MasterChef: Firefighters, Vegas, Lidia, and Glee (7-10)

I’ll be honest, I don’t have that much to say about these episodes. After reading Ben’s writeup about the Firefighters and Vegas episodes, I seriously considered whether to even watch the two episodes since his blog basically told me everything relevant about the episodes.

MasterChef is getting painful for me to watch. It’s painful to see the horrendous, thinly veiled product placement bits (ahem, Walmart). It’s painful to see the angry, nasty divisions that come between the contestants. It’s painful to see contestants that I have a soft spot for go home. It’s painful for me to think about the kind of pressure the contestants are under. It’s painful for me to see the hate some contestants get because a comment they said in an interview was taken out of context, spliced into the segment at a certain time in order to portray them a certain way. Most of all, it’s painful to see all of this going on primarily for the six figure salaries of the TV producers and executives.

Yes, I shop at Walmart. It and stores like it (Kroger, Fiesta, etc.) are the only place I can get groceries off of my $400/week income. Would I prefer to shop at Central Market (see my review of my local CM, which I LOVE, here), where I source most of the ingredients for the Kessler? Of course! Even though CM has pretty reasonable prices on some items, when I’m shopping for a household of two (Stephen and I), on a budget that small, I have to visit the big name grocery stores. It’s the only place I can get a week’s worth of groceries for $30. But I would never associate any of those stores with exceptional quality (Maybe sprouts though, which I also LOVE for meat and produce), that deserve the accolades of famous chefs like Gordon, Graham, and Joe.

I don’t have much to say about the challenge itself (just the usual deal), but the whole spat at the end was extremely disheartening. EXTREMELY disheartening. I couldn’t help but be brought back to being at Camp Pendleton last year at the end of our absolutely DEVASTATING loss in the Marine challenge (made even more devastating in hindsight because it’s what put me in the pressure test and ultimately sent us home). But it’s the reaction from our team that was memorable for me, and ultimately made me the friends that I still have today. We were all absolutely crushed and devastated, since we had performed absolutely beautifully. Everybody did his/her job flawlessly, things were clicking like a well oiled machine, I even caught several pieces of raw chicken as quality control and prevented them from being sent out (likely preventing a Ramsay meltdown upon discovery), and our teamwork and communication was impeccable. But we still lost, because our menu wasn’t up to par. But rather than point fingers and cuss each other out, we all shouldered the blame. Christine was devastated that she couldn’t help the team more in the challenge, relegated (along with me) to chopping vegetables the entire time. She did a damn good job, but trust me, it is demoralizing to be doing such a simple task while the rest of the team is frantically running around doing EVERYTHING else. I was devastated after taking so much flak from the grill, and also for not being able to help more (I chopped vegetables with Christine for most of the time after I was kicked off the grill, then was a floater for a bit). Scott was doing his best to cheer me up, saying that me catching the raw chicken and not letting it go out was a crucial role that saved us from more trouble (probably right). Frank was off to the side, with moist eyes and a lump in his throat, battling the emotions of leading a fantastic team but failing in making the menu decisions. Christine was starting to weep from overwhelming emotion and frustration (poor thing, having to go through all of that while not being able to see…can’t imagine). Meanwhile, the cameras were trying to zoom in and get a good angle of Christine’s weeping, the the interviewers are already weaving through us asking whose fault it is. In the midst of this, a reaction of anger, divisiveness, blame, and frustration would be extremely understandable. But rather than do that, we chose to RESPECT our teammates. Each and every single one of us had earned the respect of the other members of our team, even though there were clearly strong performers (Tanya, Felix, Scott, Stacey), and those that had minor issues (Me, Christine, Frank, Tali).

Contrast that with the scene after the Red team after the loss. Beth criticizes the cauliflower puree (I agree that it sounded a little…weird…especially with cumin?), and Natasha just goes NUCLEAR. Natasha is a strong cook who clearly takes pride in her food, but doesn’t really like to be criticized. That can totally come back to bite her, but her reaction is understandable. I wouldn’t have felt good if my food was criticized as disgusting, but lashing out in such a violent and equally if not more insulting manner does not seem like the right thing to do. In the words of Ben Starr, the attitude is flying “faster than Bastianich spit”, and it’s stomach turning to watch. 

