After a three-week hiatus, MasterChef's third season finally seems to be entering the home stretch. With only six -- now five -- contestants left, this is no longer the judge-centric food mob show of its early episodes, but rather an intimate character drama about the remaining contestants. That makes tonight's centerpiece moments of betrayal and elimination all the more resonant, as MasterChef
unwittingly ventures into the surprisingly nuanced territories of moral compromise and what "winning"actually means.
While the team challenges have skewed largely populist so far, this week the potential MasterChefs face the far more demanding prospect of running an award-winning kitchen in Hatfield's Restaurant - -to quote Gordon in a heated moment, "we're not cooking for [expletive] cowboys now."
Becky and Frank captain the red and blue team respectively, and promptly divide the competition along gender lines. Gordon expedites the serving process himself, adding yet another layer of pressure to the traditionally hectic collaboration segment. In spite of the numerous predictable hiccups, both teams manage to serve forty-four upscale dishes to the patrons of Hatfield's, albeit not without significant delays.
The blue team in particular struggles to present their dishes on time, and Becky's red team is declared victorious. Frank is given the opportunity to pick one blue team member for immunity, and in spite of some initial compliments for Josh, he takes the safe spot himself.
This is a fascinatingly uncharacteristic moment for Frank: while his unbridled competitiveness has so far been compatible with his heretofore unimpeachable integrity, there's a definite sense that he's taking immunity here not because he deserves it, but because he's lucked into a moment of power. When the prospect of immunity is presented as hypothetical, he has no problem nominating Josh; when it becomes a reality, he succumbs to temptation. Viewers will remember that he wouldn't even consider immunity after failing his team earlier in the season--perhaps the realization that he's changed explains why he looks so miserable for the rest of the evening.
Josh and David face off in a three-part filet mignon pressure test. The outcome is fairly predictable, as cold, competitive Josh bests the long-struggling David. In a positive twist, however, David is given the most heart-warming send-off of the season: Graham offers him a job in one of his Chicago restaurants.
As the contestants themselves have proven, shows like this have a way of framing life in terms of winners and losers. David's expulsion, however, has given him something far more important than a reality show win: he's secured a good job doing something he loves under someone he respects. Competitions will come and go, but David's victory will last him the rest of his career.
It remains to be seen what fate awaits Frank for his moment of opportunism. If there's one thing Gordon Ramsey likes more than doling out absurd and random advantages, it's punishing the advantaged like a vengeful Old Testament god.
MasterChef: a Medievil morality play, as generously sponsored by Wal-Mart.
(Image courtesy of FOX)