This week, MasterChef got its contestant base winnowed down to ten chefs, thus making it harder for the contestants themselves to hide in the weeds. A show like this usually has a certain number of players who hang on, week after week, without ever getting much camera time, because their work doesn't particularly stand out, in either direction. They're good enough that they're not constantly threatened with elimination, but they don't seem to be providing those sparks of uncanny brilliance that can make even an erratic flake seem like a potential contender. Compared to the people who can be counted on to provide spice and drama of one kind or another, they can seem to be, to swipe a phrase from In the Loop, just meat in the room. But they have their worse and their better days, just like everybody else, and this was their week.
The week's first episode began with a mystery box that turned out to be packed with live lobsters, four-pounders. As soon as Christian, the seafood specialist, laid eyes on them, he went ahead and assigned himself the win in his head, with even greater confidence and alacrity than Christian usually assigns himself the win in his head. Unfortunately, things did not go well for Christian. I'm not completely sure just what happened, but it looked as if, in the middle of cooking his dish, his equipment rebelled, as if to show solidarity with all the people around him muttering about what an intolerable jackass he is. (Suddenly, I remembered Donald Sutherland, as the mad, scarred arsonist in Backdraft: "And then, my animal turned on me.")
Thwarted, Christian scaled back his ambitions but still completed a dish that he thought deserved to be in the top three, because, you know, 'cause. When it turned out that he'd finished out of the money, he was incredulous, and was not appeased by Graham's explanation that he'd looked as if his setbacks were making him angry, and "when you cook angry, I think that it comes out in the food." The fact that Jennifer's dish was named one of the top three made Christian angrier still, and his rude, distracted behavior made Joe, who seems a little ticked off at the best of times, positively livid. Jennifer took the win and was given the chance to choose between three ingredients that have reputations as aphrodisiacs: oysters, artichokes, and truffles. She went with the truffles, and then it was Christine's turn to be angry: "Aphrodisiac? Really? It is so hard to even come up with some kind of sexy dish when the ingredient that you're cooking with looks like dog [bleep]!"
Giuseppe, who established himself during the auditions as a TV-friendly, colorful character, but who has had few opportunities to seize the limelight since then, took top honors and was fulsomely complimented by Gordon on having arrived. The evictee of the night was Erryn, the public relations man from Chicago who, since the competition began, has had even less screen time than Giuseppe. Despite his professional training, he made no attempt to spin some bullshit defense of his burnt-brick steak and freely acknowledged the justness of the verdict. "It was a no-brainer," he said, with a winning combination of dignity and modest self-deprecation. "There were no redeeming qualities to my dish." Nothing so became him in this competition as his leaving it. As for Giuseppe, his reward included an appointment as leader of one of two teams that would produce competing three-course lunches intended to win the favor of a three-member panel composed of the hosts' moms.
Giuseppe led the Red team, with Tracy in charge of the Blue team. Tracy's people led with a carrot soup decorated with a swirl. Opinions differed on the quality of the presentation. Giuseppe himself felt that it looked "like a beautiful Picasso", while I thought that it looked kind of like a bowl of piss that a spider had spun a web over. But it went over like gangbusters with the judges, which did not surprise Ben Starr, who shared his controversial and imperfectly worded insight that "There's nothing in the world old ladies like more than soup." As so often happens in these things, it all came down to dessert. Having detected slight textural flaws in the Red team's apple pie, the mothers gave the win to the Blue team, for their hastily assembled fruit plate thing, even though Gordon had gotten a look at an early draft in the kitchen and moaned, "My mother's come halfway around the world to eat that [bleep]!"
The members of the bested Red team returned to the kitchen and were made to compete against each other by preparing Eggs Benedict, a dish that Giuseppe claimed to have never made before. On the other hand, Ben Starr couldn't whoop loud enough, so eager was he to inform his rivals, the judges, and the viewing public that he was the Eggs Benedict king. Given Eggs Benedict's reputation as a potent hangover cure, I would think that someone might be careful about giving the impression that he's often felt the urge to whip up a batch, but I suppose that if any prospective employers of Ben Starr have been watching the show, that would already be the least of his problems. When the dishes were set out, the bright, shiny colors, the enameled-looking yellows and whites on the plates, made it look as if Claes Oldenburg had been through the joint. But no homage to legendary Pop artists could save Giuseppe, whose undercoooked egg had settled near the rim of the plate, almost, as Gordon said, as if it "was embarrassed and was trying to escape out the door." To his credit, Giuseppe took his dismissal with charming warmth and good humor. As with all the other departed contestants, Gordon urged him to never stop cooking. He didn't say anything to him about never stopping appearing on television, despite the fact that I could see him having a future there, but then, foodie TV is a cutthroat business.