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[pagebreak]
With five final customers, Darah and her forced grin continue to talk like a weird Tony Robbins protégé, and both teams close out strong. Gordon gets a megaphone and announces the votes are in. In a turn of bad scripting, he tells us “this was a roller coaster experience,” before cueing Graham to bring the tally in… by leading a marching band. (Because when you think of amusement parks, the next thing you think of is a marching band, right? RIGHT?! Never mind. It doesn’t matter what you think; Gordon thinks the band is “brilliant.”)
We learn one team earned a landslide victory, snagging 59 percent of the votes: the Red Team, elated at this news. Darah, meanwhile, has forgotten her cardinal rule and is crying into the camera within seconds. “It should’ve been easier, especially because this was in my element!” she weeps. Oops.
The following day, the Blue Team trudges into the kitchen. After another roller coaster pun from a judge—C’mon, producers. We get it—the accusatory witch hunt begins. (YAY!) Darah prattles off a list of people who did things right, prompting Christina Tosi to interrupt and remind Darah they lost, so who cares? Point, Tosi. Tommy tosses barbs at Katrina, who he says met his attempts at communication with “total dissatisfaction and disdain,” his purple ascot bouncing up and down. Katrina fires right back: “He kept hammering away at me; he wouldn’t listen. And he didn’t do s—!” she stammers before the waterworks start flowing, drawing an eye-roll from Tommy.
Of the 10 chefs, only five will face the pressure test, decided by Darah. She saves two people we’ve literally never seen before (Alisa? Sara?) Graham tells Sara she had a dismal performance. Sara, in turn, thanks Graham, likely because this is the first time anyone’s really spoken to her during the show and she wants it to happen more often. Darah also saves Dan and Claudia and Gordon tells her that for her final choice, she can opt to save herself. At this news, Derrick turns to glower directly at Darah, arms folded, waiting to see how selfish she’ll be.
Darah does the right thing, and saves Hetal. Hetal pulls a Katniss, volunteers to compete and gifts her immunity to Derrick. Tonight’s challenge is cinnamon rolls, Christina Tosi informs us. Tommy’s upset. Baking isn’t his forte, he says, before issuing an unsubtle jab at the Rubenesque Katrina: “She obviously knows more about sweets than I do.” Wee-ow. Shots fired.
Tommy, Katrina, Darah, Hetal, and Olivia have got 45 minutes to get a dozen cinnamon rolls in a box. As they start baking, the judges discuss Darah’s choices, concluding that Katrina should’ve been saved. “She’s in an emotional state right now,” says Graham. Which is just plain weird to me. Why are people being so nice to her? Last few weeks, Gordon has taken it easy on her when she can’t remember what’s on her plate and cries through various challenges. This week, she drops a whole tray of fish and can’t figure out her batter is too thick, leading to raw fish and no one cares? Why does she get a pass every time?
Christina asks Katrina if she makes cinnamon rolls at home ever. “No, I don’t.” (Ahem, Tommy.) Gordon asks Tommy who he’d like to see go home. “The bitch who tried to throw me under the bus!” he snarls, motioning at Katrina, standing a mere four feet away. “I want her gone!” Katrina guffaws. Graham points out that Darah’s quite behind, having nothing rolled out while her cohorts are ready to put pans in the oven.
Judgment time and Darah’s first. The offering looks quite unappealing, like a pile of tan excrement with some icing. The insides are raw, we learn, as Gordon picks out a small salvageable bite. The taste—anise, lemon zest, and cinnamon icing—is off for Gordon. And Christina, who makes a face and says, “I know you’re not proud. I’m not proud.” Darah grimaces, which is a form of a smile.
Next up is Hetal, who seems to have won these
Hunger Cinnamon Games with her chai tea, ginger, cardamom, and espresso rolls. They look dreary, to borrow Gordon’s phrase, but there’s a fragrance that’s good and a taste that can’t be beat. Graham likes Katrina’s rosemary, raisin, and prune rolls (though I immediately picture these as a dessert at a nursing home) and she happily cries while Tommy disgustedly sighs. Olivia struggled technically, producing uneven wheels, but nailed the taste, earning praise from Christina.
Last up, Tommy. Gordon sets him up well: “You’re a man of fashion, a man of style. A man of art. You’ve got panache and flair. I can’t wait to see what’s in your box.” He tosses the lid back to examine Tommy’s creation. And then the shoe drops. “What in the f— is that?!” Gordon exclaims. “I’ve heard of a sick bag, but this has got to be the first sick box. What have you done?” We finally see a box of green and tan gloop that Tommy is clearly embarrassed about, and it’s now Katrina’s turn to laugh. He’s included green tea, pistachios, and some other things that don’t sound appealing.
“Look, it’s like your first tux. It won’t come out great, but number two and three will!” Tommy offers, ever the optimist. (Uh, what?) “I’m not eating a tux,” Gordon retorts. “One mouthful of that and I’ll be going number two.” Solid burn, chief. Gordon puts him down some more and he shuffles back to his station, past a giggling Katrina.
When dismissal time comes, Hetal does indeed win the challenge, followed by Katrina and Olivia. Which leaves Tommy and Darah. Because we need to see how Tommy and Katrina’s feud resolves, Darah is sent home. She smiles even as she’s told to hit the road, and says something about coming with a smile and leaving with a bigger one, but I really stopped paying attention because I was trying to figure out if this woman’s a Stepford robot or just very high on happy pills. She makes a heart with her hands at her friends in the balcony and leaves.
Do you think Darah is somewhere smiling right now? Would you want her to be your amusement park guide? What’s up with all the baking this season? What did you think of Tommy’s cinnamon rolls? Are you Team Tommy or Team Katrina?