MasterChef Junior: S01E06: "The Finale: Part 1"
By Dom Sinacola· Nov 05, 2013
Last time on MasterChef Junior
Since last we spoke, there’s been a lot of heartbreak and even more tears. These are important lessons in disappointment these kids are learning, but for each moment a child receives a less-than-glowing review, a stern look from Gordon, or a challenge they aren’t particularly up to, the sting is always as harsh as the first. It seems inevitable, actually, that some of those who fail out of the competition will have their opinion of him- or herself as a chef irrevocably tainted, but there’s also no other choice for a competition like this, and no amount of encouraging parting words from the judges will erase the fact that losing just is what it is. A nine-year-old kid can’t be blamed for not being able to really deal with that shit.
In Episode 4, after winning a “gross food” Mystery Box Challenge by preparing a plate of fried sardines the judges adored, Sara shows a bit of strategic acumen by choosing a layer cake for the Elimination Challenge, which she hopes will knock out Alexander, everyone’s biggest competition, by giving him something he’ll overthink. He doesn’t, but the event presents his first moment of vulnerability when he confuses his flour with powder sugar and has to start over. Meanwhile, Sofia’s batter isn’t…working, I guess, but by the time Gordon’s come to her aid, seeing her moment of panicked sobbing, she’s just as far behind as Alexander. Sara, who’s exempt from the challenge, watches from above the kitchen floor as Alexander begins to cry, grinning with a mouthful of shit like a Roman governor whose favorite slave is about to win in gladiatorial combat. While Alexander is deemed one of the worst—the judges call his cake “a disaster,” and the kid looks ready to shit his pants in abject fear—Kaylen and Sofia are let go, Alexander mostly saved on the merits of his previously untarnished streak of great dishes, but he doesn’t come away unscathed.
Alexander carries his bruised confidence into Episode 5, where he’s teamed with Dara and Jack for a three-on-three Team Elimination Challenge. Dara, whose spiced chocolate cake was named one of the best dishes of the last Elimination Challenge, is the captain of the blue team, and Gavin, the other winner, is named captain of the red, a disastrous team of misfits populated by Sara, who is picked last because she’s youngest, and Troy, who Gavin picks first because he couldn’t get Alexander. Their challenge is to prepare a three course meal at Drago Centro in L.A., to a crowd totally ignorant of the age of their chefs, while scoring points based on head Chef Ian’s backroom judgment. The kitchen tumbles quickly into chaos, as the judges are wont to point out, as they always do, because this may be the time when they’ve gone too far.
Gordon: I am seriously resisting the urge to scream in their incompetent baby faces.
Graham: Watch yourself, blood.
Joe: This is impossible. We’re asking too much.
Have we gone too far? I can’t go back to jail. I just can’t.
Jack: Shut up! I can’t focus here! Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut up shut—
Jack, a high-strung 10-year-old with a taste for Hawaiian shirts and the stomach lining of someone 30 years his senior, may have broken his brain in Episode 3, and under the pressure of yet another “impossible” task, seems ready to take a rolling pin to the back of Dara’s head. She and Alexander flounder on the Blue Team side of the kitchen; she acts a bit too prideful to have to dole out responsibility, and Alexander’s still dazed from his last upset. Fortunately for them, the Red Team is in ever direr straits, as Gavin’s much too nice to reel in Troy’s megolomania. Troy’s already pissed that he’s not on Alexander’s team, doubly pissed by getting stuck with both the milquetoast and the youngest contestant, so he pretty much spends the whole Challenge throwing a hissy fit and refusing to let Sara help until Graham steps in to get Gavin to do his fucking job.
Graham: Gavin! What the shit?
Gavin: Um, erm, sir?
Graham: You’re the captain, son, and your ship’s caught in a shitstorm. Feel me?
Gavin: Yes I feel you.
Graham: Then tell Troy to stop being a bitch and to let Sara help.
Gavin: Um… (To Troy.) Stop being a bitch and, er, let Sara help?
Troy: What the fuck did you just say to me, Gavin? I’m going to fucking bite out your throat.
Despite their hardships and freak outs, the kids successfully serve a full house. Everyone’s so surprised it was a bunch of kids who made their food, some of the diners start crying, as if MasterChef Junior is saving these kids from a life of crime or poverty, the beauty of such charity simply overwhelming. Still, because they have to, the judges pick a winning team: Blue. And even though Troy was an insufferable dickbag all night, he’s made safe, with Gavin and Sara bearing the brunt of Troy’s misdeeds. Gavin takes the loss like a champ—as he always does, just glad to be there—while Sara sniffles her way from the stage, brokenhearted. Troy knows he’s hanging in the competition by a thread, and now that the group’s down to four, he’s got a desperate look in his eyes.
He may be capable of anything.
Jack, on the other hand, celebrates his safety the only way he knows how: by falling shamelessly to his knees and burying his fists in his hair. Cue the James Brown.
The Soft-Boiled Egg Challenge
The four finalists—Alexander, Jack, Dara, and Troy—find their way to the MasterChef kitchen to be greeted by the three judges standing inside of a makeshift chicken coop. Live chickens run about their feet, crapping and clucking with abandon. Dara, whose characteristic Minnie Mouse bow betrays the fact that she always thinks that what they’re being asked to do is ludicrous, looks like she’s terrified she’s about to be asked to do something ludicrous.
Dara: I’m only 12 years old. I can’t kill a chicken.
Troy: Fuck this. I can.
(To Gordon.) Your wish is my command, dark lord.
