Because of baseball, we’re only getting one episode of MasterChef this week, and the one we got could only have benefitted from a second trip to the well. It’s one of those episodes where somebody wins a Mystery Box challenge and, as a prize, gets to decide what everybody else has to cook. Naturally, the winner—in this case, it’s Felix—tries to dole out the selections in such a way that the contestants she dislikes and regards as her fiercest competition get to work with materials she thinks will sink them, the contestants she likes get to work with ingredients she thinks they’ll hit out of the park, and the nonentities and mediocrities in the middle are given whatever is left, on the theory that it won’t make much difference anyway. The judges compliment Felix on the sly cleverness of her strategy, but as it happens, every single big call she makes goes differently than she thought it would, and the sheer consistency—every call, every damn one—makes for a dull episode. Would it have been more interesting to watch if every single choice Felix made turned out just as she’d imagined it would? I don’t guess we’ll ever know.
Felix triumphs in a challenge in which the Mystery Boxes contain sea urchins, which are more photogenic than appetizing. In the first of many moments of deluded lyricism from Tali, our boy says of his sea urchin that “It looks beautiful, it kind of represents me at this moment.” Josh is more down-to-earth, expressing his gratitude when Gordon announces that he’ll be showing the contestants how to prepare the things for cooking without poisoning themselves: “I’m like, thank God, ‘cause I came here to win, not die from a sea urchin.” Although Felix takes home the gold with her risotto, Josh and Stacey are also saluted for their dishes. This angers Tali, who doesn’t understand why his bright yellow glop wasn’t singled out by the judges. “I didn’t see anyone with this type of dish,” he says, “’cause it’s never been done.” A lot of what Tali does has never been done before, and he remains steadfast in his refusal to consider the possibility that there may be a reason for this.
Describing the advantage enjoyed by the winner of the Mystery Box challenge, Monti says, “It’s like, oh, you can cook with chocolate, and they have to cook with [bleep!]” Thank God, it’s not dessert night. It’s fish night, and Felix tries to screw over Monti, who she regards as not a real chef but just “a learner of recipes”, by sticking her with the John Dory. Because she thinks that she faces tough threats from Becky and Frank, she fixes them up with, respectively, the ugly-looking and difficult to prepare rock fish and the catfish, which she figures the Long Island Italian Frank can’t have much experience with. Christine—who Felix likes very much, because seriously, who doesn’t—is given the salmon, which everyone figures is the easiest of all the fish to work with. Tali gets the Arctic char, because seriously, what possible difference does it make what he gets, unless someone else is going to cook it for him? Felix herself takes the halibut, because she thinks it will present her with a challenge. I can remember other occasions on this show when contestants who were free to choose anything for themselves opted not to go the easiest possible route, so they could impress the judges by making it more challenging for themselves, and meeting that challenge head on. I just can’t remember any occasion when that move paid off for anybody.
The contestants fall to work. The closest thing to drama comes when Gordon approaches Tali and gently asks if he’s thought out whether he really wants to smother the delicate fish he’s working with under such an assault of spices and condiments. Tali assures him that he knows what he’s doing, then confides to the camera, “It’s frustrating when Gordon Ramsay interrupts me in the middle of my genius explosion.” Some of his self-glorifying hyperbole must surely be meant as a joke, but does even he know just how much of it? When the smoke clears, Monti, Josh, and Becky are all praised, Felix is found wanting, and Tali, David, and Christine are made to stand before the bar of judgment. The judges are practically moved to tears over the fact that Christine has disappointed them. And not just taste-wise: Graham tells her that the plate she presents to them is “the least visually appealing dish” she’s ever served them. Christine, the first blind contestant in the history of MasterChef, can only take his word for it.
“All three of you,” Gordon tells those on the bottom, “know why you’re here.” This is wishful thinking on his part: Christine and David are properly contrite, but Tali is sticking to his usual theory that the “old-school” judges cannot deal with his bold and cutting-edge technique. It’s not much of a secret who’s going home, since even without the braggadocio, Tali has so thoroughly worn out his welcome that, if he were to be kept around for a minute longer than Christine or David, angry hordes would descend on the Fox building and burn it to the ground. Besides, Gordon has already pulled his ultimate put-down line out of his bag, telling Tali that this is MasterChef he’s on, “not masterbation.” You can’t really say that to a man and then encourage him to try harder when comes back next week. (It shows either restraint on Gordon's part or what currently passes for broadcast standards that he doesn't say anything about his Tali-whacker.) With Tali gone, the self-delusion level in the room has dropped way, way down, leaving behind mostly back-biting, paranoid resentment, and the occasional bright, cheery burst of affectionate fellow feeling. Since pretty much all of that last category was supplied by Christine, beaming with pleasure when she heard the judges praise Felix, I’m not looking forward to seeing her go.