There's definitely some strategy on the show, but I kind of feel like previous contestants have mostly used it to their advantage as opposed solely to their opponents detriment. With the exception of Spike in TC Chicago. And if you look at the people who get to the end, it's usually the people who have played the game with honor and integrity. These judges are also, as a whole, too smart to fall for most of the malicious crap.
I really hope this doesn't turn into one of "those" game shows. I really enjoy having one game show that's not more drama than substance. Top Chef is really respected in the culinary world, as can be seen by the caliber of guest judges, and the caliber of chefs who choose to compete in TCM.