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'Hell's Kitchen' recap: The hen is a pigeon, the chicken is a duck

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Let’s assume for a second that Scott and Autumn are literally the same person, or at least time-travel clones from space. Their co-existence on Hell’s Kitchen this season is the result of a wormhole created by Mad Doctor Ramsay in his Laboratory of Angry Science. Both Scott and Autumn tried to take charge of their teams. They both failed miserably. They both were given a chance at redemption. A new team. A new beginning. And here, their paths divided. One joined a team of champions and became a valuable teammate. The other joined a team of losers and quickly became the most hated citizen of Hatetown, USA.

What went wrong? After close analysis of the two contestant’s movements, I’ve come up with three key morals students can learn from the Tale of Scott and Autumn:

1. Shut up.

2. Shut up.

3. Seriously, Scott, shut up.

Scott tried to make himself at home in the Red Quadrant. He discovered a smoking habit, because all the cool kids are doing it! The editors of Hell’s Kitchen clearly hate Scott even more than we do, because they cut back and forth as he said the following oppositional statements:

“I’m gonna stop trying to help other people out.”

“We’re gonna be a team right?”

“I’m gonna try to help Scott out.”

“I’m with you guys now, so we f—ing kill it!”

You could actually peer into Scott’s brain and see an army of tiny Scott-clones, all screaming contradictions.” Go team! Screw you, team! I’m a leader. I’m my own man.”

Kill the Beast! Cut His Throat! Catch the Bacon!

The first challenge of the night was simple. The chefs had to catch some pigs. Each pig was wearing a collar, with an ingredient printed thereupon. Once the chefs caught the pigs, they had to merge the ingredients in interesting ways. Now, this was fun to watch when our founding fathers fought off the Nazis in the Civil War (or whatever, history), they were hoping that future generations would be able to watch crazy people chase screaming pigs in order to prove themselves to a megalomaniac. But this challenge was also wince-inducing. It proved, yet again, that Team Red is utterly incapable of even basic motor skills.

Sure, Scott made the in-hindsight-terrible suggestion to pair blood sausage with prunes, but it’s not as if Fran and Nilka had to listen to him. I feel like this has been a Red Team problem all season: someone stupid makes a stupid suggestion, another teammate takes that stupid suggestion, and then gets upset when that stupid suggestion turns out stupidly.

Anyhow, Fran and Nilka screwed up the already-questionable sausage/prune combo. In the process, we lucky viewers got three serious contenders for Best “That’s-What-She-Said” of the week: “Is it supposed to be mushy?” “Pull it out real quick and just make sure it’s not blowing up.” “You’re supposed to prick it before you cook it.”

Still, much as Gordo found the prune-sausage combo distasteful, what really set him off was Maria, who talked his ear off about her sweet potato soup and missed the point of the whole pork-centric assignment. Red Team loses! Big surprise!

Must get clean. Stench of failure still on me.

Gordo sent Team Blue to a spa for seaweed wraps and massages. At the grotto, Autumn strolled into the pool wearing a bikini. The men all agreed that she was a fine addition to the team. Meanwhile, Team Red had to dress up like Super Mario and wash down the pigs. Everybody’s getting clean! Except for Team Red, who will never be clean.

Back at the dorms, Salvatore played Dr. Phil. “Tell a secret that you have in your closet,” said Sally. Holli copped to having more pornography than anyone she had ever met. (Jay disagreed.) Meanwhile, Siobhan had her own TMI revelation: “I worked topless or somewhat nude. My name was Shannon, or Shannon Marie, or S&M was my nickname. I used to do fetish balls.” Salvatore declared that he liked S&M. My stomach declared defeat.

BBBQ (the extra B is for Bad)

Smoked ribs, Kobe beef burgers, and crab hush puppies…yum, I love barbecue night! Since the restaurant was overbooked, the teams split up: Team Red would serve the first dinner, and Team Blue would serve the second. That meant the blues had to work as waiters during service #1. Alert, immigration melodrama!  Sal admitted that he had never learned to write very well, because he never went to school. “I came to America because my family needed me. I worked everyday to help my father and my mom.” I think Sal will win it all, assuming everyone else implodes.

