It’s the 100th episode of MasterChef, so the 14 remaining contestants are trotted out to a vineyard on a cliff somewhere in Southern California to celebrate… by cooking 50 dishes for culinary luminaries. For this team challenge, the judges are looking for an appetizer, featuring oysters and caviar, and one entree starring duck breast. Sounds simple enough, right? The judges wax poetic about “history in the making” and “stunning” this and “amazing” that before we can get down to team selection.
The captains, Nick and Olivia, waste no time in picking the star players, though some of those players are less than enthused by their captains. Namely Derrick, who has worn not one but TWO sets of sleeves for this fine occasion (a shirt and a jacket). However, he’s sleeveless during his confessional when he craps all over Olivia for choosing him, saying she’s not confident enough to lead. Tommy’s the last chef chosen, which reminds him of gym class all over again. Olivia takes him, though she’s concerned because he does “stupid things” and he “overcomplicates things.” Like his wardrobe for today: a puffy pirate shirt with a ruffled front and a shiny metal jacket. This is a cooking contest, not a Liberace impersonator competition.
Off the two teams go and Nick’s off to a strong start, keeping things simple for his Blue Team. Olivia opts to do precisely the opposite, droning on and on about what each dish will entail. She wants to smoke the oysters, something Derrick thinks is unnecessary when a simple fry will be faster and perhaps tastier. Derrick’s overruled and shakes his head while Katrina looks on, confused. I’m confused by her headband full of large yellow flowers. Anyway, Derrick thinks his second challenge today will be contending with Olivia, whom he now mocks by doing his best Valley Girl accent, which is passable at best.
The cooking begins and the smoked oysters are already proving to be too much for the Red Team, especially for everyone’s tear ducts. The plumes are forcing Olivia to squint, but not as bad as Christopher, who is manning the smoking station. There’s now a debate as to how long it takes to actually smoke an oyster. Tommy, who says he’s part Creole, thus possessing extra knowledge about the shellfish, says they should only be kissed by the smoke, whereas Christopher and Olivia think six minutes are necessary to fully cook the little buggers. Gordon Ramsay comes over to poke at them with an all-knowing finger, before cursing a whole bunch. Turns out Tommy and his gaudy statement necklace are right when they lean in to tell us “I told you so.” These oysters are overcooked “to death,” per Gordon. Christopher and Olivia wince and the Great Oyster Disaster of 2015 means now they can only serve two per plate instead of three, meaning everything else must be super on-point, says Olivia.
Concerned Olivia and her motley crew are going to mess up their special day, the judges demand to see the Red Team’s appetizer. Smart decision, guys. Olivia meekly offers a plate with what looks like bits of chewed up sock on it, topped with a few sprigs of grass. It’s so small and pitiful, I actually leaned toward my screen to see if I’m missing something. I’ve seen minimal food presentations before, but this puppy takes the cake. You can tell Olivia knows it’s bad by the fear and trepidation in her shaky voice. Graham Elliot thinks this should be garnish atop the plate, not the entirety of the plate. Gordon commands the Red Team to start over, barking that this will not do at all. At this condemnation, you can see the panic rising in Olivia.
While Olivia et al head back to the drawing board, Nick’s Blue Team is already plating beautiful butter poached oysters with a cucumber and apple pickle and a caviar vinaigrette. It looks simple, fresh, and classy, all of the hallmarks the judges were seeking. The Red Team revamps everything and comes back with a smoked oyster and caviar salad, essentially, rounded out by a heap of fennel and grapefruit. It looks like it was thrown together in the four minutes that it actually was, but it’s better than an empty plate, I suppose. Olivia has no plating process, instead opting for sheer chaos at the pass, so Derrick steps in while Graham bellows at them to get moving.
Feedback from the guests starts coming in: The Blue Team could’ve made the caviar more of a star, but it was really scrumptious; the Red Team has just given a salad when everyone thought they should’ve gotten a few simple, yet elevated bites. Whoops. Gordon calls Olivia over to tell her to her face how terrible her first dish was. Olivia knows and, on the verge of tears, blames Derrick for just taking over. Which isn’t quite fair since Derrick is the one who said not to smoke the damn things in the first place, madam. Gordon tells her to get it together for the mains.
And here’s where everything reverses. The Blue Team’s got a solid aroma coming from their ovens. The problem is the scent is that of burning plastic. Gordon fishes out a pan of carrots to find they’re completely burned. Charlie cops to not setting a timer as Gordon tosses this pile of orange and black goop into the trash. Without any additional carrots, they’ll need a new veggie ASAP, says Nick. They end up putting forth a Moroccan spiced duck with roasted fennel and forbidden rice, which looks just okay, but really pales in comparison to what’s coming out of the Red kitchen. Olivia’s crew has made a fantastic looking duck braised in ginger butter, over a cauliflower puree with roasted (but not burned) carrots. It’s a far prettier plate, and Graham agrees, saying he’d want to be on the Red Team right now.
