You don’t realize how long the season is of any reality show until they roll the intro showing all of the contestants, including the ones who were eliminated in the first few episodes. Then you think to yourself, “Self, this has been going on forever!” And so it is with Bravo’s “Top Chef: Las Vegas,” which is essentially the sixth season of the extremely popular show. It’s also, at this stage, maybe the most competitive yet.

Last night they began with host Padma Lakshmi and Gavin Kaysen, who competed in a global cooking competition known as Bocuse d’Or, which they say is the Olympics of the culinary world. Kaysen made something for his entry in the competition called a “ballantine,” which was in essence putting a protein inside of a protein inside of a protein. So Padma asked them all to make their own version of a ballantine for the quick fire challenge. Jen joked that she was going to make a turducken…but the thing is, that’s sort of exactly what they had to do…the catch was, they only had 90 minutes to do it.

Eli made a scotch egg with bacon; Michael a poultry terrine; Jen a combo of calamari, steak and scallops; Bryan lamb and sausage; and Kevin catfish, scallop and shrimp. Kaysen would be the judge for this one and his least favorite, surprisingly, was Kevin’s. That dude never winds up on the bottom, and he made it clear that he disagreed with Kaysen’s reasons. Meanwhile, the winner of the challenge was Jen, and Padma even said to her, “Welcome back” after tasting her dish…mostly because Jen has really struggled lately. Jen would have an advantage for the elimination challenge.

That challenge was to compete in a mini Bocuse d’Or, with superstar chef Thomas Keller being one of the judges, as well as the regular contingent of Padma, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and a few other esteemed Bocuse D’or judges. In other words….some heavy hitters with sophisticated palates and discerning tastes. They would have the choice to make lamb or salmon the centerpiece of their meal, along with two sides/garnishes. The winner would be guaranteed a spot in the final four, and also take home $30,000. Damn, that’s a huge prize.

In some of the banter as the chefs were preparing their ideas, Michael mentioned that Kevin’s food is so simple…in fact, it’s the type of stuff he cooks at home. This was an unnecessary and cocky statement, especially considering that Kevin has come so far based on the quality and flavor of his food, no matter how simple it might appear to everyone else.

So Kevin presented to the judges first, and his creation was a lamb loin, and asparagus with sunchoke cream. The judges loved the flavors but, as Michael may have suggested, it was a bit too simple, especially considering the 4-hour time frame they had to prepare the dishes.

Michael went next and made a Mediterranean salmon platter with a loin of salmon and champagne sauce. The judges felt a lack of “harmony” on the plate, and Colicchio gave him a hard time because salmon is not typically a Mediterranean fish, and overlooking that in a Bocuse d’Or competition is not smart. Plus, one of the judges pulled a bone from the fish. Ouch.

Bryan wen with a crusted loin of lamb, a caponata, and an orzo mac & cheese with garlic chips. His lamb was not quite cooked enough but the judges liked his concept maybe best of all of them

Eli was next and made a lamb sausage, carrot puree, and tomato/pepper marmalade. There was a big problem with his lamb, because it was undercooked and therefore had big chunks of undercooked and gristly fat.

Jen was last, and she made a salmon and caviar dish over celery root and mushrooms, and a shrimp flan with snap peas. She also had 30 minutes extra to cook because she had won the quick fire challenge, and while the judges mostly liked Jen’s dish, some of them had undercooked salmon.

The snooty Bocuse d’Or judges were extremely critical of all of the chefs, but that’s how they are in these competitions. But someone had to win, and someone had to go home. Then they announced that not only would the winner take home $30K, but also would be awarded a spot in the 2011 Bocuse D’or to represent our country.

Padma announced that the judges wanted to see all of the chefs in the elimination room. And the winner was…..Kevin! You could feel Michael seething….and despite Kevin’s simplicity, what it came down to was execution and his dish tasting the best. Dude was blown away and admitted that he might crap his pants having to compete in the Bocuse d’Or.

So it was between the brothers Voltaggio, Jen and Eli to go home. Mrs. Mike thought for sure it would be Michael….but it was….Eli! I think the judges really struggled with Eli’s fatty lamb sausage and that’s what was his ticket home.

Our final four….just like we predicted weeks ago….is Jen, Kevin, Michael and Bryan. The finals shift to Napa Valley next week and it appears the chefs will have to cook for a huge party that will no doubt have a wine theme. I still think Kevin is going to win it all, and that will inevitably piss off both brothers. Bring it on!