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MasterChef: “Top 13 Compete”/“Top 12 Compete”

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The evening begins with a Mystery Box challenge. As James sums it up: “There are children who won’t sleep tonight because we took that box off that animal.” When the boxes are removed, every station is decorated with the decapitated, bright-eyed head of a pig. Krissi complains that her dead pig’s head is staring at her. Get back to us if it winks at you. The judges move among the cooks, who have 90 minutes to do something brilliant with Babe’s noggin. They are surprisingly impressed with what they see. Maybe Jonny speaks for the room when Gordon asks him how he’s managed to up his game and Johnny meekly replies that he doesn’t want “to be yelled at by you guys.”


When the pig’s heads have all been cooked, the judges call Lynn to their table and gush over his braised pig’s ear. Graham says that while Lynn has always been a master of presentation, this is the first time that he’s not only given them the best-looking thing in the room, but achieved the taste sensation to match. Joe rhapsodizes, “If I was in that room now, and I knew what this dish tastes like, I’d be terrified.” By the time the judges call up Jessie and Jonny and tell them that they made their other favorite dishes of the challenge, a viewer might suspect that Lynn has it in the bag, and they’re only going to the bother of selecting two other people to compliment for appearance’s sake, and that viewer might not be wrong.

By winning the Mystery Box challenge, Lynn scores a real doozy of a reward. He gets to go into the supply closet and meet Christine, the winner from last year. She has selected three of her favorite ingredients, all of which, Gordon mentions, are “heavily featured” in her “stunning new cookbook,” which viewers can purchase at Fox.com, or at their favorite bookstores, if they’re time travelers watching the show from some moment in the recent past when there were still bookstores. Out of these ingredients, Lynn decides to stick the least-loved contestant Krissi with the catfish, while everyone else will get to cook with a live crab. Bri, the vegetarian who has just finished washing the pig head off her hands, readily concedes that the live crab is a nice touch.

After a break in the action for a practical joke—the cooks are told that, to better help them emulate the sightless Christine, they will be working with blindfolds over their eyes, and damned if they don’t tie them on and do their best until it looks as if Joe might give himself a hernia from laughing—the cooks set to work in earnest. It immediately becomes clear that some of them no longer fear being yelled at quite as much as they should. Krissi, in particular, does not impress the judges with what she’s working on. “What is this, like, survival food?” Joe asks her. When he goes back to whispering with his fellow judges, the gloves come off; Krissi, he confides, appears to be making some kind of, “like, Sunday night leftover dinner.” The two of them almost come to blows when she presents the finished product. Joe accuses her of that most heinous of crimes, wasting his time. Trying to be a little more empathetic, Graham asks Krissi, “What are you gonna think if that’s your last dish?” One look into her eyes tells you a lot about just what she’s thinking.

She squeaks by, though, and it’s Beth, she of the sporty headgear, who has served her last dish. “Beth,” Gordon tells her, after her food has been judged inferior to both Krissti’s catfish that has driven Joe to apoplexy and Luca’s risotto, which inspires Gordon to ask the classic question, “Why does it look like a bowl of soup?” Then the two best cooks of the night, Natasha and James, are made team captains for a challenge to provide entrees worthy of the marriage of Aaron and Anya, “a flavor scientist and his foodie fiancée.” The brief snippet of the bride in her natural habitat takes us for a few seconds into Real Housewives territory. Anya tells a friend that she’s wearing her hair down because Aaron all but ordered her to. The friend agrees that her hair looks best that way: Aaron, everyone agrees, gets it when it comes to her hair. “That’s all he gets,” says Anya. Tonight, they will be married, and she will laugh at his mighty sword. Lord, help him, if you can.


The first hour of the night has a steady buzz that Krissti feeds with her defensive anger and inability to stop herself from giving Joe back talk. Despite the promising wedding set-up, the second hour feels as if the editors didn’t have enough to work with and ended up playing three-card monte with the footage, when they weren’t using it for a taffy pull. Much screen time is spent establishing that Natasha doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing and her team is a runaway train on a track that’s started to buckle. Then, once service starts, Natasha is expertly running a well-oiled machine, whereas James’s people so bungle their delivery that, minutes into the service, they’re five tables behind. Then they catch up, and suddenly, the two teams are as good as neck-and-neck, except they’re not so good that James’ team doesn’t lose. After Gordon, Graham, and Joe have taken turns deciding which team members acquitted themselves well enough that they shouldn’t have to compete in the elimination test, all that’s left is a contest between Lynn and Johnny to prepare and fork over the best slim box containing a dozen macaroons.

Lynn got himself in this mess because, in the heat of the wedding-reception preparations, he sweat all over everything like an insufficiently decapitated pig. He doesn’t sweat all over his macaroons, but he doesn’t really know anything about making macaroons, and the judges doubt some of his choices. Jonny, on the other hand, loses his shit while trying to jam his macaroons into a too-small box and gives the thing a whack, so that when the box is opened, it looks, as James puts it, “like a war zone.” Some of his friends waiting on the balcony hear the judges speaking gently to him, as some of us will be inclined to speak to a large man with a mohawk who is under great pressure and hits things when his temper gets the better of him. They also praise his flavors more than they do Lynn, but this is clearly a case of trying to be nice to the dead man walking. At the end, Jonny takes his leave, while Krissi, to the chagrin of many, continues to live to cackle another day.


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