How do you screw up a TV dinner? Some MasterChef hopefuls show us precisely how.

By Sean Evans
June 25, 2015 at 04:09 PM EDT
Greg Gayne/Fox
  • TV Show

We’re back from Vegas with the top 16 cooks and kick off with another mystery box challenge. The contents are all breakfast ingredients, but the judges aren’t looking for a breakfast you’d eat at home. Bummer. I was hoping someone would just serve Gordon Ramsay a bowl of Special K. No, they want a refined, restaurant quality dish. And there’s a twist. There’s an extra box at a station in the front. “It’s here because you all have a lot to learn,” says Gordon.  …So this box is going to teach them…? Nope. Graham Elliot’s going to cook with them.

While this is Nick’s dream come true, as he would have “paid money to cook with Graham,” I’m left wondering why Graham needs to participate in this challenge. Gordon answers my question: “The contestants can learn organization from Graham.” Sure enough, Graham’s getting his station set up in a calm, orderly manner, while 16 cooks behind him are racing around like mad men. Graham announces that he’ll do three dishes, one for each judge, while the contestants only have to do one.

But I’m still perplexed here. If the point is for the hopefuls to learn from Graham, why is Graham cooking concurrently with them? Surely the cook all the way in the back of the room can’t see what Graham’s doing up front, nor can anyone really devote any serious time or attention to soaking in Graham’s skills, techniques or methods, as they’re in a timed battle to stay in this competition. This would’ve been more effective as a straightforward lesson, both to the cooks in that kitchen and to us viewers.

They finish and Graham gets to present his three dishes first. They look amazing, but they better, right? Olivia sums it up in her tween speak for us: “Oh my God. Graham’s, like, a legend.” There’s a smoked salmon and asparagus soft scramble, a full English brekkie for Gordon and a French toast and banana dish for Christina Tosi. They all heap praise on Graham, and this is a weird and sad use of airtime. On to the contestants. There were three standouts the judges were “dying” to see. The first is Nick.

Up he comes with a great looking plate he calls a Three Way Breakfast. There’s French toast with a berry, mint, and lemon compote, a breakfast deviled egg (replete with maple syrup and bacon), and a sausage and asparagus medley. It looks sublime. I want to eat it all then lick the plate. The judges concur that this is a standout home run, and Gordon’s happy Nick’s not playing it safe. Hey Nick, where do we get the recipe for those deviled eggs?

Next up is Katrina, who giggles when her name is called and “cannot believe it. It’s so nice to be recognized in the top three.” She thinks her hard work and knowledge have really paid off here and the proof is in her dish. Upon it sits a blood sausage, mushroom, and asparagus frittata beside a stuffed tomato the size of a fist. It’s delicious, says Graham, but the tomato probably didn’t need to be the size of Texas. A simple slice may have sufficed. Gordon welcomes her back to the top three and is “amazed” by her “fearlessness.” Eh? “Most people would’ve shied away from the blood sausage, but you went for it.” I mean, yeah, most people wouldn’t touch the stuff because blood sausage doesn’t exactly scream “breakfast.” I’m not sure if including it makes her fearless, but it does solidify that Gordon’s got a serious soft spot for this woman and I’m struggling to figure out why.

The final dish, heavy in technique and plated in a “stunning” fashion, belongs to Derrick. No one thinks this is more deserved than… Derrick. “I’ve been listening, learning, and it shows in my dish. I feel like a rockstar.” Dude. We get it. You play the drums. His dish does look glorious, with a trio of offerings. His salmon benedict, French toast and crème anglaise are masterfully cooked and plated, and it’s no surprise the judges pile on the adulations following their bites.

While Gordon’s slowly teasing out who the winner is (by unanimous decision), Derrick’s soundbites are peppered in during Gordon’s pauses. Of Nick’s plate, Derrick sneers, “I don’t think of deviled eggs for breakfast.” And “Katrina has great flavor, but I don’t think she’ll ever understand the art of plating. [Mine] is the prettiest plate. I’ve pushed myself outside of the comfort zone. I deserve this win.” Tell us how you really feel, homie. His self-righteousness is somewhat justified by virtue of the fact that he does win this challenge. He celebrates by saying something awkward: “Finally! I might be small, but I am mighty. This is going to be a great way to show everyone how big I really am.” I’m sure he meant his stature, but all I could think was “is this a veiled manhood reference?”

NEXT: Earth to Veronica… 

Onto the pantry where Derrick’s now in charge of the elimination challenge. Of course he’s safe from cooking, but he does have to decide what everyone else will be making. Christina Tosi explains that the base for the challenge will be something that “everyone reaches into the back of their freezer and pulls out at some point.” Oh. Are we making moldy ice chunks?! Alas, it’s a TV dinner. There are three options, each emblazoned with a judge’s face (inexplicably) sporting a fake moustache. Even Christina’s. As for the variants, there’s turkey, meatloaf, or Salisbury steak. Derrick will select one and the cooks will have to produce an elevated version in one hour.

Back in the studio, the cooks learn their fate: Salisbury steak with mac and cheese and broccoli. Veronica whoops because she’s “been eating TV dinners for 59 years.” Someone get this woman some shares in Swanson or Hungry Man. Olivia’s less enthused. “I don’t even know what Salisbury steak is,” she sighs. Hetal the vegetarian freaks out because meat. They’re about to start when Derrick’s final advantage comes into play. “This is your chance to target one home cook who may be enjoying a TV dinner in their own home tomorrow,” say the judges.

