while pregnant, Lee Anne contended right up to a medical recommendation to leave the show, which she took for the safety of her son. The question remains though, what would Lee Anne have been able to do with her second chance at glory?

Nyesha Arrington – Season 9

More often than not, true potential is squashed before it has the chance to blossom. Nyesha Arrington only made it a few episodes into season 9, but certain fans think she was the victim of the “group project” effect. At least, that’s the claim made by Redditor Ct06040, “Nyesha went out on a team challenge for something she didn’t do – she seemed really strong.”

Related: The 9 Best Winners Of Top Chef, According To Reddit

A subtle element of any competition is the interactions with the other competitors. Nyesha showed her grit with her culinary skills, but decisions and poor luck landed her in a bad position on the chopping block. It’s sad to see a talented chef go so early on, especially when they seemed to have the skills to reach the finals.

Stephanie Cmar – Seasons 10, 11 , 17

Stephanie Cmar

A true rags-to-riches story, Stephanie Cmar didn’t quite make the cut past qualifications in season 10, only to return as a widely controversial Top Chef elimination in season 11, and a steamrolling underdog in season 17. Her growth on the show has a steep upward angle, and fans are still left wondering what she could have accomplished had there not been immunity against her competitor in season 11.

As for her latest season, Redditor Littlefriend77 says it all, “She just got stronger and stronger right up to the end.” Stephanie brought perseverance to her long Top Chef career and found a runner-up position in season 17. Though she may not have had the most accomplished run, fans agree that her journey was unique.

Bryan Voltaggio – Season 17

Another shared runner-up position, Bryan Voltaggio faced Stephanie Cmar in the season 17 finals. Both were beaten out by Melissa King, but some fans think Bryan may have lost out on a deserved win. Some fans think Bryan could take the title given another shot, as Redditor Apprehensive_Arm_902 discovered in their poll, hypothesizing what would happen if Bryan returned.

In a competition of the best, the contestants face the best. Bryan may have been a spectacular chef, but the overall winner, Melissa King, was a force of culinary nature. Fans would love to see Bryan make a return, as many regard Bryan Voltaggio as one of the best contestants Top Chef has had.

Nini Nguyen – Season 16

It’s worthy of note when a contestant has as many challenge wins as the overall season winner, especially when that contestant left after episode 4. Nini Nguyen had a short Top Chef career, but it was a dominating one. In four challenges, Nini won twice, tying the season’s winner excluding the finale, as pointed out by Redditor Alphatenken, “… she [Nini] almost won more challenges than every season winner.”

An unfortunate challenge brought a quick end to Nini’s time on Top Chef. It’s not often a small mistake takes out a strong challenger early on, so fans still believe she had a shot at the title with her exemplary culinary skills. Maybe a future season holds another opportunity for Nguyen.

Dale Talde – Seasons 4 & 8

Dale Talde ranting

A middle road competitor with a series of challenge wins under his belt, Dale showed promise in Top Chef: Chicago and Top Chef All Stars. Top Chef, however, judges with a “clean slate” week by week, meaning that each week is an isolated challenge. This can also mean mall mistakes lead to big problems, as Redditor Maverickcarter puts it, “He [Dale] dominated and just fell victim to the ‘clean slate’ each week.”

Just as many before and after him, individual mistakes brought Dale’s Top Chef journey to an end. Even great chefs can fail out of the competition, and fans agree that Dave was a solid competitor with unfortunate timing.

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