Wednesday, September 17, 2014

S5E19: Digest This Finale Recap with your Brain

Are you pumped?! That’s not pumped enough! I want you as pumped as all of these paid extras that strangely appear to all be in their early twenties! It’s like they all just moved to Hollywood with dreams of becoming famous and are at the MasterChef Finale because they need this pittance of a paycheck to stay alive for the next few months before moving back home and taking mailroom jobs at their fathers' accounting firms. But that isn’t the case. These are real fans. And they’re really pumped! They aren’t worried about not having chairs, because they’re going to be on their feet for the whole show, cheering on the two best Home Cooks in America!

By now, you should know that I’m referring to Courtney and Elizabeth. They’ve been at the front of the competition all season long—except for that donut episode when Kira was inexplicably sent home instead of Courtney—and they’re ready to battle it out for the title of MasterChef.

Oh wait. They’re already sitting. Get up, you ungrateful megalomaniacs! This is the MasterChef Finale!

We’re treated to a montage of some of our favorite MasterChef moments from Season 5. I NEED YOU ON THE GRILL. YOU’RE NOT SORRY AT ALL. I’M NOT GOING TO STAND HERE AND BE ABUSED. All of them classics. But that’s the past, and this is the (pre-taped) present. Let’s welcome our finalists.

The MasterChef Doors open, and in walks Elizabeth. She lives in New York and works at an advertising agency. “I enjoy my career,” she tells us. And why wouldn’t she? Being a creative in advertising is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. But Elizabeth wants more. She has culinary dreams. She has cookbook writing dreams. And she might just see them come true today. The favorite, Elizabeth made it through the entire season without facing a Dreaded Pressure Test. That’s impressive, but will the lack of Dreaded Practice be her downfall? The only thing that stands in her way is herself.

Oh, and Courtney. From Philadelphia, Courtney is embarrassed of her past, not that she should be. She paid her bills by working in a gentleman’s club. (America gasps in horror and clutches its pearls.) This is her chance for a new beginning, a career that will make her family proud. Courtney has faced more scorn from the internet crowd than any of her co-competitors due to everyone projecting his or her own insecurities onto a female target that has the gall to utilize her feminine charm. I, too, was hard on her at first, but then she began to display real emotion, passion, and even occasional vulnerability. Add that to some serious cooking chops, and you’ve got a pretty compelling character

Courtney and Elizabeth’s fallen comrades stand on the MasterChef Balcony to watch the finale. It’s good to see these familiar faces again, but unfortunately Little Gordon couldn’t be with us. He died. RIP.

Release the relatives! Elizabeth’s mother encourages her to “Cook your ass off.” I decide to call my mom and see if she has any words of encouragement for me. She tells me, “Stop using so much toilet humor. You’re embarrassing the family.”

Courtney is pretty stoked to see her family. The run in to greet her. “Is Cooper here?” she asks them. He is. That was adorable. I’ll even forgive the argyle sweater. But just this once.

Get these families out of here. It’s time for the main event.

Tonight’s challenge is to make an appetizer, an entrée, and finish with dessert. “Three identical plates of each course, one for each of us,” instructs Graham. They have ten minutes to get everything they need from the MasterChef Pantry, and their time starts…now.

Leslie wants Elizabeth to win. Willie thinks you shouldn’t count Courtney out, because she works well under pressure. Daniel says that Elizabeth is the Terminator, and she’s going to shut Courtney down just as soon as she’s done murdering Sarah Connor.

Elizabeth is planning on making a grilled octopus with a warm chorizo and chickpea salad for her appetizer. That’s pretty risky. If she overcooks the octopus, it will be tough and rubbery. If she undercooks it, the octopus will strangle the judges.

Courtney will be making a crispy pig’s ear with dandelion and fennel salad and a quail egg. That’s also risky. Gordon loves calling bad dishes a “dog’s dinner,” and pig’s ears are literally what dogs eat.

Time begins, and our two finalists tie their hair back and get to work.

Hey, Kira! How’s it going? Read this blog often? Me? I’m not up to too much. Just chillin’. Writin’ recaps. Working out a lot. Okay, I got to get back to it. See ya around!

“There are no heels in the kitchen anymore,” says Elizabeth, incorrectly. “It’s knives, and it’s time to do battle. Let’s do this.” She has her game face on. And her game boots.

