MasterChef: “Top 8 Compete”
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MasterChef: “Top 8 Compete”

It starts off like an episode of The Twilight Zone: Six home cooks, of different backgrounds and from different walks of life, find themselves mysteriously transported to a remote wilderness area with neatly trimmed grass. “I have no idea where I am,” says Krissi, and then, driven by some strange compulsion to share with us the least surprising thing she could possibly divulge about herself, she adds, “I don’t walk or hike for fun.” Have the contestants been deposited at a national park? The back yard at Gordon’s summer getaway home? The Fox holodeck? Jesus camp? When the judges appear and start loping toward them, they don’t go out of their way to fill them in. Maybe there were concerns that MasterChef groupies would descend on this pristine setting, looking to gather up pebbles and blades of grass and other souvenirs they could prize forever, until they denuded the area as thoroughly as a napalm attack.

Gordon is wearing what looks like a grayish working suit, Joe has on a grayish vest over a dark purple shirt, and Graham is decked out in something bright orange and blue that looks as if it might spring a leak and propel him across the surface of a body of water while Diane Keaton screams in his ear. Clearly, Graham has decided that, wherever the hell they are, he is not going to be the judge most likely to be felled by the bullet of a near-sighted hunter. Gordon explains that the cooks will be divided into two teams, and that each team will be armed with a knife, a flint, a cast-iron skillet, and a wooden spoon. Since Bri won last week’s challenge, she gets to pick between the two proteins on offer, and she opts for the rabbit, leaving her opponents to work with pigeon. The judges make no attempt to argue that this might not have been the clear choice. Gordon even calls pigeon an “unforgiving protein.” Apparently he didn’t go that extra mile and dispatch his minions to select the most amazing pigeons from the parking lot outside Walmart.

Bri and Natasha are appointed captains of their respective teams and set about picking their teammates: James, Eddie, and Luca for Bri; Jordan, Jessie, and the eternal last pick, Krissi, for Natasha. Always the scamp, Gordon gives Krissi and Bri plenty of time to express their loathing of each other before announcing that he is now going to switch the teams, forcing them to work with each other. Bri sucks it up and bravely tells the camera, “I have to deal with the beast.” Somehow, even a line like that comes across as nicer than the expressions on Krissi’s face when she looks at Bri, even when she’s smiling. The judges leave them to set up camp for the night and plan what they’ll be serving up come morning. “I want a restaurant quality dish in the wilderness!” Joe barks at them. It sounds like a request he should be directing to Mr. Roarke and Tattoo.

As the sun recedes behind the horizon and the director gets to do that cool green-hued night-vision thing he’s been looking for an excuse to do ever since he saw The Blair Witch Project, the cooks fall to talking about their job ahead. Their reveries are interrupted by drop-ins from the judges. Bri’s teams is visited by Gordon, although it’s not until he starts talking that I’m convinced he’s not really Jason Voorhees in a Gordon Ramsay mask. Bri’s people talk a good, confident game; they will braise their rabbit, braise him good they will, and also do the first restaurant-grade pasta in the history of competitive wilderness cooking. When Joe and Graham check on Natasha’s team, they seem nervous and unsettled by comparison. To their credit, they’re on the case, test-roasting a pigeon so they can get the hang of it. But when Joe asks them for more details of what they have planned, you can hear the crickets chirping—and I mean, like, literally hear the crickets chirping, because, wilderness. Graham the good cop tells them, gently, “The first thing you need to come up with, and I’m sure that Joe agrees, is what the hell the dish is.” If Joe does not agree, he’s too polite to say so out loud.

When morning comes, the two teams set to work. Joe is surprised to see that Bri’s team is just getting started on their braising; he tells them that smart thing to do would have been to braise it the night before, then warm it. Nobody tells him that Gordon visited them the night before like the fucking Ghost Of Campouts Past, and he saw no need to supply them with this useful information. Team Natasha, meanwhile, is roasting their pigeon, using the techniques they honed during the night to craft a pigeon dish that even a homeless man with an exceptionally refined palette wouldn’t turn up his nose at. There is some drama on both sides. As his teammates are plating the pigeon, Luca leans in to quietly remind them that time is running out, and Natasha screams at him to step back and shut up. (She later offers her analysis of the event for the camera: “Luca freaked out.”) And Bri drops her team’s rabbit dish in the goddamn dirt. It is largely unsalvageable, being covered in Krissi scat, but Bri makes the tough call and decides they’ll just give the judges smaller portions.

Both dishes are found to have their merits, but it’s the members of Team Bri who have to face the elimination test. This is especially humbling for Jessie, who, as she cannot stop reminding everyone, is a pressure-test virgin. The members of Team Natasha are allowed to pick one rival teammate to save from possible elimination, and James, who up to now has not seemed like the savviest of strategic players, nominates Bri: She’s the weakest of the cooks on the chopping block, he says, because, being a vegetarian, she can’t taste meat. Everyone disagrees with him; she’s a strong player, they say, and the vegetarian thing hasn’t hurt her so far. Uh, James says, it kind of has, because, just in case you’ve forgotten, she’s right this second up for elimination!

But, inexplicably, his teammates vote to save Krissi; they seem to think she can’t win in the end because none of them can stand her, even though their well-grounded personal dislike for her and her cooking skills aren’t really connected. Even more inexplicably, Krissi takes this slight—the decision of her rivals to keep her around longer, because they don’t see her as a threat—as a compliment. She explains to a poleaxed-looking Gordon that they clearly voted to save her because  “They think I’m gonna kick ass either way,” so why bother even trying to get rid of her? The challenge is to make eclairs, and nobody really does him or herself proud, which means lots of cuts to Krissi, up in the balcony, lighting up like a kid on Christmas day as she enjoys the suffering of others. Bri’s eclairs are deemed rawer, and therefore worse, than Jessie’s, which are insufficiently cream-filled, while Jordan is the winner by purest default. This would appear to back up James’ contention that Bri was a weak enough player to be worth sparing, and if she had been spared the challenge, the viewers at home would have been spared hearing Krissi get in one last, gratuitously ugly dig: “I want that bitch to go home so bad!” But as partial compensation, we do get to hear Graham say “mouthgasm.”

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