Forget “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” So last year. For MasterChef contestant Shelly Flash, it’s more like “What happens in Vegas brings out the worst in some fans.”

If you’ve been watching MasterChef season 6, however, you probably won’t be surprised to learn this self-taught cook and single mom won’t let negative feedback keep her down. She spoke with me from her home in Brooklyn after the show finished taping for the year.

A Sin City Showdown Turned Throwdown

If you’ll recall, Shelly and Stephen Lee faced off in Las Vegas as team captains. He chose the team (including many of the contestants Shelly felt most comfortable cooking with), while she picked her team’s protein (chicken). 

Almost immediately, she came under fire for choosing a menu featuring a multi-step poultry dish, and rival Derrick Peltz challenged her leadership. By the end, however, the team pulled it together, losing in a squeaker. 

Then things really got interesting. The judges forced Shelly to choose someone on her team to save. Her choice: Katrina, which surprised – and angered — some viewers. It also surprised Derrick, who called out Shelly for not being honest about her game strategy. 

Let’s hear her side of the story now. “First of all,” she said, “I didn’t want to put anyone in the pressure test, but I had to. Then, the judges want you to explain the decision. But how do you do it without sounding like your reasons aren’t snarky or crazy? I wasn’t going to do that.”

“I wasn’t the strongest captain,” she admitted, “but in the end we almost won, and we all busted our butts. I chose Katrina because she banged out a lot of plates. At that moment, for me to elaborate on my strategy on how or why I decided to choose someone seemed wrong.”

Derrick’s criticism arose from Shelly’s on-camera admission (recorded after the challenge) that she always planned to force the strongest competitors into the pressure test. That’s a time-honored strategy. (It’s Derrick’s strategy, for that matter.) So why not just say that in the first place? 

“I was trying to be polite — I didn’t want to insult one of my teammates and say one of them was weak. We all worked hard. I tried to be positive.” Despite what occurred later, she stands by her original decision.

Shaking Off the Haters

Derrick sailed through his steak-based elimination challenge anyway, and he didn’t even take revenge on Shelly the following week. (Sorry, Christopher!) No harm, no foul, right?

Until the episode aired in June. For some MasterChef enthusiasts, the Vegas episode exposed the darker side of fandom. (That’s “fans,” as in “fanatics.”) 

“I had a rough time with some of the feedback,” she said. “Look, I know the show is edited. You don’t see everything that goes on. I pride myself on believing that no matter how I’m portrayed, I’d stay consistent and level and love to interact with my fans.” (That’s “fans” as in “nice people who enjoy a popular TV show.”)

“I’m a social media junkie,” she added, “but I had to stay off the Web for two days because of the negative comments. I appreciate that folks are invested in the show, and that means you take the good with the bad. 

“It’s all about perspective. I was very fortunate that my family is very protective of me. They defended me.” 

Talking with her, it’s clear the hostility shook her up, but can’t keep her down. You lose, haters.

This Close Call Was No Cakewalk

Fortunately, all that came later, once the show aired. The real-time cooking challenges delivered enough excitement — and some heartbreak.

In the show’s 100th episode, Shelly again wound up on the losing team in another close call. And again, the judges demanded a tough decision. Who would be saved from the elimination round? The losing team had to choose from among their own, and she fought hard to be the lucky one.

“Why not?” she asked. “I believe in myself, but if you can avoid a pressure test, you should. What if you’re having a bad day? But we came to a consensus and chose Stephen. He deserved it.”

Her fears about bad days were spot on. Challenged with baking three-layer birthday cakes, Shelly and Amanda Saab both fell short. Shelly may exude confidence, but not this time. Go watch those final moments again — it’s clear Shelly thought she was a goner. 

“It’s true,” she said. “I thought I was through. I sort of mentally checked out.” But the judges sent fan-favorite Amanda home instead. 

“That was rough,” she recalled. “Even seeing it on TV last week, I cried again. I was physically ill afterwards. Amanda became my friend — she was like my sister. We confided in each other when we missed our families. It hurt. You’re standing there with someone you care about. And she’s a great baker and a really strong competitor overall. She just had a tough day.”

Real friendships can outlast even a bad day, however. “We developed a tight bond — we’re part of a unique, tight club. No one can take that away from us.” 

No Mere Flash in the Pan

Heart-stopping and heartbreaking moments aside, Shelly Flash loved the MasterChef experience. We won’t know at home for several weeks if she won. But after receiving encouragement from the power trio of Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Christina Tosi, she’s sure she’s on the right path. She’s planning to enroll in culinary school, then pursue a career as a food professional and blogger.

“As someone who’s obsessive about food, the MasterChef process is transformative,” she said. “This has connected me to what I want to do with my life. And it’s made my daughter so proud. It’s changed me and molded me into a better chef and a stronger person.”

MasterChef airs Wednesdays at 8pm on FOX.

(Image courtesy of Greg Gayne/FOX)

Alison Stern-Dunyak

Contributing Writer, BuddyTV