Guess who likes pig’s ears. This guy. “I think it’s a very awesome, trendy way to go,” says Cutter, always with his finger on the pulse.

Cook, cook, cook.

Could Joe be any more in Courtney’s corner? “Courtney’s strategy is working,” he says. “She put the full court press on Elizabeth, and I think Elizabeth is beginning to buckle under the pressure.” The way he blatantly roots for the Italian contestants is starting to feel like a reverse hate crime.

Time begins to run out as Elizabeth pulls her octopus out of the pressure cooker at the very last minute, and they both begin plating. Victoria is pumped. I mean it this time. She’s legit pumped

Time ends, and they bring their plates forward. Courtney says Elizabeth’s plating looks a little haphazard but overall the dish appears to be okay. Elizabeth’s eyeballs disagree. 

They serve the judges in the MasterChef Restaurant, and Elizabeth goes first with her grilled octopus with chickpea and chorizo salad. “This is truly an octopus that I can eat with my eyes,” says Joe, tentacles hanging from his tear ducts. But when he takes a bite with his mouth, he’s less pleased. “I think you may have overcooked the octopus.” Graham and Gordon both compliment her flavors and aggressive spicing with no additional word on the cook of the octopus.

Courtney presents her crispy pig’s ear with dandelion and fennel salad. Elizabeth tells us that it looks like a usual Courtney dish: “meticulous and soulless.” Joe calls the dish “assertive and opinionated,” meaning that in a good way, I think. Graham says it tastes great. Gordon says that Courtney delivers “a punch with flavor. Great job.”

It appears that Courtney has a slight lead going into the entrées. They have sixty minutes to prepare them, and their time starts…now.

Graham says that they are neck and neck, so maybe Courtney doesn’t have a lead. Elizabeth begins working on a rack of lamb, another dish very sensitive to cook time. Courtney is preparing a sumac duck breast, calling it very traditional. 

“Hey, Coop. Wanna see some fire?” asks Courtney. He does.

“I mean, I can flambé, but I don’t need to,” says Elizabeth. It appears that Courtney is getting under her skin, and—oh hey, Kira! Having a good time? I’m just finishing up this recap but still finding the time to play with my dog. Yeah, I have a dog, and I love her. She’s a rescue. I rescued her. From a burning building.

Courtney begins plating while Elizabeth’s lamb is still in the oven. “Tonight, I am struggling with time more than I have anytime previously,” says Elizabeth. The pressure is getting to her. Perhaps the lack of Dreaded Pressure Test experience is coming back to haunt her. She takes the lamb out and begins cutting it. The first slices look good, but the last ones, not so much. “That looks really rare,” says Christian. Trust him on this. No one is more honest.

Oh my god! Is that a g-g-g-ghost?? No, it’s Little Gordon! He’s alive! Bless his little heart.

Time ends, and they bring their plates forward. Courtney says she thinks Elizabeth’s lamb looks raw. Oooooh! “No, it’s medium rare,” says Elizabeth. That comment really bothered her. “Courtney started something,” she tells us, “and at this point, the gloves are off. My dish is about to knock this bitch out. It’s on.” The fight is on, she means. The gloves are off. And the heels are off, too. Except for Courtney’s heels. Those are on.

Elizabeth presents her spiced rack of lamb with red quinoa and carrot purée. She admits to Joe that his is undercooked, but I think she was smart to serve that one to Joe, seeing as how he is already in full support of Courtney and a lost cause. Gordon’s is cooked perfectly, however, and he is particularly impressed with the quinoa. Graham calls the dish a knockout. Elizabeth removes her mouth guard and spits blood into a bucket as her trainer applies Vaseline to the cut over her eye.

Courtney presents her sumac duck breast with spring vegetables and farro. “Visually gorgeous, and I think it tastes as good as it looks,” says Graham who has been full of compliments all evening. Joe also loves it, saying that it looks like it came out of a restaurant. Gordon continues the praise parade, “Elegance matched with fragrance matched with great finesse. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.”

The judges insist that no one is solidly ahead at this point, but it seems pretty clear to me that Courtney is in the lead. Dessert is still to come, but really, it might be too late for Elizabeth.

Bad news, guys. During entrée service, Little Gordon fell ill and died. RIP Little Gordon. I’ll do my best to honor your memory with the rest of this recap.

