Gordon Ramsay, Hell's Kitchen
Credit: Patrick Wymore/Fox

When I started this Hell’s Kitchen recapping gig, I thought, nah, there’s no way this show will win me over. And yet, here I am at week 12, eagerly anticipating this season’s final few episodes. After last night, only four chefs remain. The excess fat has been trimmed, and anyone could win at this point (although I’m putting my money on a Kevin vs. Dave showdown). But the more intriguing question is this: Will our remaining chefs ever produce a thoroughly successful dinner service? I’ve been astonished — as has Chef Ramsay — by how shoddy the services have been this late in the game. Will our contestants get their act together and finally make Ramsay a happy man? Oh, what I would give to see Ramsay pull a Col. Hans Landa and exclaim, “That’s a bingo!”

But I digress. Last night was a rather uneventful show. Gone was the team challenge and in was the individual challenge, in which each chef had to create one dish that would be graded purely on its presentation by the editorial staff of Bon Appétit. The two most attractive dishes would then be tasted by Ramsay and the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Barbara Fairchild. The episode’s most comical moment came early as Dave struggled to describe his Colorado rack of lamb to the judges: “It’s a pan-seared yellow … red and yellow … uh, the sauce is actually … is … is … a plum.” Poor Dave, who was sweating twice as much to make up for Van’s absence. “I don’t speak well in front of crowds,” Dave admitted in a revelation that sent shock waves around the globe. The judges opted for Ariel’s John Dory dish and Kevin’s Caribbean sea bass, and Ramsay and Fairchild enjoyed both plates so much that they awarded a tie to the two chefs.

Ariel and Kevin joined Fairchild and Ramsay for a Bon Appétit photo shoot at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, Calif., where their winning dishes were photographed for a spread in the magazine. Kevin looked quite smug while posing for all the cameras. As for the losers, Hell’s Kitchen adopted an Los Angeles street that Dave, Suzanne, and Tennille had to clean by picking up its garbage. “Did we commit a crime in not winning today’s challenge?” Tennille asked. “I’m not a convict — I’m a chef!” You’d be surprised how often those two things are confused with one another.

At the beginning of dinner service, Ramsay rallied the chefs with an Obama-esque “Yes we can” chant. But did the show really have to cut immediately to Tennille, who repeated the line so gleefully that you’d think Ramsay’s inclusion of the “Yes we can” mantra represented some sort of historic moment in Hell’s Kitchen? The dinner service, on the other hand, was repeatedly referred to as a disaster, and thy disaster’s name was risotto. Kevin, in his first major blunder of the season, overcooked the rice while preparing for the service, and Tennille failed to recognize the overcooked rice, resulting in two dishes of mushy risotto. Also stirring up trouble were Suzanne, who overcooked her scallops and undercooked the John Dory dish, and Ariel, who delivered pink chicken and disfigured lamb.

Ramsay concluded that even though the chefs made it through a whole dinner service, it was one of their worst performances. The group had to nominate two people for elimination — Ariel and Suzanne were the guinea pigs. With this being Suzanne’s fourth time on the chopping block, Ramsay decided that it was her time to say goodbye, but at least she left with a kernel of wisdom: “I realized that my major flaw was creating this distance with my teammates.” Being a know-it-all didn’t help either, and yet, I’m going to miss Suzanne’s mischievous ways. She was always planning her angle, and while it didn’t work out for her this time, I have little doubt that she’ll find success in the future.

On to this week’s rankings. I, for the first time, am no longer certain that Kevin belongs in the top spot. Dave was the only chef who didn’t commit a glaring error during dinner service; yet, during the individual challenge, Kevin shined. The preview for next week’s episode suggested that Dave, who’s still fighting through the pain from his sprained wrist, might become too weak to continue competing. But if Dave manages to endure and makes it to the end, his story arc of overcoming a debilitating injury would be hard to ignore. Plus, I’m getting the sense that the show, which has increasingly included soundbites of Kevin foretelling his own victory, has begun setting us up for an upset. Alas, my brain has overruled my gut, so I’m sticking with Kevin for now:

1. Kevin

2. Dave

3. Tennille

4. Ariel

PopWatchers, will Dave’s injured wrist ultimately cause his demise, or will it only make him more admirable? Could Tennille pull a Matrix move and knock out both of the guys? And will we witness a completely efficient dinner service before the season ends?