The judges are in a prankish mood tonight. Having gathered the contestants for the Mystery Box challenge, they bid them to lift the boxes in front of them and reveal the ingredients they’ll be using. While Joe and Gordon suppress their giggles, Gordon tells them to raise their boxes—now!, and damned if the space in front of them is bare. “Christine, there’s nothing in them,” Joe calls out to the First Blind Contestant In MasterChef History, just in case she hasn’t gotten the joke and thinks that the judges have taken out a patent on a new kind of food that you can pass your hand through.
What’s the big idea? Well, the judges announce, everyone is going to be sent to the pantry and permitted to select up to 15 ingredients, for use in the creation of “a dish that will say who you are, on a plate.” The contestants all think this plan is a bit of all right and charge the gates, returning to their stations with armfuls of food, then set about preparing their autobiographical flavors. Hold it, hold it, says Gordon—did you think it was really going to be that easy? What show have you been watching? Okay, everybody, pass your ingredients to the person in front of you. A collective groan escapes the room. Graham, as if making his first baby steps toward cultivating a reality-TV supervillain persona, allows himself an unimpressively mild “Hahaha!”
Some of the comments from the contestants, upon seeing what their rivals snatched up when they had the chance, are moderately choice, ranging from Monti’s “What the hell is fish sauce, and why does it taste like death?” to Becky’s more minimalist, “Celery? Really!?” Fun and games over, the judges consider the process unfolding before them and express their doubts that Monti, who appears to be pounding ants to death with her skillet, will be up to doing anything with the Asian fixings she got from Christine, but look forward to tasting the “crispy chicken skin” Becky is working on. Then, they call time, and, as if jinxed, Becky has to confess that she suffered a massive and untimely brain fart that prevented her from actually removing the skin from the oven and putting it on a plate. Josh, Monti, and Christine are declared the standouts, with Josh taking the win. Somewhere in there, the camera confirms Christine’s standing as the class act in the room by catching her face-splitting grin when Monti is called up. This stands in direct contrast to Frank, who folds his arms and glowers as if the platter he was forced to entrust to Josh contained the last known Italian sausage in the world.
As the winner, Josh gets to choose which of three dishes, each designed and prepared by Graham on the orders of some cultural titan, the contestants will have to recreate. As soon as Josh hears that the third dish, tuna sashimi, was requested by President Obama, the slop that Oprah and Jay-Z ordered doesn’t stand a chance, even if Graham does put in a good word for Jay-Z’s Alaskan king crab, noting that “he’s got 99 problems, but this dish ain’t one!” Graham mentions to Josh that he encourages “artistic freedom” in the kitchen, and that if Josh, rather than slavishly imitating his recipe, can find a way to improve on it, he has his full approval. Josh grabs a mango, because he missed the part where Graham, in a voice that only dogs and the viewers of cooking-competition shows can hear, added, “Not that you or anybody else is likely to.”
The cooks fall to their task. For once, there is no misdirection in the judges’ play-by-play. They all tsk-tsk over Monti’s slow plating time and Josh’s sloppy knife work, and sure enough, both of them are made to stand for examination and possible elimination. So is Becky, who takes it as well as she ever takes any setback: She feels, she says, that the judges “expect more of me, so that if, God forbid, I don’t do something perfect, I get reamed for it.” On the other hand, Christine’s dish practically inspires the judges to religious visions. Joe, the onetime doubting Thomas of her cult, tells Christine that he thinks he’s finally figured out how she operates. “When I drink wine, which is not so visual,” he says, “I see things.” Don’t get him started on what happens when he sniffs glue.
Frank is praised for his work, but the editors barely pause long enough to mention him, so eager are they to cover Christine’s coronation and move on to this week’s beheading. After a whole episode spent unhappily on the sidelines, he’s probably going to need a crowbar to get his arms uncrossed. After telling Josh that he’s “misfired” on every level, the judges throw him a lifeline and send Monti home. Graham tells her that, through fast thinking and adaptability, she’s managed to stay in the race this long, but that the tuna sashimi was out of her league. He seems genuinely fond of her and maybe even a little impressed with her, and he almost certainly doesn’t mean to sound as if he’s saying that she had a great run but finally met a dish that she couldn’t get lucky with and pull out of her ass, even if that’s kind of how it sounds.