It’s time for another season of MasterChef, where hundreds of Home Cooks from around the country compete for validation, trying to give their pathetic lives some sort of meaning. This is my favorite reality show. It’s ridiculously contrived and many parts are obviously scripted, but it’s also expertly cast, beautifully edited, and goddamn entertaining.
Let’s meet the judges. First is Graham Elliot, the corpulent teddy bear of a chef who was so disappointed in coming off as a pushover in Season 1 that he has since overcompensated by being a hardass for the past two seasons. Will this pattern continue? His most entertaining attribute is being the worst actor of the three judges. I’ll be watching him closely, looking for tells.
Next is Joe Bastianich, restaurant owner and legitimate hardass. He has an inverse relationship with Graham, and thusly has softened since Season 1. I’ll be watching for him to play his favorite game Unfavorites, which is obviously the opposite of Favorites. He chooses a chef or chefs in the early rounds that he doesn’t think has the right stuff, so he can give his You Really Won Me Over speech near the finale.
And of course, Gordon Ramsay. This isn’t the yelly screamy insult dagger-throwing Gordon from Hell’s Kitchen. On MasterChef, he presents himself as a rational, caring person who only appears genuinely disappointed when the Home Cooks fail, which is a little disappointing for me as a viewer.
On to the episode. The Home Cooks walk through a maze of crated cantaloupes, onions, and peppers. We’re briefly introduced to a lovable young schlub, a priest, and a pair of gigantic cantaloupes. All of the Home Cooks evenly spread themselves out in a large room, and the judges come out to greet them. Many of the Home Cooks are brought to tears, due to self-awareness.
Joe says they’ll be competing for fame, notoriety, and a briefcase of $250,000. The fame and notoriety are bullshit considering the past three winners have neither of those things, but then Joe sautés some of the money, saying, “If you came here for the cash, leave now.” No one leaves, because they all came for the attention their fathers deprived them of.
Graham reveals a crystal phallus that is the MasterChef trophy. He presents it with what appears to be mock reverence, but it isn’t. He’s just being his worst actor self. God, I love him. He then lies to everyone, saying that the judges only care about what they put on the plate. Haha. Like this is a cooking show. Too good. Let’s get these auditions started.
First up is Cantaloupes – er, Natasha. While walking through the crate maze, she told us that she’s good looking. I hate her. She’s a stay-at-home mom (re: struggling actor). She fixes her lipstick before trotting out to the judges in her 5-inch heels. I really hate her. She serves the judges beer and describes herself as fiery, smoky, and hot. Her food looks and is apparently good, and Joe asks her if she cooks like that all the time, if this was just a rehearsed dish, and if she made her own pasta. She lies. They give her an apron, and in her post-audition interview, tells us she’s good-looking for the third time. I am really going to enjoy hating her so much.
Next is Christine. Uh oh. I can already tell this girl is screwed. She’s young, Asian, and very overweight. An Asian Christine won MasterChef last year, and she is blind. Heavy ain’t trumping blind. Also, no woman is going to win MasterChef at all this year after three straight female winners, so sorry ladies. Gordon says No to poor Christine. Joe says Yes. Graham pretends to think. He removes his glasses: a tell! After the commercial break, Graham says No. The hardass is back. He tells a sobbing Christine to use his rejection as inspiration like a thoughtful dick. The psychologist inside me thinks that maybe Graham doesn’t like fat people, and that’s because he has trouble loving himself. I’m also a thoughtful dick.
Misfit Montage #1. We get Rabbit Lady, Ostrich Boy, Camo-laden Bear Guy, and Water Bug Weirdo. Losers, each and every one. We’re treated to a trio of bear puns from the judges.
Our next Home Cook is Crazy-Eyes Bryan. He’s bubbling over with energy, so he’s definitely going to make it. He cooks beaver tail, giving us our first great innuendo of the season with the name of his dish, “Stripped & Shaved Beaver." After tasting it, Graham says one “could pass it off as beef.” Bryan gives a firm “I disagree” and shoots crazy-eyes at him, haunting Graham for the rest of his life. Joe likes performing cunnilingus as much as the next man, but gives this beaver a No. Gordon is a Yes. Graham fake thinks again. This time the glasses stay on: a tell! Crazy-Eyes Bryan gets the apron, and in celebration, stage dives into the crowd of Home Cooks, injuring dozens.
Preview: A tearful proposal. Oh god. Please say no. Please say no.
Misfit Montage #2. A bunch of uneventful No’s are paraded through. Apparently, camouflage is a bad look this year.
Our next Home Cook is Jordan, the lovable, young schlub from earlier. Jordan tells us he gave up everything for this, and he’s a delivery driver, so – a lot. His mom is dead, and he’s wearing the apron he once gave her. At his point, he could be cooking beaver turds and make it. His food looks very colorful, and he gives himself a 10 after Gordon asks. It somehow comes off as humble confidence, if that’s a real thing. Graham gives his ruling first and says he’s disappointed (pause) that there isn’t a plate for each of them. Acting! Brilliant! Yesses all around. Jordan is our early frontrunner.
Misfit Montage #3. The crazy breast milk eggs lady from all of the previews only gets a brief montage mention, because she’s been in all of the previews. Other montage members: struggling actors and LA weirdoes.
Next up is Adriana aka Cutie Patootie. She’s a New York resident (re: struggling actor) originally from Mexico. She grew up without a toilet and played in mud – well, let’s hope it was mud. She’ll be cooking cactus, and she brought a supportive cactus with her in lieu of her Mexican family being held up by border patrol. Just kidding. It’s actually the producers that are holding her family up to contrive a little drama. They release her family from their holding cell at the last second before Patootie heads to the judges. The cactus pretends to be happy for her. Graham gives her a Yes. Gordon is worried about how sweet she is, because it’s all about what you put on the plate. Joe is going to say Yes, but he exhales and says he’s not sure. She gives a half-assed attempt at begging, knowing he’s going to say Yes. There’s a commercial break, and she clomps out with an apron.
Winner Montage. The priest was surprisingly included, not given his own audition segment.
Our next Home Cook to audition is George, an average looking middle-aged bachelor. Prediction: a close No. He’s making Greek wedding soup and tells the judges that he wants to propose to his fiancée. I didn’t recognize him without all the tears and snot. Prediction: she says Yes, much to my cold heart’s chagrin. His meatballs are terrible, so Joe is a No. Graham pretends to like the broth enough to give a Yes. Gordon makes George go get his fiancée, so he can reject him in front of her, showing her what a loser he is before he proposes. It doesn’t matter. She still says yes. As they leave, the judges participate in the Greek tradition of throwing plates at the couple, killing them.
Preview: Stereotypical Philadelphians!
Our final Home Cook of the episode is Christy or Krissy. Nope, it’s Krissi. She’s a single mom with a fighting spirit, so she’s definitely getting an apron. She didn’t know her son was coming and breaks down in tears when she sees him. I feel nothing. He’s wearing camouflaged shorts, which hasn’t worked out so far, but something tells me the third time is the charm. This kid is adorable. It’s like he’s straight out of Central Casting. Krissi goes in front of the judges and introduces her home-style meatloaf dish. Then she makes air quotes while mentioning her “son.” I knew it! After tasting the dish, Gordon want to see this “son.” He wants to be a chef, just like Gordon and his “mother.” As a chef, the “son” rates his “mom” an 11. She breaks down again. Three Yesses from the judges, and – uh oh. Oh shit. Did the show get me? No way could it get me. That can’t be a tear in my eye. Damn you, MasterChef!
Joe legitimately tears up as well, and I feel a little better about my shameful weakness.
Until next episode! Which is right after this one.