The bitchy comebacks, the eye rolling … the struggle to cook the perfect sunny side up egg. If Season 4 of Fox’s MasterChef sounds like a cross between The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Top Chef, it’s not too far off. The reality cooking show pits amateur home cooks against each other in a series of challenges (with plenty of drama-for-yo-momma). The final episode airs tonight with a faceoff between the last two standing in the competition vying for the prize of $250,000 and a book deal. The competitors will have to cook standing back-to-back, while donning gleaming, brand new chef’s uniforms in a little stadium full of the season’s past competitors and family members. Co-judge and celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey (Hell’s Kitchen) touted last week’s double-episode as, “The most explosive episode in history!” We’re curious to see what he thinks of this one. Warning: spoilers ahead.
There were some favorite contestants who were knocked out in the last few episodes—from Houstonian hipster chef and sauce specialist James Nelson to affable momma’s boy Jordan Roots. Bespectacled Bri Kozier made it through surprisingly far for a vegetarian who was repeatedly challenged to cook meat; she never test-tasted her dishes that included meat, yet, she did a superb job at it. She was even brought back on the show for a couple of episodes after getting knocked off, only to get eliminated again. However, her arch nemesis and most-hated contestant on the show, Krissi Biasiello—who has been nicknamed “The Thing” and “The Beast”—continued to curse Bri and bully other competitors with unbridled ferocity. Southern belle and top-four finalist Jessie Lysiak fought back against Krissi by pitching some snarky comments of her own until the bitter end, when she was first eliminated last week and then Krissi in tow in the hustle to the finish line.
Sure, the show has a Mean Girls quality about it, but it’s reality TV on Fox. Expectations have been a little low that it would compare to something like Food Network’s Iron Chef or Top Chef—two shows that really hone in on the skills of culinary mastery. Last week’s MasterChef episode actually had the lowest ratings for the season, even for being the penultimate episode that chopped down the last four contestants to two. Critics and viewers have complained about the show focusing too much on the drama with Krissi, the cut-to shots of the competitors’ overzealous facial reactions, and angst-ridden comebacks rather than on the actual cooking expertise. It has been irritating to watch Krissi get this far in the show since her skills are lackluster compared to the rest of the finalists. The team behind MasterChef must have miscalculated keeping Krissi on the show for drama, thinking it would boost ratings. It did not. Also, there was that unforgiving episode obviously sponsored by Wal-Mart where the judges and contestants had to cook with the supernova market chain’s “fresh” produce and had to say lines boasting about how their steaks were the freshest and best. Cue in eye rolling from viewers.
However, there have been some creative and impressive dishes on the show, especially from the final two—Natasha Crnjac, the 26-year-old stay-at-home mom, and Luca Manfe, the 31-year-old restaurant manager with a Kermit-the-Frog-like voice and thick Italian accent. Luca has stepped up his game with his plethora of knowledge in Italian cooking, and is one of the most likeable people on the show. It’s fun to cheer on the nice guy. He even gave Jessie some of his butter in one of her final challenges against him because he thinks a fair competition is the only one he wants to be involved in. Natasha, on the other hand, is the second most disliked contestant on the show (rolling in after Krissi), but one of the most talented; she talks the talk and supposedly hates Luca. Someone has to have the “I-didn’t-come-here-to-make-friends” attitude if Krissi’s gone.
There have been some memorable moments in the 20-episode run including Episode 18 where the judges Ramsey, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot brought out their Mini-Me sons on the show to pick out ingredients for the contestants to cook with. And the kicker was their journey to Paula Deen’s ranch to cook for a group of charity workers. Fox executives were probably scrambling to figure out a way to not air this episode since they filmed this back in March before the Southern high-calorie celebrity chef had been sued for racism.
Despite the criticism the show has faced, MasterChef is still fun and celebrates culinary creativity. It gets people to root for home cooks; us non-celebrity chefs would like to live vicariously through them. The show has been renewed for two more seasons, so fans have something to look forward to. Expect Bastianich to smash more plates and Ramsey to say “Damn” in a British accent. Also, coming up on Sept. 27 is the series premiere of Fox’s Junior MasterChef. Let’s see what sort of drama they can get out of eight to 13 year-olds who love to cook.