MasterChef: “Top 18 Compete”/“Top 17 Compete” 
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MasterChef: “Top 18 Compete”/“Top 17 Compete” 

The fairness of the judging criteria on MasterChef never seems more doubtful than when the contestants’ fates are placed in the grubby hands of a bunch of pre-teens. Barging dangerously close to Jamie Oliver’s territory, Gordon and the boys truck the cooks out to an elementary school and inform them that, for their first team challenge, they are to plan and prepare “a healthy, nutritious meal” that the little ankle biters will “actually want to eat.” (Technically, they bus them out there, on a school bus piloted by Graham—or, at least, one that Graham is seen emerging from, wearing a bus driver’s cap.) The red team, captained by Jessie, goes high-end with chicken teriyaki, plus corn and a strawberry crumble. The blue team, led by Jordan, and serving turkey meatballs and pasta with green beans and apple crisps, impresses the judges by appearing to keep it real.

Not so fast. The blue team’s plan to serve two meatballs each to 300 kids overtaxes the meatball-rolling capabilities of Jordan’s crew. As the clock ticks down, it becomes clear that their pans aren’t filling up fast enough. Jordan is forced to reconfigure the menu, and the team never seems to fully recover from the attendant confusion. Krissi keeps her footing best, but she makes up for that by being the one who fails to recover the loudest, demanding to know what the hell people are doing behind her when she’s trying to serve the kids and running out of plates. Picking her for his team, Jordan boasts that “I can put my foot down as hard as she can, and I’m not scared of her, ‘cause I’m gonna show her authority, and she’s gonna listen to me!” I thought it showed a lot of self-restraint on the editor’s part that he didn’t score this scene to the Spinners’ “Could It Be I’m Falling In Love,” but maybe Fox just wouldn’t spring for the music rights.

Between the failings of the blue team and the surprising sophistication of the children’s palettes, chicken teriyaki takes the day. Back at the MasterChef kitchen, Gordon singles Krissi and Howard out for praise, saying that they did all they could to keep the balloon aloft in the face of hurricane winds, and invites Jordan to name three of his teammates who deserve to be spared the elimination challenge. He’s sort of just been told who he should pick, with the understanding that he’ll reserve the third “Get Out Of Jail Free” card for himself if he has any brains, but he picks Howard, James, and himself, leaving Krissi, Jonny, Kathy, Eddie, and Adriana to see which of them can turn out the best cheesecake. Krissi continues to acquit herself admirably, while it is Adriana who, shortly before leaving the MasterChef kitchen for good, is forced to listen to Gordon say those three little words you absolutely don’t want to hear Gordon say when he’s examining something you’ve just cooked: “What a shame.”

Gordon does his flaming asshole thing in the second half, which begins with the season’s first Mystery Box challenge. First he announces that a special guest chef will be “cooking alongside” the contestants. The cooks wonder aloud who it could be—Bobby Flay? Wolfgang Puck? That Swedish Muppet?—and turn to wait to see who will come through the doors. In walks Gordon, indicating that the editor must have tightened up that stretch of time where they were all staring at the doors while Gordon leisurely changed into his dress whites and made his way from the front of the kitchen around to the back door. Then, while everyone else is sweating over their ovens, trying to make something of a lump of cod and some sauces, Gordon mills around, shoots the shit with his buddies, wanders upstairs, makes himself a cuppa, then comes back downstairs and finally sets about demonstrating that he can make something transcendent in half the time it takes these losers to shovel some shit onto a plate. Properly dazzled, Joe and Graham demands that the contestants come up and feed their faces on Gordon’s bounty, that they might be properly humbled. There might have been a way to do this that might have highlighted why Gordon could do this in half the time the others needed, and that might have been instructive and interesting. But all that really comes across is that Gordon Ramsay shits ice cream and pisses sweet honey.

The good news is that the winner of the challenge is the likable and easy-to-fear-for Luca. (Sadly, whenever Luca is singled out for praise, he does not pump his fist and cry out, “That’s how we do it on the second floor!”) It’s also nice that one of the runners-up is Beth, because for once, she isn’t wearing her hat, and it would be nice if she’s superstitious enough to never put it back on now. But it’s Luca who gets to [A.] sit out the elimination challenge, [B.] decide that everyone else will have to serve up a dozen cupcakes, and [C.] handicap some poor soul by depriving him of his mixer. “I’d like to think that Luca would not take my mixer,” James confides to the camera, “but then, he’s European, and so he’s unpredictable.” Luca goes with the popular choice, Jordan, who made no new friends when he took himself out of the previous elimination challenge.

But Jordan hand-mixes like a son of a bitch and stays in the race, even winning praise for the deliciousness of his cupcakes by a sheepish and ever more likable Luca. But the top cooks are Bethy and Bime. They will have the honor of serving as team captains next week, and may God have mercy on their souls. As for Malcolm, he’s heading home. It seems likely his fate was sealed during the cooking process, when Joe said something about how he wouldn’t be tempted if he saw Malcolm’s crap sitting in a bakery window, and Graham said, “I’d pay someone to eat Malcolm’s for me.” When your food isn’t even finished yet and the patient, good-hearted, eternally optimistic Graham can’t wait to get in on slagging you, it may be time for a new hobby.

Stray observations:

  • Overused phrase of the evening: Both Krissie and Luca fault Jordan for pulling himself out of the elimination challenge and not “going down with the ship.” Fed up with this talk, Jordan huffs, “I’m not the captain of a ship. I was captain of a team that’s not a team anymore.”
  • The judges seem to like everything Krissy does, though she never makes it into the top rungs tonight. That said, her greatest contribution to the program comes when Gordon is doing his show-padding effusive blather thing, and the camera catches her standing at attention at her station, muttering, “Can we get this [bleep] over with!?”

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