NEXT: Oh how the tables have turned… [pagebreak]
The Blue Team continues to spiral downward with a bunch of timing issues resulting in cold duck coming to the pass. We learn this from Sara, who speaks for the second time ever. HI SARA. Gordon screams out, inquiring as to who has sent forth cold duck. Charlie passes the buck (er, duck?) to Nick, who returns the serve, telling us Charlie’s cutting the duck too soon. Meanwhile Shelly’s burning the sauce, so Nick has to swoop in and he doesn’t understand what happened, given how strong their team’s start was. Gordon doesn’t either and gives us his best Home Alone face, slapping his cheeks in horror. Charlie needs to let the duck rest, lest it dry out, but Nick wants service “now!” and orders Charlie to slice it up. After pushing back for a second, Charlie gives in and slices only to discover the duck is raw.
Gordon shoves it under Charlie’s face the same way you’d rub a dog’s nose in his mistake and tells him he sliced too early. Charlie’s over this, judging by his slumping shoulders, and declares Nick the worst team leader “ever.” Meanwhile the Red Team’s having some temperature problems, as some plates are overcooked while others haven’t had the fat rendered enough so they’re too tough. With that, the challenge ends.
Back in the studio kitchen, we learn that Olivia and the Red Team have emerged victorious, meaning Nick and his compatriots are headed into a pressure test where two people will be eliminated. It’s dour faces all around, but they fall further when they learn the team will have five minutes to decide “unanimously” which one team member will be spared. If they can’t reach a unified decision, the judges will eliminate all seven of them. I freaking love this. Amanda hits the nail on the head when she remarks, “We couldn’t come together for the team challenge, so how are we going to come together for this?”
Off to the wine vault to bicker and throw each other under the bus. Shelly and Charlie are delusional and think they should each be spared, but (rightfully) no one else does. They do decide to save Stephen, and we learn their task courtesy of Christina Tosi. By virtue of her stepping forward, you just KNOW it’s going to be another baking challenge. Which it is. C’mon. We get it. She owns a bakery. But this ain’t MasterBaker. Christina pulls out a birthday cake and announces they all must bake their own version, though there are no other rules aside from there being three layers and a nice frosting and that it “somehow celebrates the 100th episode,” whatever the hell that means.
One minute into this task and Charlie’s already struggling, saying “this ain’t right” to his mixer over and over. Amanda’s got a strawberry and Nutella filling going into hers, which sounds like the most original cake amongst the bunch. Right around the time Christina’s announcing that cakes should be coming out of the oven, Charlie’s making a second batch of batter to put in, since he’s short. Get it together, man.
Assembly starts for everyone else, though. And we’re all good until we get to Amanda. Her cakes are collapsing, raw in the middle. “I removed them too early,” she cries as Gordon picks up a handful of cake goo. “I failed,” she wails. Gordon gives her a pep talk, telling her to use the frosting to “give it a bit of plastic surgery. We’re in LA. Look at my face.” It’s unclear if Gordon is implying that he’s had work done on his own face or if he simply wants intense eye contact from Amanda. Either way, she pulls her chin up and tries to get it together.
Charlie has clearly given up on this challenge, and life, at this point and forgoes a spatula in favor of using his hands to assemble his cake. And by “cake,” I mean mound of sugar. It looks like a stoner tried to follow Betty Crocker’s instructions but got too high to care halfway through. It looks like a pile of colorful bird poo. It looks like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man took a dump on a plate and then someone dusted it with rainbow sprinkles. What it does not look like, however, is a cake.
Time expires and everyone presents their creations. Nick’s coconut-crusted, orange-iced cake is passable, though not a standout. Same for Sara, who finally gets to have a full sentence make it to air! (“I made a yellow sponge with raspberry sauce inside.”) Claudia’s tres leches cake with lemon frosting is the homerun and Graham declares it “everything we were looking for.” Amanda’s done a solid frosting job, but frosting won’t cook the cake more and, when cut and removed by Graham, the slice droops like Amanda’s hopes and dreams of winning this competition. It tastes great, but it’s raw, he says, adding, “based on flavor you’re not out…yet.” Shelly’s got a mojito rum cake with lime zest, which is also undercooked, leading Gordon to surmise this is not her best effort.
Finally Charlie, and his mound of saccharine dookie. “Bake us a stunning cake,” Gordon begins, rehashing the ask. “It looks like you’ve been frosting a lump of concrete.” Charlie assures him it will taste good. Unfazed, Gordon asks him to “describe your mess.” Best zinger of the season, right there. Charlie does so as we zoom in to see even the candle is crooked. Gordon tastes before giving a bite to Claudia, who announces that Charlie’s right; it is delicious. Everyone is floored. Gordon gets the final word: “It’s the ugliest cake, not just in the kitchen but in all of America.”
Claudia wins, and Nick and Sara are also spared, leaving Amanda, Shelly and Charlie. Of course Charlie is sent packing, so the real nail biter here will be which of the two ladies are going. Both have had strong showings in the past, yet both undercooked their cakes tonight. Gordon asks Shelly to take her apron off and say goodbye. She starts to cry, as does Amanda, and removes the garment. That’s when Gordon lets the hammer drop: “Say goodbye to Amanda and head up to the balcony because you’re safe.” DAMN. That’s one cold way to send Amanda home, Gordo. The sobbing duo hug so tightly that we can hear someone’s heart beating insanely fast via their microphones. And with that, Amanda is dismissed.
Who would you have sent home: Shelly or Amanda? Do you think any of those cakes “celebrated 100 episodes”? Who’s your frontrunner for taking the whole competition at this point?