Plus, I am getting absolutely SICK of these “twists”, “advantages,” or whatever the hell else you want to call them. This whole saving people thing drives me NUTS. It demeans this as a “competition” so much. It first got widespread use during our season, and when our losing team was presented with that offer, we were not having any of it. It wasn’t until 30 minutes later, with the judges basically screaming that we were all idiots, cowards, and foolish bastards and threatening to send us all home that Stacey finally cracked under the pressure and accepted the pass, weeping the whole way up the stairs. Now, it’s being tossed around every challenge like candy, and the contestants (and audiences?) are gobbling it up, while it really is just a giant drama engine that goes under the guise of “strategy”. If the producers want to make a show about strategy, maybe they should make “MasterChessPlayer” instead of “MasterChef.” Or a show on Mafia. Omg, I love that game. But this is supposed to be a cooking show on finding the best home cook in America, and each little “twist” further invalidates its credibility as a legitimate competition. Anybody that is watching with their mind engaged can see that the producers have their fingers behind every little detail in each outcome. When the mystery box winner gets immunity (and it doesn’t ALWAYS happen actually), it’s because the producers want the contestant to make it to the team challenge. When Bime was automatically saved by the judges rather than them giving him the chance to save himself, it was because the producers WANTED him safe and were afraid that he wouldn’t choose to save himself if given the option. Blind versus open voting in team challenges. And don’t even get me started on the whole bottom-four-going-to-vegas thing…..

I don’t have much to say about the rest of the challenge. I will say that I think Natasha’s dish is pretty clearly the worst in my mind (Mayonnaise plus broken egg). From experience making emulsions pretty frequently at the Kessler, I can say that the reason for her overly-thick sauce is too much oil, not vinegar. To make one of my signature sauces, I make mayonnaise (simply egg yolks, a little bit of acid, salt, and oil). The more OIL I add, the thicker it gets. Right when it looks about as thick as Natasha’s mayo-daise, I add a second-water based sauce (similar properties to vinegar), and it THINS out the sauce. Not criticizing her culinary knowledge (looking at her beautiful plates on twitter/instagram, it’s clear that she is a much better cook than me), but it was likely a slip of the tongue, common when faced with the nerves associated with looking a judge in the eye with a bad dish that you cooked in front of you. I just didn’t want any of you guys out there trying to make an emulsion sauce (mayo/hollandaise) and adding vinegar instead of oil to thicken it up.

On any other day, Natasha should have been sent home. But it’s her lucky day, since the producers had plans months in advance to host this particular pressure test/challenge in Vegas, and her poor performance happened to fall on this one. Ultimately, Kathy goes home, and I feel terrible for her. I feel like she was taken advantage of greatly during the process of being on the show, and wish her all the best. I honestly think her poached lobster was better than Luca’s, but the judges chose to criticize her based on something we cannot judge from home (the level of acidity in the salad), and since Luca is a much more endearing character that is essential to keep around, he stays and Kathy goes home. I still predict to see him in the top 5, if not the finals.

The ethnic food mystery box is interesting. I would have loved to know what all the ingredients were, but I don’t think we were ever presented with a full list (anybody know it?). I snorted at the Chinese pubic hair comment, and laughed at the judges playing with it (that’s the stuff that I don’t mind seeing, as it’s silly, fun, and doesn’t impact the competition aspect!)

I find it cool that Lynn is featured more. He’s an intriguing character, not just for racial reasons, but his food really does look stunning. I am pretty shocked that his dish didn’t get chosen for the top 3. I highly doubt the judges tasted his finished tartare (since it was probably seasoned/plated with only a few minutes to spare), so their criticism of his dish for being underseasoned without actually tasting the finished product seemed dubious at best. I’m not a fan of tartare, and don’t enjoy eating it, but his plate looked absolutely stunning.

