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MasterChef: "Top 12 Compete"

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Last week, Christian and Ben did so well in the climactic challenge that it was announced that the two of them would have the honor of serving as team captains in this week's big showdown. Tonight's episode opened at "an elite Hollywood hotel", which just happens to house Gordon Ramsay's Los Angeles restaurant. The chefs would labor in that very kitchen to provide dueling menus for a fancy-shmancy Hollywood cocktail party, the kind of event where the cameraman briefly focuses his attention on one dimly lit blonde after another, as if daring the folks at home to say aloud, "Is that supposed to be Jessica Simpson?" As promised, Christian and Ben were handed the controls to, respectively, the Red and Blue teams. I wouldn't make too much of it, except that about the best you could say about this dispiriting episode was that it kept its promises. Mostly, anyway.


Last week, the voiceover announcer swore that "a new rivalry" was about to commence, but I had trouble being sure which of the many small pissing contests on display was supposed to qualify as a rivalry. This week, the "previously on MasterChef" montage did at least make it clear that they were specifically referring to Christian's one-sided trash-talking of Jennifer. It was hard to tell until they stuck a pin in it, because Christian trash-talks everybody, to the point that his fifteen minutes of national TV stardom look to be driving the poor guy bonkers. When Gordon asked to confer with the team leaders before cooking got underway and Ben dragged his feet a little on his way to the parlay, Christian bellowed for him to get his ass in gear, because "I don't have time for this [bleep]!" Hey, he said to the camera afterwards, "If Gordon can yell in the kitchen, I can yell in the kitchen." The part missing from this syllogism was that it's Gordon's kitchen, and the cameras are there because Gordon's there. Christian's showboating doucheyness, which got him slapped down last week, was mostly tolerated by the judges tonight, perhaps because they had other things to tear their hair out over. But it could be that, if Christian doesn't get his panties unbunched, he may soon find himself back home in his own kitchen, where he'll be free to yell to his heart's content.

As for Ben, he continued to use his fifteen minutes to polish his dorkiness, though to give him credit, he did know better than to show up at Gordon Ramsay's Los Angeles restaurant wearing one of those stupid hats of his. Christian and Ben were given the chance to pick their teammates, classic trauma-inducing playground style, and when the smoke had cleared, Ben was the proud leader of a team that was otherwise made up entirely of women. That was more than fine with Christian, who shared the insight that women are "a little bit more dramatic than guys." It would have been pretty funny if he'd yelled that, but you can't have everything. The real drama came when the two culinary warlords compared their menus and discovered that they were mortifyingly close to having the same dishes on tap, with both teams offering gazpacho and similar desserts.

Rather than blink, both teams decided to plow ahead and make it a clear contest about who had done a better job with the same basic ingredients. The only big change came with the dessert; playing for the Blue team, Esther [bleep!]ed up attempt after attempt to execute the puff pastry she had in mind, at one point enlisting Gordon's help to pour into the garbage what looked like a container of thick pink paint. Finally, in desperation, the Blue team just piled some fruit chunks into flimsy paper holders, poured something icky-looking over it, and sent that out to the slavering hordes. Did they think it would fly? "I can sell anything, Chef!" declared Ben. "That," muttered an unsold Gordon, "is the worst dish that's ever left my kitchen. I could cry. I could freakin' cry." He managed to hold it together, which was too bad. Seeing a cooking show contestant reduce Gordon Ramsay to tears, instead of the other way around, would certainly have qualified as a TV event.

After the food had been served to a great many vaguely familiar faces, including someone who my girlfriend is pretty sure was Carson Kressley, it was time to hand down the verdicts. Graham, wearing a stupid hat of his own that made him look like "Joliet Jake" Blues after anger management therapy, announced that the Red team's gazpacho was clearly superior to the competition, complimenting them on an "excellent" job. Then it was revealed that the mini-beef Wellington prepared by Christine for the Blue team had won literally unanimous support from the diners as the better of the two beef dishes. At was at this point that it began to dawn on me that some real cooking had actually been going on in the kitchen. The news came as a shock, because in the first half, the editing concentrated so exclusively on the various crack-ups and mishaps that it looked as if the evening would be an unrelieved disaster.


I can understand the thinking that goes into a decision of this kind, because it is fun to watch people crash and burn, but it's more fun when there's an example of competence or even brilliance to compare it to. Anyway, the teams were now tied, with the winner to be decided based on who had the more successful dessert. Given all the time that had been lavished on establishing that the Blue team had produced the most pitiful dessert in the history of human taste buds, this was, to put it mildly, anticlimactic. The fruit tart that Giuseppe had made for the Red team was declared the winner, which was a good thing, since Giuseppe had made it clear that if he came in second to that fruit salad thing, he was going to pitch himself off the hotel roof.

Having seen to it that the scrounging bottom feeders of Hollywood got fed for one more day, everyone crawled back to the relatively dignified confines of the MasterChef kitchen, where the members of the Blue team were forced to try to prove their worthiness to remain on the show by baking the best six-layer cakes they could manage. Christine managed to convey the quality of team spirit on display when she said, "Since my beef Wellington was so amazing last night, it just blows that I'm standing here." Considering that she ended up in the bottom three, having earlier provided her team with their only bragging rights of the evening, she had a point. She got to stick around, but only after one of those indefensible, stroke-inducing moments where one of the hosts is interrupted by a commercial break just when he's doing his best to make it sound as if she's going home, only to announce, after the commercials, that she's sticking around. If Elvis had lived to see one of these things, he'd have never stopped shooting his TV set.


Instead, and with a considerable amount of raw justice, the evictee was Esther, sent away as punishment for having executed a cake that, as Gordon said, "looks like it was put together in a panic." As for Ben, for the second or third time since the season began, he managed to wow the judges, and for the second or third time since the season began, everyone reacted as if they'd been keeping him around out of pity and could scarcely believe it that the little weirdo really can cook. I wish I could point to something very different between the Ben who pulled off the perfect layer cake and the one who was on display earlier in the show, but I'm afraid the only real difference was that he had put on another of his dumbass hats. I don't want to think too much about the implications of that, and I hope Ben doesn't want to, either. If he did, he might show up for the next challenge looking like Carmen Miranda.

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