First things first: Somebody got eliminated last week, but it didn’t happen until after curfew, so nobody knows who it was. Then, with everyone else already gathered in the kitchen, Luca rolls in, and it sinks in that Kathy is gone. Krissi, who has spent way more time telling the camera and her fellow cooks which people she has a problem with than appearing to get along with anyone, declares that this is “a huge emotional blow for me.” Maybe she acts out when she’s had one of those, because she will come to dominate the next two hours, in an increasingly unhappy way. As for Luca, last week’s episode boiled down to him holding on by his fingernails. After his triumphant entrance this week, he will scarcely be seen again, but probably he can use the decrease in stress.
The first leg of the race tonight is a Mystery Box Challenge. The boxes are stuffed with exotic Asian ingredients, and most of the cooks have no idea what any of them are. The judges could tell them, but where would the fun be in that? Bime identifies what he’s cooking as “some kind of steak or something.” Krissi refers to a black, mossy-looking substance—later identified by the judges as “black moss”—as “Chinese pubic hair.” One expects to see a cut to the judges, at the other end of the room, rhapsodizing about the marvelous properties of the black mossy stuff. Instead, one hears Joe volunteer the opinion that “You’d have to be really hungry to eat this.” Jordan serves up a dish covered with “some worms of sort.” I would think that anyone who would put what he took to be some sort of worms on top of something people were meant to eat must have a cast-iron stomach. The funny thing is that, when Gordon tells him they’re actually baby eels, then he appears grossed out.
The judges like what he’s done, but the winner is Eddie, who is impressed to learn that he’s cooked an elk flank. The elimination challenge involved cooking pasta, and as his reward, he gets to sit it out, after deciding which of three kinds of stuffed pasta that I can’t spell everyone else will have to work with. He also picks out two rivals who will not get to listen to the special pasta tutorial provided by tonight’s special guest. The special guest is “best-selling cookbook author and restaurateur” Lidia Bastianich, A.K.A. Joe’s mom. Krissi, whose brashness is still sort of charming at this point, is a big fan. Trying to convey just how much of a fan she is, she tells the camera, “If Jesus came down and stood by Lidia, I’d be like, ‘Wassup, dude?’”
It soon becomes clear that not even Jesus could help some of these people. Beth is seriously handicapped by her inability to get a pot of water to boil. “Put the lid on!” Gordon finally tells her, a couple of minutes past the point where it might have done her some good. “I would hate to go home because I can’t boil water,” she says. That would be pretty embarrassing, but on the other hand, how embarrassing would it be for a “serious cooking competition,” as Joe is always calling it, to not quickly eliminate a contestant who can’t boil water? Of the two guys who missed out on the pasta demonstration, the one who suffers the worst for it is Linn. Impressed at how effectively Eddie has managed to hurt a rival he perceived as a threat, Joe grins at Linn and says, “He hit you in the ball sac.” Then I rewind and confirm that what he really said was, “He hit you in the bulls-eye.” Thank God. I mean, his mom’s standing right there.
Joe’s good nature evaporates as soon as Howard stalks up to the judges’ table, having gotten a little too ambitious. Not counting the eternal raw food problem, it’s about the surest way you could come up with of pissing Joe off, second only to making with the smart mouth in response to Joe telling you he’s pissed off. “If you were smart,” Joe says, “you would duplicate a plate.” He’d leave it at there—again, his mom is right there—except that Howard’s death wish compels him to sneer, “You want 15 of the same plates?” Joe’s lecture is measured and withering: “If you’re here putting your own spin on everything so you can show how cutesy and crafty and intelligent you are, that’s gonna get you a one-way ticket back to wherever you come from, and you can show your friends and the six people who told you were good how cutesy and smart you are when you’re home cooking at dinner parties.”
