Our first MasterChef team challenge brings us to Knott’s Berry Farm, which is an amusement park with an unfortunate name that I’ve never heard of. (Perhaps Six Flags was all, “Uh, no thanks. We don’t want a loud British man screaming foul obscenities in front of visiting families.”) However, for one contestant named Darah, this is her dream come true…because she works at an amusement park.
Someone explains that this is ‘Merica’s first amusement park and then we’re treated to some B-roll of a roller coaster to really hammer home the point. Everyone claps and is happy until word comes they’re going to have to cook “for the entire park.” “That’s insane,” Katrina says, explaining that she’s never fed more than 50 people at once. The 20 hopefuls split into two teams of 10, with Kerry, an HR rep, leading the Blue Team while Darah commands the Red Team. Darah thinks this is perfect and reminds us again that she works at a park. Her accompanying chyron offers little assistance as to what her specific role is, labeling her “Amusement Park Guide,” a position she says she’s held for 10 years. (After a decade, maybe someone should guide her to a different job?)
Each team needs two dishes for every hungry guest: a burger with onion rings and coleslaw, and fish and chips. The guests are the judges, and they vote by swinging a sledgehammer at an old timey bell, because kitsch is fun! We learn that Graham Elliot’s hyperbolic statement that “every park attendee will be fed” actually means 500 folks, which is still a staggering amount of hopefully-amused folks. If a team can’t plate a guest’s food within 10 seconds of arrival, they automatically lose that vote. The chefs break apart and start planning.
Kerry’s Red Team is decisive from the jump off, with their leader delegating efficiently and within seconds they’ve got their menu and are starting prep. Darah’s Blue Team isn’t so sure about Darah. Perhaps it’s the white flower the size of Texas she’s smacked on as a hairpiece. Perhaps it’s the fact that she smiles like she’s been brainwashed by an endless loop of amusement park staff training videos. Or perhaps, to paraphrase Derrick (who must not own one single sleeve): “She’s clueless.” Darah’s pep talk concludes with, “Smile! People at amusement parks love it when you smile!” They also love it when you feed them. Get to work, madam.
Out of the gate, the Blue Team is a hot mess. Darah runs around shouting things that belong on an inspirational poster, in bubble font, just below a kitty dangling from a tree. None of these things have anything to do with cooking, which Derrick hones in on. “She’s organized nothing,” he says, as Darah breezes by bestowing praise: “I know you’re working hard, Derrick! Thank you!”
Tommy, my favorite sassy contestant, has narrowed his sights on a nemesis for the season. His target? Sweet, simple Katrina. He’s trying his best to communicate with her, as she’s in charge of the batter for the fish and the onion rings “because she’s moving in slow motion.” Cut to Katrina, flustered as heck, screaming at Tommy to stop and leave her alone. Darah continues to flit around in the background, smiling at the sky and doing nothing productive.
Red Team’s rocking, though Gordon Ramsay thinks three sauce options for their burger is overkill. One and done, he barks, and they settle on a lime sriracha ketchup (drool) and move on. Darah’s Blue Team’s not doing so well. They’re five minutes from opening with only 45 burgers ready and zero fish prepared. Katrina fumbles, falls, and drops an entire tray of prepped fish on the ground. Gordon sees the contestants at their lowest and, like a shark drawn to blood, attacks. “Do you want to cut right to the chase and the pressure test?!” he yells at Darah. Worst of all? No one’s smiling.
Claudia and her shock of red hair fly back to get that fish cooking, and with one minute left, the line is longer than any line Kerry’s ever seen. But the Red Team rallies, and Kerry helps to fashion an assembly line, while Veronica—a kind, bespectacled grandmother rocking a neon shirt that NSYNC would have refused to wear in the ’90s—doles out the dishes. Kerry punts it a little bit when he forgets to put in a new batch of onion rings, but beyond that, the Red Team is doing swimmingly.
Despite Darah’s ineptness as a leader, Dan, Derrick, and Claudia have stepped up and the Blue Team is cranking out plates. Until Gordon tears into a piece of fried fish and discovers it’s raw. “Not undercooked; RAW! ICE COLD! Get your s— together! This is dangerous. I promise you now, I will close. you. down. if I see one more raw fish,” he snaps. The problem is Katrina’s batter’s too thick, and every time a floured piece of fish goes in, the batter bowl becomes more like a cement mixer. Without fish, the Blue Team is hemorrhaging votes.
NEXT: A landslide into the finish line