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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

MasterChef: "Top 9 Compete"

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This week, we started winnowing out the top ten. We would have winnowed even further, but the new episode that was scheduled for last night got bumped for the President's speech about the budget wars. It's too bad he didn't ask the judges to deliver it for him. "You sniveling, belly-aching little insects! You think this is your high school yearbook committee you've been elected to? It's the [bleep!]ing United States Congress!" Well, by "the judges", I guess I just mean Gordon and Joe. Not to get all political in this space, but the last thing Obama needs is to be any more like Graham in his confrontational approach. Of the three amigos, only Graham would stare at a plateful of raw pork that someone has presented to him for his delectation and meekly say, "I can't really find anything nice to say about this." Mind you, he was also the only one who—on-camera, at least—actually put some of it in his mouth. With Graham, giving an ugly-looking plate of food the benefit of the doubt will trump the threat of trichinosis every time.

This week, the mystery box contained, as Gordon put it in his fill-in-the-blank celebratory style, "the most amazing scallops!" Christian, as usual, went directly from learning that he would be preparing seafood to looking as if it took all the self-control he could muster to march right to the front of the room and announce, "I'd like to thank the Academy…" Determined not to be outdone just because he didn't know what he was doing, Derrick began pounding the bejesus out of the meat, though any scallop that needed tenderizing should probably be checked for dangerous levels of radioactivity. "I've never pounded a scallop," Gordon told him, "and I've been cooking for twenty-five years." Derrick could only think to reply, "Right," which earned him a funny stare from Gordon. Not everyone was impressed with the prize ingredient. "I'm not quite sure what these shells are," said Christine. "Obviously some… shellfish." When Gordon sauntered over to her and asked her what she was cooking, she choked, big time. "I'm thinking, um, um, um, have a little, um, maybe grilled, corn and beans scattered around with maybe a little fish stock." This time it was Gordon's turn to simply say, "Right."

Adrien got to hear his scallop dish proclaimed by the judges to be superior even to Christian's, which earned him a mental hug from everybody else in the room. He was taken in the back room and introduced to this week's special guest star, a pig the size of a Shetland pony. Bringing Wilbur on was the show's way of announcing that the contestants would be working with pork. As his reward for having distinguished himself in the preliminary challenge, Adrien was permitted to decide which parts of the pig he and his rivals would be working with, a touch that Joe, always looking for a change to slip in a passing reference to Italian history, described as "Machiavellian." Adrien took the pork chops for himself, and stuck it to Christian by giving him the dreaded pork cheeks. When Christian and some of the other chefs found out what they'd be required to work with, the little white spot that covers people's mouths in accompaniment to the "bleep!" noise was much in evidence. But it was all in good fun, and a bustling, jolly atmosphere prevailed. Getting into the spirit of things, an anonymous technician, at one point, put the little white spot over the pig's mouth.

In the end, Adrien's strategy failed to pay off the way he'd hoped. His pork chops were a safe choice that he executed capably but failed to hit out of the park. They did indeed keep him safe, but won him no major plaudits. On the other hand, Christian, being Christian, greatly annoyed everyone by wowing the judges with the miracle he'd wrought from the pork cheeks. The world being unstable, unpredictable, and probably insane, Christine was declared the first runner-up; the two of them will face off as team captains next week. But the more exciting question was, who had ridden their pig into a ditch full of toxic waste? Gordon saw no reason to be coy about it. When Suzy presented him with a glazed pork belly that made his eyes water, in a bad way, it was clear that the real special guest of the evening would be Mean Gordon, a registered trademark of Fox that had barely stuck his head in the door so far this season.

Gordon's soliloquy on the dish before him sounded like an outtake from Anthony Bourdain's travel series, rewritten for Rudy Ray Moore. "[bleep!] One word for that: [bleep!] Quite possibly the worst sauce I've ever tasted in my entire [bleep!] life. It's bits of chewed-up dog [bleep!] and crap stuck together, with, you know, soft bits on the the bottom… [bleep!][to the other judges:] Be careful!" Suzy was followed by Jennifer, who also failed to hit Gordon in the sweet spot: "I just look at that, and it looks like the pig [bleep!]ed on my bowl." I'd like to think that, just as Adrien paid Christian a backhanded rival's compliment by forcing him to cook with what he figured would be a hopeless ingredient, this freak-out was Gordon's way of reminding the contestants who were still standing that they were the best of the best and so had to step up, and if they didn't, then it was assumed that they were tough enough to stand being reamed out. Another possibility is that he thinking ahead to watching the rushes and that he and the cameraman had devised a drinking game where everyone in the screening room throws back a shot every time that Gordon says or does something that causes Ben Starr to make a face like the figure in Munch's The Scream.

Still, for all Gordon's most colorful efforts to express himself, there was no doubt at all about who'd be going home as soon as Alejandra threw that plate of raw pork loin on the table. If the judges have made nothing else clear over the course of two seasons, they have managed to hammer home their disdain for being asked to consume uncooked meat products. That's not to say that Gordon went easy on Alejandra, just because she was doomed. When Alejandra addressed him as "Sir", he snapped back, "Name's Gordon, [bleep!] 'Sir'", and then he began to expand on the general theme of how insulting it is to see people expect you to let them get away with underperforming when you're trying to do them a favor! "We're down to the final nine, not [bleep!] ninety, and I think of the Muppets and the [bleep!] idiots, we had to get through, for [bleep!] days on end, eating [bleep!], from redneck sushi to this [bleep!] I don't accept it!"


Leaving aside how much he sounded like John Cleese in the Monty Python sketch where a diner's complaint about being given a dirty fork in a restaurant leads to the chef trying to attack him with a cleaver, these diatribes were striking because of how different he did sound from the Gordon Ramsay of Hell's Kitchen, whose shtick is building to a frothing rage over the blundering of a pack of incompetents. Here, he really did sound disappointed and crushed over the failure of someone he thought could do better. I'm not sure I'd say it was touching, but it was sort of stirring, in its way. That said, I hope to Christ the redneck sushi guy wasn't watching.

Stray observations:

Okay, this has nothing to do with the show, but I watch it live, which means I have to watch the commercials. And you know how Bettie Page refused to be photographed or make public appearances when she was rediscovered as an old woman, because she wanted the fans who'd projected so many steamy fantasies onto her to remember her as only she was when she was a red hot mama? You know where I'm going with this, don't you, Fabio?