Derrick gets to choose someone who must stand and do nothing but watch for the first 15 minutes of the challenge. This is so evil and cruel. I love it. Derrick, beaming at this power, selects Christopher. Chris is “so angry he could sear a steak on his forehead.” This is probably the most creative way to express your level of anger. Derrick’s hoping Chris will take it personally and let it brew in his head and he’ll psych himself out. While I get that, I still thought Derrick would’ve picked Shelly after she threw him to the wolves last week, but perhaps Derrick thinks Shelly’s weak enough to be her own worst enemy.

Everyone gets to work, except Chris, who just stands there in the background, bouncing and jumping in place like a kid who has to pee. Olivia’s still not down with this “disgusting” Salisbury steak, so she’s hoping this will all magically work out. Shelly’s infusing her beef with Jamaican spices. Jesse’s using venison meat (uh, why?) and making fried mac and cheese. Gordon announces he’s never had fried mac and cheese, meaning Gordon has never really lived.

Veronica is politely reminded by Christina that her presentation often leaves something to be desired and inquires what’s going to be different tonight. “Well, it’s going to look like a TV dinner; that’s been planned for me,” she tells Christina and Graham who are floored. “Okay, you did hear the part where we said elevated and restaurant quality?” Christina asks. Veronica did, but doesn’t really care. “My grandkids are waiting to hear you guys say it’s awesome,” she says, looking into a pot and flicking the judges away with her hand. Granny doesn’t get it. Christina reminds her one more time that presentation matters before they move on. Hetal doesn’t know what this should taste like, so she’s going to add a bunch of Indian spices that she knows typically go with meat. Gordon lets her know she can ask someone else to taste for her and wishes her well. Shortly thereafter, the challenge ends. Tasting time.

First up is Christopher, nervous because he didn’t have time to taste and couldn’t get his ring mold off the mac and cheese. He’s got Salisbury beef and lamb sliders with cheese fusilli and broccolini, artfully presented. “Based on this, what I want to do now is take 15 minutes off your time every time,” says Gordon, who loves it. Graham and Christina echo the accolades, while Derrick sulks in the rafters. Christopher’s thoughts? “Just like Jesus, I’ve been chosen to suffer, but yet again I rise from the dead and here I am. I feel bad for everyone else. I’m a huge threat. I’m scary. I’m like Godzilla. Run, Tokyo, run.” …Let’s refrain from comparing your performance in a network reality show about cooking to Jesus, shall we, Christopher?

Hetal comes forth next, saying her dish looks like “ass” and that she doesn’t want to serve this to anyone. Unfortunately, her comparison is spot on. Her creation does look worse than a real TV dinner, which I always thought was impossible. As she puts down the plate for Gordon, she’s hit with a bout of verbal diarrhea. “It’s not my best. I knew I screwed up everything. Don’t eat it. It’s so bad,” she says, trailing off to a whisper. Gordon doesn’t sugarcoat that it’s as bad as she assumes. He didn’t expect perfect meat, but he did expect a perfect mac and cheese and broccoli and she hasn’t done either. Hetal cries and blames it all on the fact that she was so concerned about the meat that she lost sight on the sides. Gordon points out that they’ve had vegetarians before who’ve done well and sends her back to her station to continue weeping.

Olivia must’ve worked some magic somehow because everyone raves about her dish, and same for Shelly and Nick. Then comes Veronica. Damn, lady. Did you just go to Old Country Buffet, grab some stuff from their garbage and throw it in some bowls? Because that’s what it looks like. It’s sloppy, gloppy and every other -oppy word. Clueless as ever, she smiles as she puts it in front of Gordon, who sighs. “You completely missed the objective,” he begins while she looks genuinely surprised. How the eff are you surprised, Veronica? CHRISTINA LITERALLY WARNED YOU ABOUT THIS MINUTES AGO. “I asked you to cook one portion of a TV dinner, to make it elegant and upscale,” says Gordon. “This thing looks like it’s fit for King Kong’s kitchen.” Perhaps you can feed it to Godzilla Christopher. “How many times have I asked you to refine things down to a simple plate?” Gordon continues. But Veronica thinks she’s done that. “It’s awesome!” she says. Gordon pours out a gallon of liquid from the bowl of broccoli and groans and stares at her. “I’m done. I’m concerned you’re not getting the point,” he says, turning heel and walking away. This devastates Veronica, who definitely does not get the point, and who now hopes someone else does much worse so she’s not sent home.

Veronica may get her wish, courtesy of Jesse. He’s feeling good enough, though he acknowledges his plating could be improved. Gordon puts it bluntly: “What a bizarre-looking dish.” His venison looks dry from here, and he’s done pickled broccoli wrapped in prosciutto, which looks like a weird new age children’s toy, but definitely not like edible food. Gordon tastes it and says the meat is so dry “it’s like swallowing a mouthful of sand.” Jesse meekly puts up a fight as to the level of dryness of the deer, but Gordon’s right and Jesse acquiesces.

The two winners, and team captains next week, are Nick and Olivia (wait, not Christopher??). The three losers are called up. There’s no surprise here that it’s Hetal, Jesse, and Veronica. Veronica is swiftly discharged, as she’s missed the mark time and again, and she hugs everyone goodbye. She tells us her family will love her cooking even more now, and she pats her apron one final time with the biggest hair scrunchie I have ever seen. Gordon tells us the good news is we’re down to the top 15. The bad news is that we’re about to go down to the top 14. Whaaaa?! “Hetal, tonight’s performance shows you hit a huge stumbling block,” Gordon says, then tells Jesse that he’s like a petulant teenager. And with that, Jesse is also dismissed.

Who did you think had the best take on the TV dinner? Will you miss Veronica? How do you think Olivia and Nick will do running a team next week?

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