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MasterChef: “Top 7 Compete (1 Returns)”

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Tonight’s Mystery Box challenge involves cooking a steak, and you know what that means. That is, unless you think it means that Gordon is going to deliver a stirring tribute to the majesty of Walmart’s meat department. Gentlemen now dining in the highest-priced steakhouses of Chicago shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, and hold their palettes cheap whiles any speaks that bought their steaks from Lou at Walmart! But either Gordon has already torn through all the testimonials to Walmart that his contract required him to deliver, or he’s too choked up to speak, because it’s Joe who does the talking, a precedent that will establish the pattern for much of the rest of the episode. “Walmart,” Joe intones, sounding perhaps just a touch more bored than usual, “uses the highest quality beef, which is inspected by the USDA for quality.”


Only someone for whom English is not the primary language, or someone who really doesn’t give a shit, wouldn’t have fought to drop that second use of the word “quality,” explaining to the sponsors that it smacks of special pleading. After the cooks have repaired to a massive truck parked outside—the one that has the word “WALMART” emblazoned on the side in huge letters—to select their additional ingredients, they come back to the kitchen and fall to work. The judges move among them, inquiring as to how things are going. James, who has already distinguished himself by predicting that he will do especially brilliantly in this challenge because of his red-meat manliness, doesn’t miss a beat, saying, “Every time we use these Walmart steaks, I’m blown away by the quality of them!” Walmart steaks are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful steaks I’ve ever known in my life…”

In the course of their perambulations, the judges point out to Jordan that he has yet to win a Mystery Box challenge. Then, when preparing to call up their top three picks, Joe announces that, referring to the first lucky cook, “This person has never won a Mystery Box challenge, but this could be the day this person changes that.” You have to love the way he tries to keep everyone guessing until the last minute by treating the cook’s gender as if it were a state secret. It’s Jordan, of course. Next up is Luca, but in complimenting Luca on how well he’s been doing lately, the judges go so far overboard in talking about how far he’s come from the useless, dork-fingered doofus of the early episodes that I sort of wished he’d feel insulted, lose his fiery Italian shit, and cut somebody.

Finally, there’s Krissi, whose steak impresses the judges with its uncustomary high-class airs—she even slaps some taters on the plate next to the cow carcass and calls them “pomme de Krissi.” From the way the judges carry on, you get the feeling they can scarcely believe that this shrill hunk of trailer trash is capable of such sophisticated fare. So Krissi, too, seems to have grounds for feeling insulted, but instead, she eats it up. “You know,” she tells Gordon, as coquettishly as she can manage, “I’ve never been to a fancy steakhouse.” Gordon resists the urge to react to this news by clutching his chest and staggering around the room, shouting to Elizabeth that he’s coming to join her.

The judges line these three up side by side and tell the room that the winning chef produced a dish that “outsmarted the competition,” and the editor cannot resist the temptation to patch in a shot of Luca looking slack-jawed and irritable, as if he’d recently had his ego bruised after being outsmarted by a postage meter. Yes, the winner is Krissi, which sets off the usual round of groans and eye-rolling from everyone else. It’s not just that they all want her gone, but that, given the opportunity to make things difficult for her competitors, she throws herself into the task with such juvenile sadistic relish. Tonight, she gets to decide which cook will work with which bird—a turkey, a duck, a pigeon, etc.


A live specimen of each bird is present for the occasion, and there is much attempted hilarity over seeing the cooks enter the pantry to discover their feathered friends waiting for them, followed by more hearty yucks as the people are briefly teased with the prospect of possibly having to butcher their own protein. In the end, of course, they don’t have to. These lame attempts at humor, non-starters both, are just the prelude to what seems meant to be the show-stopping highlight of the evening: The chance to see Krissi, up on the boardwalk as her rivals cook, jeering and chortling and making grotesque hand gestures. If the editor loves this stuff so much, why doesn’t he marry it? A little if it makes me want to cower behind my chair.

The final results are actually the most satisfying part of this episode, mainly because the results are deemed by the judges to be mostly satisfying; it’s nice when this show seems to be about a competition among a bunch of cooks who basically deserve to be there. Luca, whom Krissi presents with a turkey because, she figures, they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving in Italy, and James are the ones who do very well, but no cigar; Bri, who just cooks the bejesus out of that pigeon, and Natasha are the future team leaders; and the booby prize is divided between Jessie, whose fried chicken breast is sneered at by Joe as something for “a country fair,” and Jordon, who has never cooked a quail before, and who tries to compensate for his inexperience by ignoring the bird for most of cooking time, as if he’d given himself up for dead and didn’t want to overexert himself as he was being lowered into his grave. The judges seem to be on the verge of deciding that Jessie’s sin is the greater, just because of her lack of ambition—as a dumbfounded Krissi tells the camera, “I gave her chicken!”—but she did at least make something edible, whereas Jordan’s bird was mostly raw. He hangs up his apron and exits the building, hoping to catch a ride back home with the Walmart truck. Never having won a Mystery Box challenge is just something he’s going to have to make his peace with.


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