Reality TV peaked long ago, yet millions still tune into hundreds of shows that try to wring drama out of every petty excuse for a first world problem. Nothing is sacred and an undercurrent of violence runs for everything. It’s war for cupcakes, war for parking spots, war for storage, war for shipping, war for blackboards.
The shows that exhibit people with borderline personality disorders or some kind of mental failing are particularly awful, like My Strange Addiction or the variations on "People Who Have Too Much Fucking Stuff Because They Are Mentally Ill."
So when the season finale of Kitchen Nightmares revealed some kind of truly demented ego, someone so damaged by an abusive upbringing, I indulged myself willingly and glued myself to my TV. By now you probably already know the story: Amy and Samy Bouzaglo, owners of Amy’s Baking Company in Scottsdale, Arizona, were surprisingly unresponsive to host Gordon Ramsay’s advice to, basically, just not be dicks. All reality TV features similar screeching fits, but the volume for this episode was dialed up to 11, leading Ramsay to walk out for the first time in his show’s 80-episode run.
The resulting fallout was equally dramatic, if not more so—bored people on the internet expressed their dissatisfaction on Amy’s Facebook page and were met with furious, cringe-worthy retorts from Amy and Samy. The founders later claimed their accounts were hacked and now the FBI is involved, blah blah blah, everyone’s lying.
Photo by Bobby Patterson
In some kind of misguided attempt to renew their brand, Amy and Samy hired a PR guy and decided to have a relaunch. Since I work right down the street from the restaurant, I decided to drop in.
From the beginning, my only reaction to this entire shit stain was pity and some mild curiosity, as it paints a strange portrait of how social media interacts with people who seem to have mental disorders. I half-expected the entire parking lot to be jammed, with news vans from every local stations hugging the fire lanes, spotlights torching up the sky and maybe even a red carpet.
It was none of these things. I arrived at 5:30 to a scene of maybe 20 people standing outside, arms crossed, as they collectively glared at a boring restaurant, hoping to see a woman become completely outraged over nothing or something along those lines. There was a small team of security guards who would occasionally kick someone off the premises or take someone’s cell phone away and delete any offending pictures.
You couldn’t get in without a reservation and you couldn’t loiter outside, so there wasn’t much to do but watch. I called the restaurant's number, but it went straight to a full voicemail box. A couple news vans (representing 3TV, Fox, and NBC) would drive by, set up their cameras on the edges of the parking lot and leave again, only to return later, circling like sharks for blood.
In the shadows of a movie theater, we sat and waited and watched. A woman large enough to be an elephant seal left briefly to get popcorn, saying something about how this was like real life TV. Except nothing was happening. Watching traffic was more interesting than watching strangers eat through a window from 500 yards away.
I spoke to two kids who said they were unemployed. The elephant seal said the same and suddenly this made sense. Did anyone here have a job besides me, the members of the mini media circus, and the security guards? Why were we here? I felt like a voyeur, but a suspiciously uninteresting one. I really had nothing better to do but sit outside a business and hope the owner would suddenly snap. I prayed for broken windows or screaming spells or sirens and I don’t really know why.
Of all the celebrity meltdowns I can think of, this is the only one I know of that the public helped instigate. And like many internet campaigns, it was overtly cruel. Every single offensive thing about Amy and Samy has been trotted out over and over like so much Judge Judy theatrics. Did they deserve it? I can’t say. There aren’t really any heroes in this drama. There’s just shitty food, shitty people, shitty everything.
People live-tweeted, but there wasn’t much to report. According to a few patrons I chased down on their way back to their cars, the food was decent and everything was calm inside. The restaurant was about three-quarters full. The Olive Garden down the street was about as fascinating.
The rumors, which I can’t confirm, were a little more bizarre. According to one chick, no one was seated outside due to death threats and patrons were frisked for weapons before being allowed inside. According to another kid, all the new employees were screened—only those who hadn’t seen the infamous Kitchen Nightmares episode were hired.
Everything seemed a little too perfect and among the voyeurs, a theory emerged that most of the patrons were hired to say nice things. Does it really matter if they were? I’d still probably rather eat at Domino's.
Since I sure wasn’t eating at Amy’s, I dropped into Pita Jungle and flirted with the hostess and she flirted back and then told me she was 17 and so I said adios and walked back over. I decided to try to get in anyway, but a cop stopped me, like I expected.
“Do you have a reservation?” he asked.
“Uh, I was gonna look into getting one…”
“You can’t tonight, but they’re taking reservations later this week,” the officer explained, handing me a business card for Amy’s.
“Is this the kind of work you imagined you’d be doing when you joined the force?”
“We do everything,” the cop said. “But I did expect there to be more of an audience. I expected protestors and overflowing parking, but there's none of that. No troublemakers at all.”
“Yeah, it’s too bad no one’s broken anything.”
The cop raised an eyebrow.
“Actually, I’m kind of relieved,” I said. And I was. Maybe it’s a good thing that this rubbernecking isn’t riveting. It’ll make it all the more easy for these people to fade into the background. As some people have said, this restaurant really wasn’t relevant before they appeared on Ramsay’s show and started attacking anyone who disagreed with them online. The worst part of the restaurant wasn’t that it was expensive or a disaster—it was that they were mediocre.
Perhaps this three-ring circus has run its course and the public can realize Amy's deserves no more attention. It was a worthy fight to join in on, at first, but now it’s as stale as that store-bought ravioli we’ve heard so much about. And maybe the whole idea of “reality” as entertainment will also lose steam, but I doubt it.
Before I left, someone said to me, “I came here for a show. Where is it?”
Go home, I thought.