For dessert, Elizabeth is making a grapefruit and olive oil cake with a plum trio. “Wow,” says Gordon. Courtney will be preparing a cherry meringue with salted chocolate and spiced almonds. They have one hour, and it starts…now.

Joe visits Elizabeth and asks her if she wants this as much as Courtney. “I absolutely want this as much as she does,” says Elizabeth. “Just because I work at an office and not a nightclub does not mean that I don’t deserve to win this.” Oh no she didn’t! 

Gordon asks Courtney if she’s worried about having enough time for the meringues to dry, but the heat emanating from Elizabeth’s fiery stare should be more than enough to do the trick.

Once again, Elizabeth has timing issues. Her cake is undercooked in the middle, but she decides to only use the outer edge, keeping it perfectly moist. Ah, moist. I love that word. Don’t you? Moist moist moist. MoisterChef. She takes a bite and shows us a face that her husband, Ross, is very familiar with. Am I right, Ross? High five, bro.

Courtney tries a bite of one of her meringues and shows us her Oh no, I just ate one of the judges’ meringues face. She tells us, “I have just quite possibly eaten a quarter of a million dollars.” And that's the face she makes? It doesn't seem like she got her money's worth.

Time is counting down, and this guy is really earning his paycheck. 

Stop. Wow. Well done.

They bring their desserts forward. Elizabeth says that Courtney’s dessert looks like second place. Oh snap!

Back in the MasterChef Restaurant, Courtney goes first this time. She presents her cherry meringue with chocolate and almonds. It’s obvious that each plate is missing a meringue with the third pile of meringue-less sauce on there. Joe detects a saltiness beyond the salted chocolate, and the black cherries are the culprits. “After processing it in my mind, I have to say that I think—it’s brilliant,” says Joe, “…making me not only eat it with my palate in my mouth but also digest it with my brain.” Gordon looks at him like, WTF did you just say? Like everything else tonight, Graham likes it. Gordon likes the meringue but thinks Joe is out of his mind concerning the cherries. He calls it her clumsiest plate as Joe, under his breath says, “I don’t agree,” and shoves another bite of salty cherries into his brain.

Elizabeth presents her grapefruit and semolina cake with poached plums and pistachios. It looks bomb and objectively much better than Courtney’s dessert. Graham has nothing bad to say about it. Joe calls it a top-notch dish that fires on all cylinders. He particularly appreciates the Italian nature of the dish. Gordon compliments her quick thinking on using the outside of the cake, and overall, loves the dish. This is a solid win for Elizabeth in the dessert section of the challenge. Will it be enough?

Courtney and Elizabeth go back to the MasterChef Kitchen as the judges argue about salted cherries.

Elizabeth feels that she should win because her three dishes have more of a connective thread. Courtney feels that she should win because she took risks and was daring. I feel like I should win or at least have a major online blog site aggregate my #content. But hey, we don’t always get what we want.

The judges come to a consensus and return to the MasterChef Kitchen. Graham addresses them. “Elizabeth and Courtney, you came to this competition as Home Cooks with a burning passion for food.” Hold everything! We have a piper down! I repeat, a piper is down!

It’s a legitimately scary moment—that I am a huge ass for making fun of—as Ross, Elizabeth’s husband, faints under the bright stage lights and tremendous pressure of the moment. Gordon is always great in these situations, calmly taking charge, getting him some water, a chair, and most importantly, adding a little levity to an embarrassing moment for the poor guy. “We haven’t announced a winner yet, so thanks for staying with us,” he tells him.

“My husband loves me so much he passed out,” says a tear-stained Elizabeth. A little advice, Ross? Next time, flowers will suffice.

Ross gives the thumbs up, and we are ready to continue.

For the final time this season, Gordon delivers the news. “Tonight confirmed that you two are phenomenal chefs, and that’s why we’d like you both to come up here and switch places with us.” They switch places to thunderous applause. “Our decision wasn’t easy. It came down to the tiniest of details. That’s how close it was this evening. But as you know, there can only be one winner.”

Joe decides to get in on the action. “One of you is about to win a quarter of a million dollars,” he says, pulling the MasterChef Envelope from his jacket pocket.

Graham wants a piece of this, too. “One of you will go on to publish your very own cookbook, and one of you will claim this,” he says, pulling the MasterChef Trophy from you-don’t-want-to-know-where, “the most coveted title in the culinary world, the title of MasterChef.” Let the angels sing.