Again, we have more of this advantage bullshit of people not being allowed to see. All for drama, and naught for the spirit of the competition. I’m furious.

I’m thrilled to see Lidia Bastianich, as I respect her a lot and her shows always leave me drooling. She seems like a phenomenal person that really loves food, and is a kind, grandmotherly figure.

Lynn struggles, but his dish sounds DIVINE. Short rib pasta with charred leek sauce? YES PLEASE. Undoubtedly, if he had gotten the “lesson”, he would have done extremely well.

Meanwhile, Krissi is quickly being made out to be a villain, a la Ryan from last season. I like Krissi, her brass sassiness, and her willingness to be open and honest, and her “fuck you” attitude to anybody that stands in her way. She’s a strong woman, a strong character, and very polarizing. I like her because I feel that she is REAL in a competition that has started to seem more and more FAKE.

And Howard, I feel for him terribly. With his whole monologue, and his boldness in talking back to Joe, I was rooting for him every single step of the way. It’s a classic “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” scenario. You duplicate the dish, and you get criticized for being boring and unoriginal. You put your own spin, and get nailed for being disrespectful to the roots of the dish (something Joe is prone to saying, especially about Italian dishes). I think his dish sounds tasty. Is it something that would be served in a “traditional” Italian restaurant? Absolutely not. But is is creative, thinking outside of the box, and it uses Italian techniques with Mexican ingredients. It’s really not even that much of a stretch, and the flavors actually seem to go fairly well together, if executed properly. Similar to me last season, he made some minor mistakes in execution (sauce?), but ultimately gets knocked out for being unconventional.

What also INFURIATED me was how Joe gave him so much crap for no reason, and started attacking him personally for “getting misty-eyed”. This one-way verbal slaughter of Howard screamed only one thing at me: Bully. I give him a lot of credit for staying strong and not breaking down. But if it were me on the stage, I would have either broken down into tears of rage or I would have had a shouting match with Joe Bastianich that would go down in MasterChef history. If there is one that I will not stand for, it is witnessing bullying of any sort, whether it happens to me or others, whether between kids or “adults”. It makes my blood boil, and I will ALWAYS speak out against it when I see it. It’s gotten me in trouble in the past, most notably getting me kicked out of Barley Swine, when I lashed out against the demeaning treatment I got there, but after getting mistreated for so many years of my life, I don’t let that stuff go down with out a fight.

So to Joe Bastianich, or the producers that were feeding lines to him, Shame on you.

Jane Lynch was undoubtedly told how to split the teams up. She is a phenomenal actress though, and did a good job of playing along with the game. Krissi clearly has what I perceive as the weaker team, though it’s not by her choice. Especially since she starts off doing so well, it’s clear that her team will lose (the previews for the rest of the episode also say as much…)..

The amount of blood and gore they showed when Jessie cut herself was a little excessive. Do we really need that many close-up shots of blood GUSHING out of her cut finger? AND GORDON WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING WITH THE TIP OF THE FINGER. Major gross, and unnecessary. I feel AWFUL for her. Tanya from our season nearly sliced off her thumb on a mandoline on the first day of Auditions, and had to spend most of the rest of her time there with antibiotic cream and a finger “condom” on. I imagine it will be the same with Jessie, which will make upcoming challenges much more difficult. Could that injury lead to her downfall in a future challenge that requires finger dexterity? Who knows. I have her pinned as a top 5 contestant as well, but the injury could complicate matters.

