Competitors on the Food Network’s “Chopped.”
Competitors on the Food Network’s “Chopped.”

I discovered the Food Network at the gym.

TV doesn’t much interest me and I rarely watch at home, where we have only one television set and no cable subscription. But I got into the habit of watching in the gym once I realized that clicking through the channels on the screen-equipped treadmill helped distract me from the sweaty tedium of exercise. I couldn’t watch just anything, though; I needed something other than the news and politics on which I already waste too much time. The reality cooking shows on the Food Network turned out to be just right: more enthralling than the financial speculation on CNBC, less tendentious than the talking heads on CNN, and nowhere near as trashy as the Real Housewives on Bravo.

So there I was in the gym the other day, shvitzing on the treadmill as I struggled to get to the four-mile mark (no luck), while simultaneously trying to divert myself with “Chopped” or “Kids Baking Championship” or whichever Food Network competition happened to be airing at that moment. When it abruptly occurred to me that the Food Network model isn’t just good TV. It’s a blueprint for fixing American politics. In fact, if election campaigns were waged on the Food Network, the US political system would be the envy of the civilized world.

OK, I’m exaggerating. But only a little.

Consider the similarities between a national political race and a Food Network culinary competition. Both play out before the eyes of millions of observers. In both, people who have risen high in their field compete for a prestigious prize and often are confronted with unexpected or awkward challenges. Both involve a roster of contenders being winnowed down until one champion remains. And in both, the outcome turns on the verdict of arbiters — voters in one case, a panel of chefs and restaurateurs in the other — whose decisions are made on the basis of highly subjective criteria.

But now consider the differences. Not the obvious differences in the ultimate goal — cooking vs….