Watching MasterChef regularly, you find yourself spending so much time watching people who’ve been given a chance to control the game blearily sizing up the competition and announcing, Baldrick-like, that they have a cunning plan, that it’s hard not to take special delight in that rare episode where someone really does launch a cunning plan that works out like gangbusters. But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the contestants enter the MasterChef kitchen and find regular-size Mystery Boxes waiting at their station and an enormous, extra-long Mystery Box at the front of the room. The regular-sized boxes contain sausage grinders, but what can be in the super-long box? Eddie expresses a fervent hope that it does not conceal an alligator.
Instead, the box is whisked away to reveal a full array of meat products for the contestants to use in their sausages. There are even vegetarian proteins, so that Bri won’t have anything to whine about. She is, in fact, pleased as punch, and when Joe stops by her station to ask what the hell she’s making, she grins from ear to ear and tells him, “It’s actually seitan.” (Or so the closed-captioning said, when I turned it on. I heard her say she was making something that was actually satanic. Vegetarian, satanic, same difference in my house.) The judges gab among themselves about who’s doing great and who’s doing even better, and they all agree that this is the kind of thing they expect Krissi to just knock out of the park. Gordon notes that Krissi has never won a Mystery Box challenge.
Then time is up, and Eddie, Natasha, and “someone who has never won a Mystery Box challenge,” Krissi, are called up to receive the judges’ congratulations. Then Gordon anoints Eddie as the winner, and Krissi, who’s standing next to him, smiles and gives him a big hug. (Joe, who is forever calling people out for getting pointlessly fancy and loading down their dishes with pointless filigree, is especially taken with the direct, pleasing simplicity of Eddie’s chicken sausage, calling it “a smart play.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is an omen of things to come.) Then the judges lead Eddie to the pantry, and there’s a cut to Krissi scowling as if she were trying to kill them with hate rays. It’s a predictable piece of editing, and the thing is, there’s no guarantee that it’s even from this particular day of shooting. When winter comes, the editors of MasterChef will be able to use leftover footage of Krissi snarling at people as they insulate their homes.
In the pantry, Eddie is informed that he has just won himself a couple of advantages. First, he doesn’t have cook in the elimination challenge. Eddie reacts to this hardly unexpected bit of news by actually rubbing his hands together as if he had Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin right where he wanted them. I thought that was a bit much, because I didn’t have Eddie planned for a mastermind, but just wait. Then, Eddie is given his choice of three ingredients to inflict on his rivals: mushrooms, ham, or shrimp. He chooses mushrooms, reasoning that “Rarely do you see mushrooms as the star of a dish.” But then it gets really good. Only four of the cooks will get to use the succulent fresh mushrooms on display. Eddie will get to select four unfortunates who will have to make do with canned mushrooms, which, says Gordon, are “not as glamorous.” Expanding on his theme, he adds that they’re “spongy, not nice.” He actually puts one in his mouth, and looks about ready to barf on the table. I’m guessing that Wal-Mart does not do a brisk business in their most amazing canned mushrooms.
When the cooks get the word about this twist. James and Jordan both tell the camera that they assume that Eddie, recognizing them as major threats, must surely have fobbed off canned mushrooms on them. To hear them tell it, for him to have left them access to fresh mushrooms would practically constitute a slur on their cooking ability. When they enter the pantry and see that it’s actually Jessie, Natasha, Krissi, and Luca who’ve been stuck with the canned shit, James and Jordan take it surprisingly well. “I’m gonna dance the dance!” yells Jordan. “And make a little romance!” He doesn’t say anything about sticking the mushrooms in his underpants, but maybe only because the editor cut him off. James and Jordan do not appear to guess at Eddie’s cunning plan. As he explains to the camera, he expects that, given the chance to work with something so marvelous as the fresh mushrooms, they will overreach and, in the process, cut their own throats.
Could he be right? Before we can find out, Bethy has a crisis. She has neglected to get sugar from the pantry. The whole future of her dish depends on her ability to get some from one of the other contestants. “I really need some sugar,” she calls out, again and again. “Does anyone have any sugar? I need someone to give me some sugar.” Finally, Jordan relents and gives her “a pinch” of sugar. “Bethy wanted some sugar from me,” he tells the camera, “and I obliged.” This whole section was the first thing in thirty years that has reminded me of a joke I once heard about a guy who had a dog named Sex that ran away. I can’t remember the exact details right now, but the part of me that used to hide under the bed clothes after bedtime trying to find Dr. Demento’s show on my portable radio thought it was a real knee-slapper.
In the end, Eddie’s scheme works out pretty much just how he had hoped. A few of the cooks, notably Natasha, win special praise from the judges for having made something palatable out of their canned crap, but both James and Jordan try to shoot the moon, only to have their space shuttles explode as they’re leaving Earth’s atmosphere. (Joe, never one to just leave fresh bait lying there, congratulates Eddie for having “played to your inability to edit yourself.”) But it’s the plucky, telegenic, and forgetful Bethy who has to hit the dusty trail, pinch of borrowed sugar and all. The winner is Bri, though even she seems inexplicably surprised at how well her vegetarian ass does when she gets to cook with a fungus instead of something that was mooing a week ago. She serves up something called “A Walk Through The Forest,” which, even before it is pronounced the best dish of the night, is enough to bestir Krissi to her sole over-the-top verbal tirade of the evening. I didn’t transcribe it all because it went on for a while and I was petting the cat, but it had the word “hippie” in it.
- The voice at the other end of the couch is catching on to how this show works: “I guess when Joe throws your plate in the garbage, that means you can sit down?”
- Luca, who I still like personally but who is looking more and more like this season's token guy who makes it surprisingly far by staying under the radar until he runs out of people who can be counted on to do even worse than him, serves up a mushroom soup that, especially considering that the mushrooms came out of a can, is said to taste pretty good. The presentation, though, is an issue. Graham says delicately that it doesn’t look... quite… like… soup. Graham is being kind. It looks like whatever photographers for Mad magazine used to use to simulate dog poop.
- So now, we’re only getting one new episode a week instead of two, which makes my job easier. Thanks for responding to my emails and text messages, Rupert Murdoch. I hope your wife leaves you a little something in the divorce.