So I didn't really watch much of Gordon Ramsay's FOX series Hells Kitchen, but I caught the first episode of "Hotel Hell" and was intrigued enough to watch the 2-parter all the way through.
Hotel Hell appealed to me because I have stayed in a lot of hotels with a lot of really stupid problems (including inexcusable customer service issues), and I thought it would be fun to watch Gordon Ramsay critiquing them in his obnoxious, over-the-top manner.
The first Hotel Hell episode was decent, but there were some obviously staged parts. This was the episode where he tried to turn around a failing Vermont bed-and-breakfast run by a snooty gay couple. I facepalmed at certain staged moments, such as Ramsay "walking out", driving away from the property in disgust, and then abruptly deciding that he had to turn around and come back for the employees' sake.
I also noticed that the main "villain" in the episode --- the more active of the two owners -- seemed to turn his attitude around too quickly. He went from uber-stubborn to seeing the light very abruptly, for seemingly no reason. I accepted this as part of the dramatic license taken by modern reality television, and it didn't bother me too much.
However, upon watching further episodes, I saw a pattern emerging that become bothersome and distracting.
Here is pretty much every Hotel Hell episode:
- Gordon Ramsay shows up to some small, independently owned hotel or bed-and-breakfast, which is financially in trouble and about to go under.
- There is always some kind of restaurant on premises, and always serves embarrassingly terrible food.
- There are usually maintenance problems at the hotel, resulting in bad smells, unclean conditions, or things not working.
- The hotel is run by a couple. The main "decision maker" of the couple (usually the husband) comes off as weird, obnoxious, controlling, and out-of-touch.
- The chef of the restaurant is shown to have some kind of problem. All of the other employees are portrayed as sympathetic characters, who are overworked, underpaid, and shown no respect.
- Gordon Ramsay swears constantly, resulting in numerous, annoying bleeps.
- For most of the episode, Gordon battles with the main owner and the whole situation looks hopeless.
- About 45 minutes in, the owner suddenly sees the light and does a complete 180-degree turnaround with his attitude.
- Gordon Ramsay's crew puts a ton of money into fixing up the place (usually hundreds of thousands of dollars), and Gordon himself gives the restaurant a bunch of his recipes to improve the food.
- The maintenance problems miraculously disappear with no explanation.
- Everyone appears to live happily ever after, and the asshole owner is suddenly a great guy.
After watching a number of episodes that all seem to pretty much follow the above formula, I came to realize that most of this had to be staged.
They are fixing up real hotels with real problems, but I think that's where the "reality" ends.
Here's what I think really happens:
- The show's staff finds small hotels in deep financial trouble
- The staff contacts the hotel and promises them major renovations for free (plus national publicity) in exchange for being on "Hotel Hell". The owners have little to lose at this point, other than their dignity, so they accept.
- The owners are told to fight and argue with Gordon as much as possible, and even go as far as threatening to punch him. They are afraid to say no because they don't want to lose the opportunity for the publicity and free renovations.
- The owners are also told at a certain point to knock that off, and to pretend to have an epiphany regarding their behavior. I'm sure they all agree to this, because they feel it will make them look good after being made to look like the bad guy for most of the time.
This pretty much guarantees drama, while at the same time allowing the show to display real problems at these hotels.
My biggest problem is that they seem to solve all difficulties with the show's deep-pocketed budget. They spend a lot of time showing customer service and maintenance issues, but these are never really addressed as part of the solution. As soon as the owner "sees the light", Gordon brings in his crew to do the expensive renovations, and he leaves some of his great recipes with the chef (with personal instruction on how to utilize them). Okay, great, but what's the lesson here? Your hotel can be a success again if a TV network shows up and gives you high-end renovations and culinary training for free?
It's too bad, because I think the series really has potential, but it's not going to do very well if they keep running essentially the same episode over and over again.