How do you mess up an apple pie? Some MasterChef hopefuls are here to show us...

By Sean Evans
May 28, 2015 at 07:25 PM EDT
Greg Gayne/Fox

Tonight, we’re treated to MasterChef’s first mystery box challenge. All 22 contestants stand at their stations, eyeing their crates excitedly, as Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi, and Graham Elliot announce that the contents must be repurposed to show “who the home cooks are,” noting a hefty advantage for the winner. With that, the boxes are yanked away to reveal…different ingredients for every contestant. Hmm. But these ingredients aren’t a mystery to the contestants for one simple reason.

“You all have a station of ingredients that each of you left behind in your home kitchen,” says Gordon. Sure enough, we hear, “This is my refrigerator!” from one shocked hopeful, which makes me think of the poor production assistants who must’ve had to interview all these people about exactly what was in each of their refrigerators at home and then go out and buy it all. Many cooks are excited by this turn of events, but not Veronica, a 56-year-old beauty consultant who prefers a heavy hand when applying her blue eye shadow. “I’m such an eclectic cook at home,” she says, explaining her box ‘o intrigue may have too many mismatched items to pull off a cohesive dish.

The hour begins. Hetal’s whipping up a coconut curry soup, sans protein, which shocks Gordon. Hetal explains the region of India she hails from doesn’t eat meat, prompting Gordon to inquire how she’ll handle future challenges that do involve meat. The answer: “I’m nervous. I haven’t been around it much.” Derrick, the drummer who swapped his sticks for knives, managed to locate a whole shirt this week! Derrick and his whole shirt are getting started on a pan-seared black cod with purple cauliflower puree and roasted Brussels sprouts, which, according to Derrick, are going to create “the most beautiful plate any rocker has ever put on a dish.” Admittedly, that’s a pretty low bar, considering most rockers are happy to call a bottle of booze “dinner.”

Next we meet Dan, since we montaged over him last week. Dan’s an engineer and a model, which is an odd combination of professions to hold. DEREK ZOOLANDER Dan is making a savory éclair, which sounds “interesting” to Christina. Katrina, who couldn’t remember what made it to her plate last week, is cooking a pork schnitzel, which Gordon samples and declares delicious. This proclamation surprises Katrina, who admits she didn’t have the confidence to apply to this show earlier. “I’m glad you’re here,” says Gordon. “Especially cooking cabbage like that.”

After time is called, the judges take a final look to see which dishes stand out. Katrina is selected first and giggles as everyone claps. “I didn’t expect to have Gordon say my name,” she gushes. “I’m so grateful. I’m floating up to heaven.” Also selected are Dan and Hatal, with the first major victory going to Dan and his savory éclairs.

His first prize is skipping the elimination challenge, which is up next. Dan’s pulled into a secret room, containing the judges and every bakery product Christina Tosi’s marvelous Momofuku Milk Bar offers. But the challenge won’t be to recreate one of her signature desserts. (Shame.) Instead, it’s to serve up the perfect slice of the baker’s benchmark: apple pie. As she says this, she kindly holds up a slice of apple pie for viewers who aren’t familiar with apple pie.

Dan’s second advantage is to select a bunch of apples, which seems more like grocery shopping than a prize. The judges and Dan file back into the studio and the elimination challenge is revealed, along with the shocker that two losers will be headed home tonight. Dan’s then instructed to give out his selected fruit to fellow contestants he wants to spare from the challenge. Giddy at this sliver of power, Dan prances around the room, placing some apples down with a great flourish while trying to be cavalier about tossing them to others, and generally hamming this up. He nearly bestows an apple on Steven, the intense/possibly crazy urban gardener, but Steven barks at Dan like a crazed mutt, scaring Dan off.

Nine contestants are left in the elimination challenge and they’re off and baking. Veronica tells us her grandkids “love my apple pie. I’ve made a kazillion apple pies.” Derrick and his whole shirt are going to add some “rock ‘n roll flair” to his pie with a bourbon whipped cream, and I’m starting to wonder if he’s going to make a crappy rock ‘n roll reference every time he speaks. Steven’s throwing in caramel, walnuts, and raisins, telling us, “if the judges don’t like it, they have to check their medication.” …Right.

