One thing you're overlooking is that contests on TV are not about the food, per se. They're about two things:
1. Being good television---which, almost always, means coping with unrealistic situations against a clock.
2. Playing to the biases of the judges.
That last is, of course, true about all contests, not just those dealing with food. Years back I won a photo contest with a shot of my first son being born. Keep in mind that cameras in the delivery room, common today, were all but unknown back then. So much so that I sold those pix to doctors and medical magazines. So, on one hand, the image, itself, was dramatic and important. But the camera club I was in at the time also knew the judge, and that he was biased in favor of children and large images. So, was it merely the image that won the contest? Or the fact it was a 16 x 20 print of a child?
Chopped, in terms of judging, is an absolute joke, that not only reflects the biases of the judges, but the fact that they are incapable of consistent judging criteria. How come, for instance, one contestent who doesn't complete his plate is forgiven, and the next one is chopped for the same reason? And it's not like the biases are secret. We know, for instance, that if you're a woman chef you better be at least twice as good as the men you're competing against, or you will be chopped. And we know that if Scott Conant is judging you had, if you expect to win, never use raw red onions (and be gentle with the cooked ones); never use black pepper; and never, ever combine cheese with any seafood. And so forth.
Let's also keep in mind that virtually all TV food contests are based on the last-man-standing approach. Every chef, no matter how good he or she may be, has an off day. If that happens during a contest, you're gone---despite the fact you might, overall, be better than everybody else. Think of the Iron Chef season in which Michael Symon was the winner. Nothing against him---he's one of my favorite chefs, in fact---but does anyone really believe he's a better chef than the other competitors? Especially when they were down to the last five or six?
Ultimately, you don't have to win any of these contests. You just don't have to lose. Take Top Chef as an example. It's quite possible that you can play it safe, never win nor lose each week, and thereby wind up in the top four. If you then whip out your big guns, you can walk away with all the marbles.
What contests can do, however, is serve as inspiration for our own cooking endeavers. We watch what the contestents do, and react by saying, "what a great idea," or "If I were doing that I'd......," and so on. That's where the trickle-down effect comes in.
While we hate to admit it, and never do when strangers are around, the restaurant scene in any community---be in New York or a small town in Montana---is very incestuous. As soon as one chef starts doing something successfully it quickly becomes the in thing in that community. So, to bring it home, if one top-ranked chef is inspired by the Bocuse d'Or, pretty soon everybody around him/her is similarly inspired, even if they don't know the source.