And again, I have zero faith in this blind voting thing. Disclaimer: the following are just my opinions, not facts that I have ANY proof of. I think that the margin of the final score tally was completely made up to engineer drama. I think that the blue team did lose (too many chicken plates were unservable for various reasons), but that the margin was enhanced for additional shock factor to the team and to encourage more fighting. I also think that the tallies for each individual dish were made up. I think the fried chicken WAS in fact the weak part of the menu (Spicy latin fried chicken with jalapeno ranch sounds SO much more delicious than just plain buttermilk fried chicken, not to mention the lapses in execution and raw chicken), and the judges switched the numbers around just to see how Krissi would use her passes. I applaud Krissi for standing strong and doing what SHE felt like was right, and not letting the judges get in her way. In her mind, Bime still screwed up the most with the chicken, and she for the most part did a good job with leading the team during prep and most of service, which are both reasonable, and as a result made Bime stay and sent herself upstairs. She’s a woman that plays by her own emotions, which, while it may not be the most “honorable”, earns my respect for being honest with her actions.

Now watching these close ups of Bime struggling and Krissi laughing instantly reminds me of the live crab challenge last season with Christine struggling and Ryan laughing. Editors can make it a cruel world for the contestants sometimes, and I feel like that was definitely the case. On the other hand, it can be difficult not to laugh when a contestant makes a silly mistake and frantically tries to fix it. I picture myself up on the balcony, watching Bime frantically trying to figure out how why his custard isn’t thickening by adding TEN tablespoons of cream of tartar, and even trying to put it in the freezer to get it to firm up. On any other show, it would have been a comedic sight, like watching a cartoon character trying to run, legs frantically whirling in a circle, while their belt loop is caught on a doorknob and being unable to figure out what’s going on. I don’t think her laughter was malicious, and I think the editing really gave her the short end of the stick, similar to Ryan last season, who I continually assert is a REALLY COOL GUY. At any rate, the social media attacks on her and her son are extremely rude, and I give her tons of props for not letting it bother her publicly, even though it must suck to read through that and I’m sure she hugs her kids a little tighter at night after reading those comments about what a horrible an example she is setting for her kids.

Slight aside, even I had to be called out by my fellow contestants last season to stop giggling so much during the judging of the other contestants dishes. For me, I laugh whenever I am feeling a particular emotion, whether it be happiness, nervousness, embarrassment, etc. So when the judging was going on, and I was nervous as hell waiting for my turn and the results, I would laugh excessively about each and every thing the judges said about the dishes, especially the bad things, as a way to relieve my own tensions. My fellow contestants gave me a wise warning that if I did that too much and they caught it on tape, I could be edited to look bad on TV. Very thoughtful of them to remind me, and something for you to consider.

No way or getting around it, Bime deserved to go home with his pie. But then again, I thought the same about Scott’s pie last season haha. But I think it was time for Bime to head home, so off he goes.

I will definitely watch next week’s MasterChef because my close friend Christine is on it, (and the challenge looks interesting….cooking blind? I bet that will only last for 5 minutes before the judges let them off the hook. too much liability….). But after that, I don’t know. My desire to watch it (and blog about it) has diminished significantly. The only proper way to watch MasterChef without going crazy (especially for an ex-contestant) is simply mindlessly, which makes it difficult to form complex thoughts and write a blog on them. I’m extremely ambivalent, and perhaps will make a final decision in another episode or two. What are your thoughts?

About Michael Chen

A contestant on season 3 of FOX's MasterChef! Tune in on June 4 and 5 at 9/8c to watch me compete in the top 100 home cooks in America!
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10 Responses to MasterChef: Firefighters, Vegas, Lidia, and Glee (7-10)

  1. Gregory Wright says:

    I like the angrier you! I like Krissi for all the same reasons you do. She indicated that she was laughing at his PIE, which was pretty funny, even though I felt terrible for him, coz i really liked him. But she wasn’t laughing at HIM. Your season was different than the first two, with more engineered BS drama, but this season is nuts. It’s like they really want it to be BIG BROTHER. I feel terrible for the HUGE amount of hate generated towards some of the contestants, and some hate being generated between them. And, this season, it is so obviously how much of this has been pre-ordained. Really is a shame, because I love watching homecooks cook their hearts out and show what can be done at home.

  2. Yomi Jones says:

    There’s nothing thinly veiled about the product placement on Master Chef. They talked about how ‘good’ and ‘fantastic’ Walmart steaks were for a good five minutes. Almost made me fling my remote at the tv – utterly disgusting.

