Just as The Bachelor makes for feel-good TV by offering up snapshots of romantic love so mindless and undignified that our own relationships can only shine by comparison, so too does Food Network’s Worst Cooks in America make our average paper plates of burnt toast look downright intoxicating next to the inedible output of its hapless anti-chefs.
Last night’s episode featured turkey alla salmonella, “steamed” (read: gray and bloodied) steak, and a salsa cruda recipe infused with just a hint of a contestant’s saliva. Perhaps even more shockingly, two of those “delicacies” didn’t get their creators ousted from the competition. Yet with six players each left on Chef Anne Burrell’s Red Team and Chef Robert Irvine’s Blue Team, there’s still plenty of abuse being directed at innocent vegetables and proteins.
I particularly enjoyed this week’s Skill Drill, which asked the teams to taste three different sauces — salsa cruda, pesto, and romesco — then attempt to replicate them without the help of a recipe. I howled with laughter watching Anna and Kelly decimate their basil until it achieved the consistency of peanut butter. Watching Chef Anne hold a spoonful of the sauce upside down on a spoon, without a single drop falling to the floor, drove home Chef Robert’s earlier warning: “The pitfall for pesto is not using enough oil and that you blend it far too much.” Still, I liked the way the each combatant was forced to use his or her senses of taste and smell — and not the ability to memorize a recipe — to recreate kitchen basics.
By comparison, this week’s Technique Challenge seemed a little superfluous. If the contestants are going to be asked to cook an entire dish prior to the elimination challenge, why not raise the stakes by offering immunity or a cash prize to the winner? Otherwise, the whole exercise just seems like so much cornstarch in the soup, a cheap and obvious way to fill out the one-hour timeslot.
Then again, at least we got to see the blue team struggle to gut their shrimp. Anna’s massacred crustaceans were so gory they looked like they were covered in romesco before they’d hit the pan. And, of course, the challenge also resulted in a pearl of wisdom from ditzy Kelly: “When I decided that I wanted to learn how to cook, not for one millisecond did it ever cross my mind that I would be pulling poop out of a shrimp.” Yum?
Finally, we got to the Elimination Challenge, which asked the recruits to reinvent some of the most tragic frozen dinners ever captured on camera. That gloppy Salisbury steak unveiled by Anne was the culinary equivalent of Ahab’s whale: You could spend your entire life scouring the nation’s supermarket freezers and never stumble across anything quite that unappetizing.
Nevertheless, those pre-packaged horrors looked tastier than what wound up on the plates of this week’s bottom four contestants. The red team’s attempts at dry-rubbed, pan-seared rib eye with mushroom sauce, glazed baby carrots, and smashed red potatoes were, on the whole, a tad more terrifying than the blue team’s collective attempts at herbed turkey breast with English cream peas, sauteed potatoes, and cranberry compote. Still, you knew Priscilla’s dreams of winning were going up in smoke when her rivals were already resting or plating their steaks while her own meat sat raw on the counter. I’d say her finished product looked like the result of a squirrel getting squashed by an 18-wheeler, but I’m pretty sure you’d get a better sear from the combination of hot pavement and raging tire. Priscilla left the building with what was probably meant to be an inspirational quote but sounded more like a threat: “My cooking ability now will allow me to give back to my husband, and I plan to do it for the rest of our lives.”
As for the blue team, Matt’s tendency to char everything on his stovetop turned out to be the bigger sin than Ty’s inability to recognize he was serving raw turkey. (“I didn’t realize it was undercooked till you said it!” he told Chef Robert, as the protein on his plate offered an incredulous gobble.)
I’m not really sure who’s going to “win” this thing when it’s all said and done. Anna’s turkey dish looked tasty, and I’m digging her open attempts to flirt with her mentor. “That makes me feel really good, and I owe it all to you, Chef Robert,” she winked, after he declared her meal the best of the week. But I simply can’t get behind the red team’s winner of the week, Joshie, and not just because he put his spoon in his mouth, then back in the salsa cruda, during the Technique Challenge.
Who are you rooting for at this stage of the competition? Did the right people go home this week? Did you find the eliminations as predictable as I did this time around? And did anyone else notice the producers played the “happy” music from The Bachelor after Joshie was named this week’s red team champ? Sound off in the comments on this week’s Worst Cooks in America, and to get all my reality TV recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!