Gordon fishes the job. “America’s next great MasterChef—is—” Graham does NOT press the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—congratulations—” I pass out. I recover. “—Courtney!” 

Confetti falls. The crowd cheers. Courtney cries tears of joy. It’s beautiful.

“I’ve never given up,” Courtney tells us. “I’ve been through the ringer. I’ve made so many sacrifices, and this—validates—all of them.” She continues, “This trophy means no more student loans, my mom gets a kitchen, and I have a secure future in cooking.” 

The judges spray Courtney and her family with champagne as—oh hey, Kira

“Why didn’t I put the lamb in sooner?” Elizabeth asks herself. “I’d be $250,000 richer, but you know what?” There’s a very obvious dub as we cut to a different shot and hear her finish in a completely different tone, “Courtney deserves it.” Nice work, editor. Seamless.

“I did things that I didn’t think I was ever capable of doing. I’m really proud of myself,” she says, starting to get choked up.

It’s a tough moment for Elizabeth. She is probably the best chef from the season, and I can only imagine how awful it feels to come so close to winning, only to watch your biggest rival celebrate the title that you worked so hard to achieve. But she still has all of the talent that got her here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Elizabeth come out on top in the long run.

Thank you for a great season, Elizabeth. I was a little nervous about having someone with so many mutual friends as me in the competition, but at least for me, it ended up being so much more enjoyable because of it. Keep cooking. Keep promoting yourself. And forget about those cookbooks for now. TV should be your thing. You have the skills and personality for it.

Now back to our newest MasterChef. “My mom looking at me winning this title means so much to me. I’ve had highs and lows. I’ve come so far, and I’ve made her and my father and my siblings so proud of me,” says Courtney with a big MasterChef smile.

It’s a powerful and motivating thing, the approval of one’s family. Warranted or not, Courtney carried their disappointment on her shoulders for a long time, and she worked hard to make them proud. Not only was she a great cook all season, she was the best strategist MasterChef has ever seen. To win this game, you have to have cooking skills but you also need to have personality, smarts, and the guts to not worry about people always liking you. And having a good story isn’t so bad either. Courtney has all of those things, and that’s why she can call herself MasterChef.

Thank you, Courtney. I’m glad you finally came around on these recaps, and I’m particularly happy that you kept my streak of flawless—flawless, I say!—MasterChef predictions intact. Good luck in the future. May it be filled with profitable culinary endeavors, brightly colored lipstick, and tube travel. That last one’s for me.


And thus ends another season of MasterChef Theatre. This was probably my last recap here. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. What started off as just a simple writing project to keep my chops up turned into so much more, and I thank all of you, my readers, for slogging through these long, wordy entries. Every comment and every tweet from you guys mean so much to me. You made me feel good. I don’t know what I’m going to try next, but I’m sure I’ll tweet about it, whatever it is.

I learned a lot about myself writing these recaps, and I think I became not just a better writer but also a better person because of them. I hope so. Let us all try to remember that these characters we see on our televisions are real people. They put themselves out there and make themselves vulnerable in a way that most of us can hardly imagine. Even if you “don’t like” who you think they are, understand that you are still being entertained in these moments of irrational anger, and you should thank them for that.

Thank you to the creators of MasterChef for not shutting me down. Thank you to Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich. Thank you to the producers to whom I took such pleasure in giving a hard time. And a sincere and special thank you to the casts of seasons four and five.

We had fun. Didn’t we?


  1. The ups and downs of the season were worth it just to discover and read these recaps. Honored I could be a part of the final MCT season! You made my Tuesday mornings bearable all summer. Thank you.

    1. And sometimes Wednesday! Good job, Elizabeth. Thanks for putting up with me and my screencaps.

  2. Amazing pair of recaps as usual, thanks Joel!

    Wait, so does that mean you're not coming back for next season? Your recaps are the best part of my weekly Masterchef ritual. Please don't go :(

  3. This is the first time I've seen this. But you did a wonderful job. That was a tight finale! I was sad to see that Elizabeth didn't win; but you're right. She can go far. This is not the end for her. And that makes me happy.
    And good luck to you in all your future endeavors :)

    1. Oh dear me. It wasn't a tight finale. They all felt sorry for the little stripper girl. The one that moved on the previous week only because a person that wasn't a baker grabbed the wrong bowl from his mise en place (which was probably setup by a cameraman!).

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