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'Hell's Kitchen' recap: Eye on the prize

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hells-kitchen-ramsey_lGiddy up, PopWatchers, the Hell’s Kitchen season finale is almost here! Can you taste it? Next week, during two back-to-back episodes, Ramsay will start with three cooks and ultimately crown one winner whose name will be etched in stone in the hall of reality-TV accomplishments. In other words, we’ll all likely forget who won 15 minutes after the fact, but I’m still pumped and ready for some closure. Since I want to discuss my final predictions, the recap portion of this post will be a bit leaner than usual. Let’s get cracking.

Before the other contestants woke up for the day, Dave was already in the bathroom giving himself a motivational speech: “Stay focused. Keep your eye on the prize. Win.” Yeah, the speech was about as inspirational as the dialogue from Rocky V, but if it worked for Stallone, why not Dave? The chefs headed downstairs, where they were greeted by an 8-year-old version of Chef Ramsay. It was fairly obvious that the kid’s lines and the chefs’ reactions were filmed on separate takes, but that’s okay; after all, the little guy was cute, and his resemblance to Ramsay was uncanny.

Individual challenge: Each chef had to design a vegetarian dish and cook 80 portions of it. The judges: 80 brats kids. When the children discovered that their meals weren’t ready yet, they started chanting “We want food!” Again, I doubt the munchkins did this all on their own; I surmise that the show’s producers encouraged their misbehavior. But I appreciated the response from Dave, who ran across the kitchen exclaiming, “I got food!” Dave then selected a nickname for himself by asking the kids, “Who wants a sandwich from the one-armed bandit?” After tasting all four dishes, the children filled out ballots and chose Tennille’s vegetable-stuff eggplant as their favorite.

Reward/punishment: Tennille was whisked away to Beverly Hills (that’s where I want to be — sorry, had to do it) for a beauty makeover. Would this have been the reward had Dave or Kevin won? Tennille then enjoyed lunch with Ramsay at the sushi joint Nobu, while the losers had to clean the colossal dining-room mess.

Dinner service: For the most part, it was a triumphant service, and Ramsay commended the chefs for working as a team. The night’s weak point was Tennille, who repeatedly struggled on the fish station — her scallops were rubbery, her sea bass was burnt, and her halibut was raw. At one point, Ramsay took her backstage and implored her to get it together. When Tennille returned to the kitchen, she did just that and rebounded nicely. The other development was the one-armed bandit’s escalating pain. Dave had to leave the kitchen after he lifted a pan with his fractured wrist, sending a lightning bolt of pain throughout his body. Ramsay had a medic look over Dave, but moments later, Dave was back in action, fighting his way through the discomfort.

Elimination: Ramsay expressed concern regarding Dave’s wrist, and Dave responded with a monologue even less convincing than his opening speech: “I feel fine. This hand (pointing to his uninjured hand) is fine. I’m fine. I’m fine. I feel good. I feel strong.” Ramsay was somehow impressed by this display of first-grade vocabulary, but really, Dave was never going to be eliminated anyway (as I’ll explain in a moment). Instead, while the four chefs were still lined up in the kitchen, Ramsay asked for Tennille’s jacket. Yup, it was Tennille’s time to go, but I’ll miss her — she had the most vibrant personality of all the Season 6 contestants, and a significant portion of my Hell’s Kitchen pleasure came from her predictably unpredictable remarks.

Final prediction: So we’re left with Ariel, Dave, and Kevin. Ariel’s been up for elimination twice while Dave and Kevin have avoided the chopping block all season long, so I’m thinking that this will end in a Dave vs. Kevin confrontation. Kevin has been at the top of my rankings every week, and there’s no doubt in my mind that he was this season’s most proficient chef. But lately I’ve been sensing an underdog momentum for Dave due to two factors: (1) He’s admirably persevered even though he’s been plagued by a serious injury, and (2) the show has given Kevin an alarming amount of time to boast about his “imminent” victory. For instance, toward the end of last night’s episode, Kevin declared, “It’s the final three — I knew I’d be here. Just two more people in my way.” And at the episode’s beginning, he explained that he knew everybody’s weakness, and that “unless somebody figures out my weakness, they’re screwed.”

Kevin’s weakness is simple: His victory seems too inevitable, and therefore, too boring. Sure, Kevin’s a better chef than Dave, but Dave’s narrative is more appealing. His narrative is more appropriate for reality TV. His narrative makes for a more satisfying conclusion. And he has displayed more than enough talent and passion to succeed as a head chef at Araxi Restaurant. Thus, I’m predicting that this season’s champion will be Dave.

PopWatchers, are we on the same page? Am I nuts to be changing my mind this late in the game? And does anyone think Ariel still has a shot at the title?

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