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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

MasterChef Junior: “Easy As Pie”

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On any given reality competition show, a contestant will likely say something along the lines of “I didn’t come here to make friends.” It makes sense. It’s a competition, after all, and competitors can’t be your friends, not really. But tonight on MasterChef Junior, Jimmy says: “I’m here to win, but I’m also here to make friends.” And I believe him.

Because even if the mini contestants don’t know each other for all that long, it’s so easy to become attached to people when you’re a kid. Best friendships don’t take the kind of tedious time and maintenance that they do when you’re an adult. And these kids might have different backgrounds and experiences, but they’re all united by a love for food, for cooking, for achieving. And that’s enough common interests to make them connect.

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So when Jimmy says he’s here to make friends, I believe him. Just as I believe Nathan when he calls Micah and Alexis his best friends in the competition and Andrew when he says no one wants to see 8-year-old Riley go home and Ryan Kate when she says “it’s hard seeing my friends leave.” It’s that special dose of friendship that makes MasterChef Junior so unbelievably heartwarming, but also makes every episode such an emotional roller-coaster.

This week presents the kids with their first team challenge: They’re tasked with using sausage grinders to make their own sausage from scratch—using pretty much any meat combination they please—and then an accompanying dish for the sausage to go with. MasterChef Junior challenges are getting increasingly more and more difficult from season to season. Here we are, only two episodes in, and the kids are already being asked to do a hugely technical process. And judging by the looks on their faces when the grinders are brought out, none of them really have all that much experience making sausage.

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But first, a meringue whipping contest between last week’s top three—Ryan Kate, Jimmy, and Andrew—ends with all of the kids getting to shove pies in the judges’ faces. It’s a silly and fun little lead-in to the real drama of the sausage making. As the winner of the pie contest and the master of meringue, Jimmy tasked with forming the other competitors into pairs. For himself, Jimmy picks Kyler as a partner. He then pairs Ayla and Riley, Andrew and Cory, Jack and Nathan, Jenna and Mia (who are thrilled about the decision), Ryan Kate and Kayla, and Alexis and Micah.

Jimmy says he tried to be kind with his partner choices, but it’s very clear that he knew Andrew and Cory weren’t going to mix well. Right off the bat, Cory and Andrew have problems, which start when Andrew immediately begins bossing Cory around, insisting that they’re going to make spaetzle, even though Cory doesn’t seem to know what spaetzle is. For all his talk of being cool-as-a-cucumber last week, Andrew has no chill tonight, starting with his aggressive shouting at the meringue mixers and carrying through to the team challenge. Cory—who is the CEO of his own cookie company, which he founded at age 5—has been a ball of energy since the get-go. Just watch him when the judges explain the sausage challenge: He can barely keep his feet on the ground. And Andrew has no idea how to work with him. It’s painful to watch.

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Everyone else, it seems, has no issue working together. Alexis and Micah are adorably in sync in the kitchen, with the former overseeing their pork sausage and the latter making a white bean and swiss chard stew. Unfortunately, the final product fails to impress the judges, who say their sausage doesn’t quite pass the test. Eleven-year-old Ayla works excellently with tiny Riley and maintains her composure when Gordon Ramsay points out that their pork and sage sausage has been sitting on the stove with the gas off. Ryan Kate and Kayla make a pork venison sausage with polenta, but it’s their stunning plating that sets their dish apart. Jimmy and Kyler take a risk by making a port and kangaroo sausage that doesn’t yield many returns. Jack and Nathan pull off a decent veal and boar sausage.

All the while, Andrew and Cory just can’t seem to make things work. Their chorizo and pork sausage ends up too dry; their spinach is bland; Gordon Ramsay chastises them for not concentrating enough in the kitchen.

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And because of all the issues Andrew and Cory were having, I was super shocked when Alexis and Micah were sent home—shocked and outraged. Their dish may have been subpar, but most of their errors were small technical ones. Even though I picked Cory as an early favorite for this season, if we’re judging the teams as whole entities, Andrew and Cory had the worst performance, plain and simple. In a team challenge, it would follow that teamwork should count for something, right? Micah and Alexis made excellent partners! Nothing is fair! Why does this show hurt me so much?!

Full disclosure: MasterChef Junior makes me tear up a little almost every episode. This time, I full-out cried. There’s something just so deeply sad about Micah and Alexis’ departure, even though we didn’t even get to know them that well yet. But the second Gordon announces they’re going home, Cory goes over to hug them. Kayla starts crying, and Ryan Kate hugs her and says it will be okay. Micah tries so hard to hold in the tears, in that mature, composed way that so many of these young cooks try to maintain. When they go to hug the rest of the kids, someone, I’m not sure who, says “we love you so much, okay?” It breaks my heart, especially since it means there are only five remaining little girls of 12 contestants on a show that has, thus far, only been won by little boys.

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Stray observations:

  • Micah, on the pie throwing: “They look like clowns that got thrown up on. I just want it to happen over and over again.”
  • Love Riley’s contemplative face as he strategically chooses who to pie. (He ultimately selects Gordon, and why wouldn’t you choose Gordon? Of the three judges, he definitely puts the most effort into his hair and general appearance. Cory goes straight for Gordon’s styled hair with his pie instead of his face. Cory gets it.)
  • Jenna and Mia’s dish, a pork and chorizo sausage with sauerkraut and roasted potatoes, wins the challenge. And Jenna was the one who said she hates sausage, so props to her for powering through.
  • Even though she’s going home, Alexis is holding onto her dream of wanting to teach other kids to cook. Never let go of your dreams, Alexis!
  • I love seeing girls support other girls. While the judges are deliberating, Kayla and Ryan Kate comfort a distressed Micah. “You did really good, and that’s something you should be proud of,” Ryan Kate tells her.
  • WHY AM I SO EMOTIONALLY INVESTED IN A SHOW ABOUT PRECOCIOUS CHILDREN?!
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