In past seasons of MasterChef, things have developed a nice, intimate feel around this point. The show is approaching the home stretch, there are fewer people to keep track of, the relationships between them are clearer, and the editors can streamline the narrative during the actual cooking. But this season, Krissi’s personality, which is capable of sucking all the air out a room even in crowd scenes, is dominating the action, all the more so since she has a way of bringing out the worst in others. When, in the second half of this episode, she’s forced to participate with the rest of her teammates in the elimination test, the members of the winning team stand above her on the catwalk and whisper among themselves about how glad they are that she’ll soon be gone. When she snaps at them to quit, they jeer at her. Then she picks up a utensil and flicks something at them. That’s when you remember her behavior when she won immunity last week—all the hammy showboating and all those shots of her literally throwing back her head and appearing to laugh at the people below when things weren’t going their way—and you start to think that, so long as the people on the catwalk don’t lean over the rail and gob on her, they’re within the bounds of good sportsmanship and civilized behavior. Hell, it might even be okay if they did. People are always saying that it’s hot in that kitchen.
There’s a flashy opening, with Natasha, Bri, Jessie, Luca, and James gathered on the rooftop of the Ritz-Carlton, watching as the judges arrive via the MasterChef chopper. One reason this is a fairly relaxing sequence is that Krissi, who has a painful fear of heights, can’t bear to be on the roof and is hiding in a stairwell. The judges explain that the contestants will be working the kitchen for a service in WP24, which sounds like an I.R.S. form but is really one of Wolfgang Puck’s dives, which specializes in “a very modern take on Chinese cuisine.” Everyone heads downstairs to the kitchen, and as they collect Krissi—who really does look completely miserable—Gordon tells her, “I didn’t know you were scared of heights.” Presumably, if he had known, he would have tried to have her strapped to the outside of the helicopter. Inside, the cooks are divided up into teams: Natasha, Jessie, and Luca are on one side, while James is yoked to Bri, who can’t taste meat, and Krissi, who professes to hate Asian food so much that she won’t taste it, either. It is not, he concedes, an ideal situation. There’s another nightmare on the horizon, but it’s shared between the two teams: Gordon has volunteered to serve as expediter. “I just hope we don’t lose out focus when he’s screaming at us,” says Jessie. Note she doesn’t just say that she hopes he doesn’t scream at them; Gordon’s reputation precedes him, even if it’s the reputation he earned from his other show, which he’s trying to counteract with this one.
Once the cooking starts, you get to see a brief glimpse of "Hell’s Kitchen Gordon" when diners complain that their appetizers are raw, and Gordon discovers that Luca has been stupidly using cold water in the shrimp steamer. WHY ARE YOU USING COLD WATER IN THE AAAARRRGGGHHHH!!—It’s like a transformation scene in a werewolf movie, except that it happens so much slower in those movies, because the director wants everyone to get a good look at how cleverly he’s handling the special effects. Then Gordon gets a grip on himself—i.e., remembers which show he’s on—and he shuts it right off, almost with an audible skidding noise.
He’s much better prepared when, after the appetizers have been sorted out, Krissi starts crashing and burning her entrees. “I am literally ruining everything for our team,” she says, in what, coming from a different human being, would qualify as an apology, or at least an admission of fallibility, (She then adds that she’s not doing it on purpose; she clearly would like to believe that it’s easier for her fans at home to think she’s doing something underhanded and Machiavellian than that she’s really screwing up.) It looks like a pretty close race, but after giving everyone a night to stew over it, the judges decide that it was the Bri/James/Krissi team that did worse, because they had people walking out over bad entrees instead of screaming about bad appetizers. “It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish,” says Graham, using a line that is fast becoming the official MasterChef season four bumper sticker.
For the final challenge, the three prepare deep-fried calamari with what Joe, playing the Italian-American card, calls “flavorful marinara sauce.” Right away, I figured that Bri was a goner, because you’ll recall that James grew up hanging out with Ishmael and Queequeg down by the docks, watching the ships come in, and Krissi is automatically going to smoke the vegetarian at any challenge that has the words “deep fried” in it. I guessed the loser wrong, but overestimated how much of her rivals’ dust she’d be eating. “I thought the challenge difficult, but attainable,” says Joe glumly while he’s watching James ignore his sauce and Bri put lemon sauce in hers, because, she explains, she figured that would make it go better with seafood. Joe tells her to her face that this is just about the stupidest thing he’s ever heard in his life, and for once, I can believe that he’s not being hyperbolic. (As soon as the words leave her mouth, I recognize that it’s one of the stupidest cooking-related things I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been known to fuck up Pop-Tarts.) When the smoke clears, Bri has been eliminated for the second time this season, and Krissi is one of the remaining five contenders. “I know they only hate me,” she says of her rivals, “because they fear me.” Define “fear.”
- Second-stupidest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, crossed with most ridiculously stereotypical thing a vegetarian might say in the kitchen: Bri, who coated her squid parts in way too much flour, drops them into oil that she has set at far too high a temperature. After a few minutes, a whining noise can be heard from the fryer. “They’re screaming!” cries Bri.