Monday’s episode begins with Gordon Ramsay announcing that “everything you know about MasterChef is about to change!” I hate announcements like this. The judges and the voiceover narrator are always intoning portentously about some new first-time event “in the history of MasterChef,” as if this three-year-old cooking show is a venerable tradition, created by Druids gathered around Stonehenge one harvest moon a thousand years ago, that we all grew up with, memorizing the stats on past winners and near-winners from a big, thick, dusty book read under the covers with a flashlight after bedtime.
That’s bad enough, but because of this grand tradition that the judges have formed in their heads, whenever they throw some new little wrinkle into the proceedings, they naturally act as if they’re presiding over Vatican II. Worst of all is the nature of tonight’s big shake-up: The last eight people eliminated are paraded back into the kitchen and given the chance to cook their way back on board. The first time I remember something like this happening was that “outcasts” business on Survivor: Pearl Islands, where it was clearly part of a diabolical plan to force me to watch more of Burton Roberts than any sane person would want. Getting eliminated from a competition series should mean getting eliminated, and I am adamantly opposed to any gimmick that brings losers back or gives them a second chance. Except for when Project Runway brought back Chris March and Anthony Williams, because each of those guys was a riot.
Based on the results of the first challenge, the judges pare the list of possible survivors down to Josh or Stacey, and Cowboy Mike or Ryan—or, as he repeatedly calls himself, “the flavor elevator,” or, as Frank says upon seeing him waltz back into the kitchen, “Oh, yeah, this piece of [bleep!]” (He later adds, “There’s a reason we’ve all been here, and he’s been hangin’ out in Central Park feedin’ birds or somethin’.”) Then, after lavishing praise on these four cooks for having all made it this close to returning to the show, Gordon summarily dispenses Stacey and Cowboy Mike. It’s the kind of cruel tease that can suddenly make you wonder if you shouldn’t really hate this show. Finally, Gordon reveals that Josh and Ryan will each prepare a fruit tart and that the winner will be decided by the other remaining contestants “in a blind taste test,” and Christine is all, like, hey, I got this! After much suspense, most of it manufactured in the editing room, over whether Josh will get his tart in the oven in the time, the gang returns a unanimous vote for Josh over Ryan, whose tart is judged to be too heavy on the maraschino cherries. Ryan is gracious in defeat, heading into the sunset after noting that Josh must deserve to win the contest in the end, if he has it in him to whup the flavor elevator.
It is far from enthralling stuff, but tonight’s episode benefits from an entertaining train wreck at its center: David Martinez, who, to judge from the comments made on Monday night, is the hands-down winner of the “I didn’t last as long as this douchebag!?” award for 2012. (People say this stuff about David when he can easily hear them, and he responds by flipping them the bird, in stereo, making extra work for whoever has been entrusted with the blurring mechanism from Standards and Practices.) Somehow, David wins the Mystery Box challenge—key ingredient: live prawns—going away and is granted a multi-layer edge over the competition as his reward. First, he’s given his choice of which of three ingredients—bacon, corn, or beets—will be used by himself and his rivals to create a dessert. David chooses corn, on the theory that he doesn’t want to cook with beets himself, but also doesn’t want everyone else to be able to cook with bacon. He is also shown three recipes for delicious and elegant desserts featuring corn, and given a chance to spend five minutes shopping by himself in the MasterChef kitchen.
David selects a plan for rice pudding, and is seen collecting ingredients while going on and on about what a treat it is to be able to do his shopping alone, without other people bothering him and brushing against him and grabbing everything he wants. It isn’t until he’s headed back to his station that it hits him that he neglected to grab any rice. The rules prohibit his returning to the pantry, so he’s stuck with a recipe in his head for rice pudding and no rice to use to execute it. It is hard not to think of Burgess Meredith breaking his eyeglasses just when he has all the books from the library stacked up next to him. “How,” David asks rhetorically, “are you going to make rice pudding without any rice?” A more flexible man would conclude that you can’t and move on, try to think of another way to use some of what he has. David decides that it would be more his style to wander around—“like a lost puppy,” says Graham—begging his fellow contestants for any rice they might have. Becky finally splits some of her rice with him.
She might have been doing him a better favor if she’d just cut his throat. David’s pudding is deemed “really, really, really unedibly [sic] disgusting” by Joe. Asked if he tasted it before offering it to human beings as something for them to put in their bodies, David says, yes, and he loved it: It reminded him of “my mother’s kitchen.” “That,” says Joe, “is a place that I’m going to avoid.” It’s an up-and-down night for the contestants across the board, but Joe is on fire. Asked if she has much experience with dessert, Felix says, “I cook a lot of desserts when I’m at home.” “Desserts like these should definitely be kept at home,” says Joe.
Becky is declared the winner, finally, of an elimination challenge, and the three candidates for elimination are David, Felix, and Josh. Nobody thinks Josh is going home so soon since this reinstatement, but it’s a genuine shock when David is told to get back in line and Felix is ordered to turn in her apron. She’ll be missed, but by the time she heads out the door for the last time, she looks considerably happier than David does. “I had this huge advantage,” he admits, “and, technically, I blew it.” I’m not sure what the word “technically” is supposed to mean in this context, but it would be cruel to force lessons in proper speech on a man at a time such as this.