Last week, I indicated that this would be the final week of MasterChef’s third season. I had my facts wrong on that one, but in a larger, truer sense, I feel that I was right, because this week should have seen the conclusion of MasterChef’s third season.
This has less to do with how many episodes MasterChef grinds out in a season and how many calendar weeks there are in a year than it has to do with what is, not to put it too baldly, right. More than one week of MasterChef after Labor Day is like wearing white after Labor Day; it just shouldn’t be done. Fox and the makers of MasterChef think they know better, just as they felt it would cost the show nothing in terms of forward momentum and general integrity to spend the Olympics hiding out like Michael Corleone in Sicily.
Tonight’s episode is the big showdown that will decide which two home cooks will make it to the finale. A quick opening montage re-introduces the Big Three, for the benefit of anyone who’s suffered memory wipe since last week. There is Becky, who is truly fearsome in her use of that key ingredient of MasterChef, hyperbole: “My soul is consumed with this love of cooking. It truly is the only thing I want to do for the rest of my life.” There’s Josh, introduced with a terrifying shot of him grinning like a recovering stroke victim while hoisting a flaming pan. The voiceover announcer extols his “fighting spirit,” which made him a force to be reckoned with “until his dream was snuffed out.” Then, like the guy in Monty Python And The Holy Grail who was turned into a newt, he got better. Finally, there’s Christine, “considered the underdog, even by herself!” A clip of Christine exhibiting self-doubt by telling Gordon that she thinks she might be going home this week is submitted into evidence. Even the sightless are expected to demonstrate an unfailing can-do spirit in the MasterChef kitchen.
For their first contest of the evening, the cooks lift their Mystery Boxes, to find—mock-ups of their very own cookbooks, with their pictures on the cover and everything. “Oh my God!” says Becky. “Wha-ahh!?” says Josh. “Can I touch it?” asks Christine, whose cookbook is in Braille. Each of them is ordered to produce a dish worthy of these dream cookbooks. “Since there are only three of you left,” says Joe, “we will be tasting all of your dishes.” This is a big disappointment for those of us who were looking forward to them tasting two of the dishes, then looking at the remaining one and telling its creator, “Yeahhhh, that’s okay, thanks.” Josh falls to work on a curried Cornish hen, while Becky’s fish immediately establishes her as the dark horse of the night. “That’s the first time I’ve ever seen someone put a fillet in fish stock,” says Gordon, looking into her pans. The expression on his face leaves no room for hoping that what he means is that he can’t imagine why nobody has ever had such a wonderful idea before.
It’s Christine who knocks the judges’ socks off with her vermicelli stir fry. By the time he puts this in his mouth, the once-skeptical Joe cannot restrain himself any longer. It may come as a shock to learn that restraining himself is what Joe has been doing all this time, but apparently, it is. Bewildered by her blind cooking style, he asks, “How do you know how much of something to put in a bowl?” Well, says Christine, I just sort of weigh it in my hand. “How about liquids?” Well, says Christine, I kind of taste and adjust. So, says Joe, if I understand you correctly, “You taste… and adjust.” Hey, cards on the table, here’s what I lie awake nights wondering about. How the hell can you spend so much time working around these oven burners without catching on fire?
Christine’s prize as winner of the Mystery Box challenge is first pick of the three central ingredients in a gam-themed elimination contest: chicken legs, leg of lamb, or frogs’ legs. She opts to keep it simple and goes with the chicken legs, leaving Josh to claim the lamb and sticking Becky with the frogs’ legs. When’s the last time you cooked frogs’ legs, Becky is asked. I was hoping she’d reply, “I forget, what time was breakfast,” just to make Josh look like a dipshit. But it turns out his instinct was correct: She has no previous culinary experience with Kermit’s cousins. She gives it her best shot, though. It’s Josh who stands out during the actual cooking sequence, which plays out with all the previous eliminated contestants lined up in the balcony, cheering on their former rivals. Josh, Joe opines, is “a freight train full of speed right now.” It sounds like something out of a Kerouac novel.
Josh’s lamb dish, which comes with a story about how his dad forced him to try exotic foods instead of allowing him to just binge on Milky Ways and grilled cheese sandwiches when visiting Panama as a wee lad, is the hit of the night. Christine’s fried chicken is praised as delicious, but to create suspense, the judges also note that it isn’t spectacularly ambitious, and her creamed kale is nothing to write home about. Gordon tells Becky that she “nailed it” with her frogs’ legs, but after a long and heated debate, the judges decide to keep Josh and Christine and send Becky packing, because nobody likes her. While Christine gives Josh a friendly, congratulatory tug on his shirt sleeve—and Joe resists the urge to ask her how the hell she knew in which direction and how far to reach to find his shirt sleeve—Gordon helps Becky scrape herself off the floor with grand but vague promises about how, of all the restaurants with his name on them in America and Europe, “the door is always open” to her. He is careful not to specify which door, and Becky knows better than to ask him to.