It’s shippers’ night on MasterChef! At least, that’s how the first half of the show plays out. When the last seven cooks enter the kitchen, they see a big-ass mystery box waiting for them, and as Luca points out, that usually means there’s a person inside. There are, in fact, several people: The beloved family members of the remaining contestants. Although they’re all adorable, none is more adorable than Luca and his wife. The two reveal they met when Luca hired her to work as a waitress in the restaurant where they were both employed. She further reveals he tried to fire her two weeks later, thus confirming everyone’s suspicions that when Luca isn’t doing MasterChef, he’s the star of a wacky sitcom called life.
Kicking off what he modestly calls “perhaps the most emotional Mystery Box challenge ever,” Gordon instructs the cooks to go to the panty, where each of them is help himself to 15 items of his choosing, then use those ingredients to whip up a dish inspired by “the love of your life.” Throughout the selection and cooking process, Luca talks so much about his wish to please and impress his wife—talk that is accompanied by many shots of the wife leaning over the railing and supportively sending him good vibes—that it would count as sadism of an especially alarming variety if he humiliated himself or even just finished out of the money. Happily, he takes the prize, with his halibut risotto besting Natasha’s green curry and Jessie’s duck breast. “We asked for a restaurant dish that was inspired by the love of your life,” Gordon tells him, and “You delivered it.” “Awesome,” says Luca. As the judges heap praise on Luca while his wife fairly shimmers with pride, Natasha is seen permitting herself a discreet eye roll. Then Luca’s wife departs, along with the rest of the loved ones, and something inside me dies a little.
For the elimination challenge, the cooks have to prepare “a stunning plate of Japanese classics.” The extra punch to the nuts is that they have to work tag team style, and it’s up to Luca to divide up the teams. Having made it absolutely clear the player he most wants to send home is Natasha, it’s more than a little anticlimactic when he finally gets to the part about how he’s pairing her off with Krissi. James and Jordan are also paired off, as are Jessie and Eddie. Much to Luca’s disappointment, Krissi bows to Natasha’ greater expertise in this area, quietly doing what she’s told when it’s her turn at bat. Eddie tries to do the same, but he seems much more ineffectual and, well, out to lunch. At one point, Gordon says he has a “deer in the headlights” look, and for once, Gordon is underselling it. The editor has great fun cutting back and forth between Jessie swiftly and efficiently gettin’ ‘er done and Eddie, on the sidelines, looking as if he’s one fried brain cell away from needing to strap on a drool cup.
In the end, Natasha and Krissi skate to the finish line, while James and Jordan crash and burn on the outskirts of town. Their food is nothing to crow about, but it’s their behavior as they’re presenting it that really steams the judges’ clams. As Joe points out all their deficiencies, the two guys give in to some mutually reinforcing defensive-embarrassment thing and begin helplessly giggling like a couple of kids having a tickle fight. This arouses the ire of Gordon, who sounds so upset about their obvious “disrespect” for the Japanese cultural traditions they’ve besmirched that he might just raise Toshiro Mifune from the dead so he kick both their asses. But Gordon has to begrudgingly allow that their “technical ability on filleting the fish” saves them from being formally reclassified as unclaimed luggage on the MasterChef Super Chief. For this mercy, they can thank Eddie, who endures a new low in Bastianich-engineered humiliation when Joe picks up an item from the plate he’s offered them and asks if Eddie is willing to eat it himself—a scene that, if this were a movie, would most likely involve a Nazi, a chef who is secretly working with the French Resistance, a lazy Susan, and multiple bowls of soup, one of whose contents glow in the dark. As the judges prepare to send Eddie on his way, a muttered comment from James and Jordan’s corner sums it up for so many who have come through the MasterChef doors: “Guess we shouldn’t have high-fived.”
- Looking around at the start of the show, James says it’s “definitely a humbling experience, to see so few people around me.” As Inigo Montoya used to say, “You keep saying that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
- While Gordon is delivering a stirring tribute to the importance of family, Graham stands beside him beaming, while Joe crosses his arms and glowers at the floor. Is everything good at the Bastianich homestead?
- While everyone else is reuniting with their loved ones, Krissi, as she says, is “lookin’ and I don’t see anybody for me.” It looks like the setup for a “You will be visited by three ghosts” moment, but Gordon saves the day by hooking her up with a video message from her son. From the looks of things, Junior couldn’t come to Los Angeles because a big goddamn dog won’t get out of his lap.
- Eddie, speaking of his special lady, says, “She actually entered me in this competition.” The half-second between the time he said “entered me” and “in this competition” was the longest half-second in my life.
- Expressing admiration for how beautifully Jessie managed to do her plating when she didn’t allow herself much time for it, Gordon declares, “I’ve always said it’s not how you start the challenge, it’s how you finish it.” As Zen Koans suitable for competitive cooking shows go, that’s not bad, but I swear I don’t remember ever hearing Gordon say it before. I hope he doesn’t plan to go into the editing room and recut a bunch of shows to insert this line and make it appear he really has always said it. Han shot first, you know.