The judges inform the relieved kids that they won’t, in fact, be killing any chickens, that comes later. No, for now they’ll only be killing the unborn children of the chickens. And while preparing the perfect soft-boiled egg isn’t exactly brain surgery, the first challenge of the night isn’t so brainless. Instead of timers the kids will have to count out minutes in their heads, using their own juvenile brand of biological clock to achieve the right balance of firm egg white and runny yolk.
Jack, who ticks off seconds in his head by retreating to his special place…
…is the first before the judges. Graham cuts into the egg.
Graham: So tell me, punk, do you feel lucky?
Graham: Well do ya?
Jack: What? What’re you doing to me? I just said yes. You’re killing me here.
Jack’s turns out hard-boiled. As does Dara’s. Even Alexander, who ensures the audience there’s no way he could’ve messed this one up, serves Gordon a hard-boiled egg. Alexander, fighting off a case of the vapors, struggles to stay upright. Which leaves Troy, who’s already admitted he’s never made a soft-boiled egg before, left to save the reputation of the rest of the group. To everyone’s surprise, he keeps the yolk sufficiently gooey, winning the advantage for the following Elimination Challenge. Alexander, who knows Troy will stop at nothing to take him out, hangs onto his sanity for dear life.
Troy: YES. YESSSS. YOUR FEAR GIVES ME POWER.
The chicken’s back! This time it’s dead and cut up. The young home cooks must now make a restaurant-quality dish from one of four parts of the chicken: the breast, the wings, the thigh, and, to everyone’s consternation, the liver. Troy’s advantage is that he gets to choose which contestant is stuck with each chicken part, which of course means that Troy gets to give Alexander the chicken liver. Alexander responds in the most deadpan, cool-headed way possible:
Dom: Um. Should we say something?
Troy gives Dara the wings and Jack the breast. Jack correctly assumes that Troy is leveraging Jack’s inexperience to get him into the finale, where he can then slaughter him.
Troy: (To the audience.) I gave Jack the easiest thing to cook. He can’t possibly fuck this up. I’m leveraging his inexperience to get him into the finale, where I can then slaughter him.
Jack: (To the audience.) I know Troy’s just giving me the easiest thing to cook because he knows I can’t possibly fuck it up. He’s just leveraging my inexperience to get me into the finale, where he can then slaughter me.
Does anybody hear that chirping sound?
The young masterchefs go to work. Alexander busies himself with chopping garlic and cleaning the livers while he racks his brain for something, anything, to make. He’s pretty miffed with Troy because he thought they were friends, but he’s also noticed lately how Troy’s begun whispering malevolently to himself. Gordon tries to get Alexander to talk about his future liver-based dish, but Alexander’s literally speechless, either unsure of what to say or too lost in thought, trying to listen for the teensiest peep of inspiration. And just as Gordon wanders away, Alexander’s got it: chicken liver pâté on garlic-brushed crostini. He sighs audibly and looks over at Troy, who’s 50 yards away. He smiles at Troy, and nods.
Troy, who’s been stirring up some romesco sauce to go with his pan-fried thigh, stares back at Alexander with a deeply disturbing calm. Joe shows up, ending Troy’s silent, mechanical, hate-filled reverie.
Joe: Troy, what’s happening here?
Troy: Pan-fried thigh. Romesco sauce. Some olives probably.
(Whispers to himself) Alexander’s still-beating heart.
I mean, open your eyes, dummy. It’s pretty obvious what I’m doing.
Joe: You’re only frying one thigh? You have one more, why not use it for insurance?
Troy: You sound like my mom that one time I stole her car.
Jack, already well off the deep end, manically runs back and forth between the pantry and his cooking area, forgetting a few ingredients here and there and then, suddenly and immediately, having to run off to pee. Yet, with aplomb and despite criminal amounts of spazz, Jack assembles a prosciutto-wrapped chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and sun-roasted tomatoes, plus roasted potatoes, plus asparagus—and it looks fucking delicious. And behind Jack’s seizuring silhouette hides Dara, quietly preparing a trio of spicy Asian chicken wings. Her oversized bow repeatedly falls in her face. At this point we know she’s going to make it through to the next round, because there’s no doubt she’ll nail these wings, just as there’s no doubt she’s Alexander’s only real competition, because by now we’ve realized that Alexander’s capable of overcoming every one of Troy’s nefarious strategies, and that Troy is on the brink of totally losing his shit. So we don’t spend much time with Dara; she’s a safe bet, no drama to engage us for the moment. Besides that pesky bow.
Time’s up, and Troy, reigning champ, is first to the tasting table. The romesco sauce is Gordon’s steez, so he excitedly cuts into the thigh.
Gordon: Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear oh dear oh dear.
Jack: That’s my line.
Troy confused the cooking time for a thigh with that of a breast, serving the judges a raw piece of chicken. They can’t even taste the chicken, lest they become immediately diseased. Troy retreats from the tasting table in absolutely shocked disgrace. He knows he’s done, because unless two other chefs really foul up their entries, there’s no way he can survive. He starts crying. Because he’s 12.
Up next is Alexander. His pâté’s a hit, because of course it is, with bonus points for the presentation. Then Dara, and Jack, both heedlessly praised.
Troy: Oh Christ.
Dom: Yeah. But you can’t say you didn’t have this coming.
Troy: I’m probably going to be a real asshole of a teenager.
In the end, the judges are forced into a corner. They choose wisely, if predictably: Dara and Alexander will move into the finals. Jack can barely hold it together. Gordon gives him a fatherly hug.
Gordon: Don’t tell anyone, but you were my favorite.
Jack: Thank God I can finally take off this Hawaiian shirt.
Dom: You’re like a cute little Ray Romano.
Next time on MasterChef Junior
“The Finale: Part 2,” wherein Alexander wins $10,000 and a big fat ugly case of puberty.