NEXT: A couple rotten apples…

Veronica’s dumping graham crackers into her crust, which Christina thinks is risky. “I cook creatively. That’s who I am,” Veronica shrugs. Olivia’s not sure if she’s going to do a crust, which freaking flummoxes Gordon. Her counter: “I gotta do me.” This is an acceptable reply to questions such as “Did you really just say ‘YOLO’?” or “Why did you just text me 200 poop emojis?” but it falls flat when said to Gordon Ramsay. Still befuddled, Gordon just keeps repeating “apple pie” like he’s Rain Man, until Olivia admits he’s right and she should do a crust. With that settled, Gordon asks what else is going in there. “Blueberries and goat cheese.” Gordon walks away before his brain explodes at this horrible decision.

Out of the oven come the pies and we start the sampling with Veronica. It doesn’t look good for dear, sweet, Veronica given that her apple pie bears a striking resemblance to a cow pie. Gordon asks to borrow her glasses, donning them to lean in for an inspection. “Let’s be honest, this does not look like a simple apple pie,” which is probably the nicest criticism he’s ever issued. He asks her if she makes apple pie a lot, to which she says no (perhaps she doesn’t consider “a kazillion” a lot). “It looks a mess but tastes delicious. Damn!” Gordon exclaims while Veronica looks on the verge of happy tears, white-knuckled hands clenching her apron. Christina and Graham agree, and Veronica jumps up and down, screaming her thanks repeatedly.

Up comes Christopher, who is nervous as he’s never baked this before. His filling includes apples (duh), maple syrup, bourbon, and five tablespoons of cornstarch. Gordon informs us that he “can build a f—ing house with that much cornstarch,” which means Gordon likely doesn’t have much of a future as a contractor. There’s a back and forth about this volume of cornstarch, during which Christopher gets defensive and catty. “Yeah, I don’t know. Just eat it,” he finally snaps at Gordon. This attitude won’t get him far, and Gordon calmly reminds him the proof is always in the food. They taste and Christopher’s pie is delicious, putting a smile on his face.

On a scale of “one to I-hate-this-pie, I hate this pie,” says Olivia, bringing up a dish that looks eerily reminiscent of my first attempt at baking during Home Ec in sixth grade. “If someone gave me the option to shave my head or eat this pie, I’d shave my head.” The judges concur that the lemon and blueberry work, but “the goat cheese is weird. You get that farm flavor in there. It’s a huge miss,” says Graham.

Derrick and his whole shirt have made a good pie, but it could stand to have more apples. It’s also missing that rockin’ bourbon whipped cream. Steven’s mascarpone and caramel pie tastes like a great balance of flavors, but the crust wasn’t baked long enough and tastes a bit raw, says Christina, drawing a wince from Steven (though no retort about her needing some new medication).

Mateo, a high school teacher with an almost comically large bow tie, puts forth a ginger, cardamom, and salted bourbon pie, which disintegrates the minute Gordon tries to plate it. Technical problems aside—the apples are too thick and the pastry is way too thin—the taste of the filling is off. “Your spice is too much. I taste ginger before anything else. This one doesn’t make the grade,” says Christina. Sarah’s made a pecan apple pie with caramel and cinnamon. It looks damn good, and I’m not a fan of apple pie. Graham says, “It’s like a slice of autumn. It’s textbook.”

Lastly, Brianna brings a ginger and mint concoction with pastry that looks raw even from my couch. Christina commends her for fine latticework before tilting the dish sideways to pour out a ton of liquid. “It’s literally like apple soup,” Christina says, as Brianna’s face falls.

It’s time to declare the winner and it’s Christopher, who is surprised. The three worst pies were Brianna, Mateo, and Olivia, who all move forward sullenly to await their fate. “Mateo, you are a high school teacher and your summer break has come early. It’s time to go home,” says Graham, in a weak burn. The episode ends with Olivia being spared and Brianna sent packing, which is a little surprising given that goat cheese, though I’m most surprised that no one said “How do you like them apples?!” during this episode.

Whose pie do you think looked the best? When do you think Christopher’s attitude will lead to a shouting match between him and Gordon? Would you live in Gordon’s cornstarch house?