There may be a legitimate debate to be had about the different aesthetic approaches in play here, but the fact remains that this show has been around for a few years now, and anyone who tries out for it ought to go into it knowing what the judges are looking for, and what steams their bacon. It’s embarrassing to see someone who claims to be familiar with the show and to respect its rules proceed on the assumption that he’ll be the one they recognize as a genius to whom the rules do not apply. The only thing wrong with this righteous diatribe of Joe’s is that it kills the suspense for the rest of the hour. The judges go through the motions of picking out the bottom chefs and talking about who’s definitely staying and who might be going, but it’s clear what the outcome will be as soon as Joe says, “The only thing worse than a cook who can’t boil water is a narcissistic in full denial.” Gordon, trying to liven things up, finally stares at Linn and Howard and tells them the one who screwed up worst ought to know who he is, and tells him that he hopes he’ll do the honorable thing and leave without forcing anyone to say his name aloud. Candyman, I mean, Howard, takes the hint and flees the scene.
The cooks on top are Krissi and Jessie, whom Krissi, naturally, despises. The two of them end up as team captains as the cooks divide into two camps and vie for the honor of preparing lunch for the cast and crew of Glee, the zeitgeist juggernaut hit show and essential cultural barometer that everyone I know stopped watching three years ago. Although Krissi loathes Jessie, she really can’t stand Bime, who has been put on her team by special guest team-selector and shit-stirrer Jane Lynch. Fried chicken and salmon are the Glee diners’ entrees of choice, and Krissi, who thinks Bime is an idiot, assigns him the job of cooking the fried chicken, figuring, “it’s not rocket science,” and how badly can he screw it up? As the ‘bots on MST3K used to say, doodly-doodly-doodly, and cut to Joe, returning from a tour of the dining area to tell Bime that he’d appreciate it if he’d stop sending out chicken that’s raw at the center.
When the votes are in, Jessie’s team is the clear-ass winner, with a total of 90 votes to Krissi’s 37. All the more baffling, most of the yes votes Krissi did get singled out Bime’s chicken for praise, which just goes to prove something I’ve known for as long as I’ve had teeth: Even bad fried chicken beats the pants off good anything else. Back at the kitchen, the judges present Kristi with a devilish proposal: At least two of her teammates must participate in an elimination challenge, and at least one of them must be sent upstairs to watch in safety, but it’s entirely up to her to decide who gets a pass and who doesn’t, and beyond those guidelines, she can spare as few or as many people as she likes. She spares everyone but James, Bethy, Jordan, and Bime, explaining that, while Bime distinguished himself well on her team, “He could [bleep] a golden goose egg” and it wouldn’t make any difference to her.
She then spares herself, which brings up the stills-sore point of the time she denounced Jordan for having made “a bitch move” when he was the captain of a losing team and jumped at the chance to hand himself a Get Out Of Jail Free card. She explains that this is different, because she had a kid, and it’s her sacred to do whatever it takes to stay in the competition so she can continue to work toward making a better life for the two of them. At this point, the best way Krissi could make a better life for everyone within the sound of her voice would be to stop nominating herself for Single Mother Of The Year and shut up about her kid already.
The challenge is to bake a lemon-free lemon meringue pie, and only Jordan distinguishes himself. James disappoints but squeaks by, and when Bethy tells Graham, “I’ve never made anything like this before,” his sad reply is, “Obviously, you still haven’t.” But it’s Bime who crashes and burns, in no small part because he gets confused and pours his cream of tartar in when he means to add corn starch, yielding a gloppy mess. This would seem to validate Krissi’s belief that he’s simply incompetent, but the frequent cuts to Krissi high above the kitchen, laughing and jeering and generally carrying on like Joaquin Phoenix sitting in the stands in Gladiator, make for a dismaying viewing experience. She enjoys humiliating him way too much, and her enjoyment is all the more unpleasant for the fact that it has no strategic value: Since she seems to be right that he doesn’t know what he’s doing, why wouldn’t she want to keep him around a little longer?
Meanwhile, she spares Natasha, the cook she couldn’t stop hating on a few weeks ago, before Jessie and Bime caught her eye. Trying to sound sly, she confides to the camera that she pulled Natasha out of the elimination challenge on the theory that you keep your friends close but your enemies closer—a line that has so little application to the situation that she just seems to be trying to appear smart by saying random cool shit. Will Krissi get her comeuppance next week? The editing on the promo for the next episode makes it appear that way, but the editing staff on this show is often not the viewer’s best friend.