Autumn used her feminine wiles to convince a few patrons to send their dishes back to the Red Team’s side. I know that lots of people don’t like Autumn, but she’s one of the few contestants this season who actually seems to be having fun. Her male double Scott managed to anger Gordo with some bad chicken, but then he committed the much-worse faux pas of leaving the oven door open. “We never cook with the door open! Health and f—ing safety!” exclaimed Gordo.

Then it was Team Blue’s turn to cook dinner. Jason mixed in the chicken with the fries. Now, this is a total freshman move, but Chef Ramsay’s response seemed all out of proportion. Following is the transcript of the Gordo Implosion of the Night:

“This is not a f—ing fast food pick-up joint! [sound of gathering thunder] The fries are a f—ing side! [sound of a rumbling volcano] Do it, then! DO IT! [sound of all firstborn children in Los Angeles dying]”

Jason’s response was a grumbling mumble: “Sit here and put up with this [EXPLETIVE]-ass [EXPLETIVE]. [EXPLETIVE]!”  When the service was over, Gordo witnessed the devastation and proclaimed, “That was our worst service!” He declared Fran the prettiest hog in the Red Team’s pigpen, and told her to choose who to kick out. Hooray for Fran!

Bye-Bye, Crazy-Face

Maria was an emotional roller-coaster. She had to go. But who else? Scott managed to convince Fran that, if she put him up next to Maria, Chef Ramsay would send them both home. This was actually bizarrely sound reasoning. So Fran nominated Nilka instead of Scott.

This was a bad move, but I think Fran was purposefully nominating a not-bad contestant to offer up Maria as a sacrifice. Unfortunately, she didn’t run this plan by Nilka, who swore vengeance. Gordo just didn’t care, and brought Scott up for a dressing down. Said Scott: “You can teach technique. You can’t teach leadership. I have leadership abila-tees.” “But you have to cook!” said Papa Gordo.

Scott earned himself a stay of execution, because Maria was too annoying to stay. (This led to my favorite post-elimination eulogy ever: “Her life in Hell’s Kitchen…is DEAD!“) Gordo was clearly hoping that Scott would learn something from all of this. But inside Scott’s head-brain, the little Scott clones were already screaming: “I’m tired of trying to be the big badass. I’m wearing sheep’s clothing right now.” What?

Will the Red Team Get Their S— Together?

The second hour of Hell’s Kitchen began with the Red Team utterly failing to get their s— together. Nilka disagreed strongly with Fran’s choice to nominate her for execution: “F— y’all! I mean that from the bottom of my ass!”

For the morning challenge, each team was given twenty ingredients and had to prepare five dishes themed around the Mother sauces (Bechamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, and I forget the rest). Nilka promptly snagged all the best ingredients for herself, leaving her teammates to stand around, awkward and petulant. Gordo invited along his two favorite women in the world to judge: his Mother and his wife. (To the commenters who have been theorizing about Wife Ramsay’s recurring presence this season: Seriously! What’s up with that?) Mama and the Missus agreed that Sal, despite his claim to Italian heritage, was incapable of making spaghetti.

But that was a rare misstep for Team Blue. By comparison, Team Red was descending into caveman antics. Scott thought the duck was chicken. Siobhan thought her pigeon was a Cornish hen, and she drowned her pigeon in a pool of its own blood. Holli thought her sea bass was a halibut. “I barely even looked at it before I started cooking it,” she explained.

This got me thinking. Lots of people compare Hell’s Kitchen unfavorably with Top Chef, and I will admit that Gordon Ramsay is nowhere near as pretty as Padma Lakshmi. But Top Chef lives in the world of elite cuisine. The chefs are artists. Their cuisine is meant to be tasty, but it must also be appealing to professional foodies, which means that their dishes must also represent some contemporary ideal of Foodness. Whereas Hell’s Kitchen lives in a more fast-paced world where the food is puerly functional. You never see contestants on Hell’s Kitchen argue that they undercooked the food for some deeper purpose. It’s binary. This food is undercooked! This food is overcooked! But this food is just right.

What I’m trying to get at is: it’s ridiculous to think that people who call themselves chefs can’t tell their duck from their chicken. But isn’t it pretty remarkable that, with a half-hour time limit and under the watchful eyes of Dr. T.J. Gordo, Holli managed to cook her sea bass very well? Even if she thought it was a halibut?

