HOLLYWOOD—Well, we have a winner after roughly two months of competition on the Food Network, the competition series “Tournament of Champions V.” Yes, this series premiered during the height of the pandemic, and it was unlike anything ever witnessed people. I thought it was simply genius in a way as it coincided with the chaos that is known as March Madness.

The only difference is that it involved culinary titans in the industry. We have had a different champion every single season with them all being women, but the question for season five is whether we would have our first two-time champion or would a male, i.e. Jet Tila break the curse? SPOILER ALERT: if you have not watched the season finale, stop reading now. I can say we have our first two-time champion as Maneet Chauhan was crowned the victor after defeating Antonio Lofaso by a single point, a single freaking point in the penultimate battle.

I have to be honest I was secretly rooting for Maneet after all the other champs, Brooke Williamson, Tiffani Faison and Mei Lin were eliminated from the competition. Did I want to see Jet take the win after making the final four for four consecutive years? Yes, I really did, but it seemed that Lofaso edged him out in that initial cook. The pals became foes as they battled in the first round that included Whole Halibut, Lau Leaves and a few curveballs. I feel the randomizer this year, which is apparently pure luck was aimed to be much harder, and as a result it didn’t make it as fun to watch.

I don’t want “Tournament of Champions” to feel like “Chopped.” Those are two different series and I feel like TOC is starting to intermix with that series that delivers the craziest ingredients ever. I want different ingredients, and combinations that are thrown the chef’s way. Tila has been so close time and time again, and with Brooke being out, I really thought he had that chance to get to the finals for the first time in five seasons.

So, to see him lose by a mere three points was heartbreaking. Antonia cooked a better dish, but seeing the raw emotion from the chefs after defeat is proof, they are invested in this competition, this is not just about entertaining the audience this is something they want badly. The same sentiment could be echoed with Britt Rescigno and Maneet. They received a whopper of an ingredient that involved alligator. Yes, alligator and Britt’s dish was an intriguing one that looked tasty as hell.

Maneet on the other hand was creating a duo of dishes that was interactive to say the least. When Maneet gets in the zone, she is a tough cookie to beat and managed to reach the finals for the second consecutive year after losing to Mei Lin last year. So, it was a champ versus a first timer, and this randomizer upped the stakes with another twist with two more components being thrown into the mix of cooking goat. Yes, goat, and it included something spicy and interactive.

I could have done without that other twist because it didn’t add much in my opinion. I think TOC two had my favorite finale between Brooke and Maneet where they had to cook three dishes and had an hour to do it. It was just a bit more excitement there and we didn’t see all this extra mess. I like to see the cooking and technique, I don’t care about seeing all the twists.  Seeing ingredients not known and how the chefs adapt on the fly with them is fun, exciting and makes it clear you can be super creative in the kitchen.

Two dishes had to be crafted one that was low-end and one that was high-end. I thought what Antonia did was fantastic with a raw preparation that screamed high-end, and a classic with a goat burger. We had a panel of esteemed judges tasting the food, but I wanted to see some fresh faces. Like I’m dying to see Iron Chefs Michael Symon and Bobby Flay; these are titans and I just want to see that caliber at the judging table.

What Maneet did with that goat was epic, she really shined the ingredient in a way that Antonia couldn’t compete her utilization of the randomizer was the key in her one-point victory, but seeing Antonia break down in tears after her loss showcased the raw emotion. She wanted this and was that close and to see it ripped away is a brutal feeling, I don’t care what anyone says.

Maneet proved that a two-time champion is possible as host Guy Fieri teased all season. Would it happen? The answer is yes, and she took at $150,000 cash prize as well. The only thing that I found interesting about this season is the scores. A ton of the chefs fell between the 80- and 85-point range. We didn’t see those high-range 90s and those near perfect scores in season two that left me aghast at times. However, TOC five is proof that Maneet Chauhan might be the greatest living chef at the moment. If anyone hates to hear that, they should challenge her in “Tournament of Champions Six” which I’m sure will hit airwaves in February 2025.