    • Michael Chen says:

      hahaha. their steaks may be better than other budget grocery stores….but choice beef isn’t even that uncommon anymore. Many, if not most grocery stores offer it now.

  3. Lisa Launius says:

    Re: cauliflower and cumin. I was roasting some once, reached for the black pepper and came out with and dosed it with cumin, which was next to and in the same sized and brand container as the pepper. It’s good and I now usually add cumin to my roasted cauliflower.

    • Michael Chen says:

      Interesting. I don’t particularly like the taste of cumin, and use it primarily on meats. It has an almost fishy flavor to me, but meat, especially lamb and beef skewers, need a healthy dose of cumin and chili to taste “right”. I was never particularly fond of cumin with vegetables (unless it’s mixed well in a spice blend), but perhaps I need to try it again. I thought cocoa powder with cauliflower would be a weird combination too, but we did a cocoa roasted cauliflower at Frank (www.frankunderground.com) and it was DELICIOUS.

  4. Hey Michael,
    Boyfriend and I have been holding off on watching Season 4 until it all comes out (we like to watch things in one go) but were hoping you could answer a couple of questions for us.

    1. How much time actually goes by between auditions and the first challenges? We’re currently watching season 2 and the show makes it look like right after the aprons are handed out, everybody gets immediately sent to chop apples with no break at all.

    2. Do the contestants get cooking lessons between challenges? or what do they expect you to do in your off-time when the cameras aren’t rolling?

    3. Which leads me to… in things like elimination challenges where you have to make a very specific dish, do the contestants get a quick briefing on how it’s done? Or are they all simple enough that everyone on the show knows how, but they just look difficult to us home viewers? :p I’m wondering what would happen if someone raised their hand and said “excuse me, but I don’t have the vaguest clue how to make a souffle.”

    Thanks! :)

    • Michael Chen says:

      Hey! Thanks for asking!

      There is generally one day of break between the auditions and first challenges. The magic of editing makes it seem like there isn’t. And yes, we have to wear the same clothes for 5 days in a row (they STUNK!).

      Whenever there is a challenge where all the contestants are required to cook a specific dish that is extremely technical, there is generally a cooking lesson (for example, we learned how to make beef wellington, so if Felix had chosen that, we would have had an idea of what to do). If the dish is less technical, but still an assigned dish for the contestants to cook (risotto), the Joe made it a point to talk about the steps to cook a proper risotto. That was only like a 5 minute briefing, which is why you saw some bizarre risottos during that challenge).

      Also, there isn’t really much off time. Usually, we leave the hotel at around 7 in the morning and don’t get back until 8-9 at night. We might have one day a week (usually sunday) “off”, so to speak, for grocery shopping, laundry, cooking classes, etc.

      • Haha the risottos! We really enjoyed that episode and it actually inspired Boyfriend to start trying to cook risotto for the first time. We thought it turned out pretty well but I don’t think he’d dare serve it to Joe ;)

        It’s so interesting to hear about all the editing behind the scenes that we don’t see. I’m guessing they do something similar with the little clips of interviews? I noticed that in season 1 like half of Whitney Miller’s interviews involved her wearing the exact same orange blouse :p Now we’re super on-the-lookout for this kind of thing.

        Thanks for answering our questions, we had been wondering for awhile :)

  5. turtletitan says:

    Hey Michael,

    As a fan that hopes to get on the show someday, I agree with your comments on the “twists”/”advantages”/”disadvantages”/”saving people”. While the concept makes the “competition”/”game” more interesting, it doesn’t promote the original goal of the show – “to find the BEST home cook”. I don’t think you can be deemed “be the best” when you are only able to take out your biggest competition/threat by giving them a handicap.

    I wonder what would happen if one of the contestants just decided not to give anyone a handicap.

    • Michael Chen says:

      They will not allow it. Remember in our season, my teammates tried to turn down the free pass during the apple pie pressure test? They screamed at us for an hour and basically forced stacey to take it.

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