Dry Burnt Charcoal Crap!

The challenge was a tie, so Gordo gave the win to the Blue Team because Jason’s dish was pretty good. This was a ridiculous way to end the challenge, unless you believe that life is chaos and God is dead. Still, it felt right. The Blue Team is a well-oiled machine; the Red Team is a machine whose only purpose is self-destruction.

Here’s the interesting thing about reality TV shows that pit two sides against each other. Great seasons of such shows involve cunning and skill on both sides, so that the game feels like a genuine competition. When one team is clearly outmatched, boredom usually sets in. But there’s a certain thrill that comes from watching a season of reality TV where one team is just so completely dominant, and the other side is so completely awful. (Survivor has had a couple seasons like this: I’m thinking especially of the All-Stars season, which was basically “The Rise and Rise and Rise of Boston Rob.”) You’d like to think that the losing team would band together and defeat their evil overseers, but sometimes, the rich just keep getting richer.

So Team Blue played darts poorly at a mock-British pub, and Team Red suffered Old Testament plagues while cleaning out the kitchen. Siobhan fled to the medic who lives under the stairs, covered in hives. They had to cut off her Hazmat suit. I felt like I was watching The Grapes of Wrath, except with more symbolism.

The Kids Are Alright

“The red team’s all a bunch of losers,” said Benjamin. “I wanna finish service really strong and kill the red team.” (No doubt he was regretting those words by night’s end!) Gordo declared Family Night in Hell’s Kitchen. That meant children, and since this is LA, it meant vegan children with peanut allergies and expensive ties. One of the kids drew a picture of Gordo screaming “You donkey!” I wish I’d known that insult back in fifth grade.

Salvatore messed up the risotto…oh, why bother? The Blue Team’s minor missteps were nothing compared to Team Red. Siobhan didn’t realize that she was supposed to cook spaghetti, and she didn’t realize that cooking spaghetti required boiling water. Fran burnt everything, like a dragon. Nilka got angry at everyone. Holli stood off to one side and avoided eye contact with humanity. Scott claimed he had only been told to cook one beef. “Who told you that!” screamed Gordo. Scott held up a piece of paper and declared, “I hold in my hands a list of 205 teammates who told me to only cook one strip of beef!”

Gordo angry. Gordo fuming. Gordo waxing poetic: “This is shambolic! It’s a disaster! I’ll throw every one of you out of here!” Chef Ramsay kicked Team Red up to the dorms and finished the service with his sous-chefs. Upstairs, Scott blamed everybody and everybody blamed Scott.

Farewell, Bizarro-Autumn

Now, if you’re selling tickets for the “Scott is Awful” train, I’m onboard, but it seems to me that Team Red was yet again pinning all of their problems on an easy donkey. Sure, it’s annoying that Scott’s rallying cry basically became, “Have any of you ever worked in fine dining restaurants? I’ve worked in fine dining restaurants.” But let’s be honest: Siobhan’s rallying cry was, “Sure, I mess up, but I never mess up the same way twice!” Personally, if it came down to the idiot who can’t spell and the idiot who’s never heard of the alphabet, I’d go with the former and use spellcheck.

Then again, Scott successfully transformed, in the closing minutes of the episode, from an annoying buzzing dragonfly to an annoying nuclear hurricane. “I have a calmness about me during services…” “I’m the best cook on the team, the best leader on this team.”he rambled. Gordo’s brain hurt. He kicked Scott out. (When Scott wouldn’t stop talking, he had JP bring around the forklift and drop him in the La Brea Tar Pits. Before Scott descended into the inky blackness, onlookers heard him proclaim, “Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my closeup.”)

Then, Gordo effectively ended the first half of the season by moving Benjamin, his favorite son, over to Team Red. Benjamin looked excited by the prospect of running his own team. Jay, meanwhile, announced what will hopefully be the season’s new conflict: “I feel like this is my team vs. his team.” It’s been slow going so far this season, viewers, but am I alone in thinking that things are finally getting exciting?

What did you think of the two-parter, viewers? Do you think Autumn has genuinely learned from her experience with Team Red, or is she just lying in wait to unveil her crazy? And don’t you want to see Scott’s video resume? I’m betting it looks something like this.