MasterChef Junior: S01E07: "The Finale: Part 2"

By Dom Sinacola · Nov 12, 2013

Last time on MasterChef Junior

Back during Part 1 of the season finale, the remaining group of four potential MasterChef Juniors was winnowed down to two. No real surprise there: it’s come to 13-year-old Alexander and 12-year-old Dara (she of the now-legendary Minnie Mouse bow), because both have heard little criticism over the past six episodes, were clearly the frontrunners since the beginning, and demonstrated strength in places where the two kids who had to leave—Jack and Troy—were fatally flawed. This meant that where Jack went a little spastic, the two finalists showed poise; where Troy developed a sick taste for megalomania, Alexander and Dara rarely resorted to strategy or manipulation.

These are minor things, though. The four semi-finalists are great chefs, magnificent even given their ages. By the end of the first episode it was obvious that all the kids involved were exceptional, and that the closer we’d get to the end the less the judges would rely on technical skill, instead counting on something popularly known as “instinct.” Which has always been what makes MasterChef Junior the rare kind of reality show we should celebrate: it doesn’t star a bunch of assholes.

But first, some filler

Of course, any self-respecting season finale must blow at least 30% of its runtime on recapping how far they’ve come in seven weeks, so the three judges waste no time, once they jaunt smugly on stage, in reminding the audience how groundbreaking MasterChef Junior is.

gordon ramsay, joe bastianich, and graham

Gordon: Ladies and gentleman, you are about to witness the next step in television evolution. Tee hee.

Joe: This has never been done before, ever, in the history of mankind.

Graham: We’ve already signed on for a 12-episode second season, bruh.

Dom: Exploiting wholesome, talented children is the new exploiting disgusting Southern brood.

Jack: (from the balcony) I don’t get what that means!

Dom: Oh. You’re here. Your parents couldn’t have bought you a different shirt for this?

Before an audience which includes all of the past contestants, Season Four of MasterChef winner Luca Manfé, and Alexander and Dara’s very-normal-looking parents (though Dara’s dirty blonde dad resembles a stereotypical surfer dude who’s wandered, confused, into a secret government lab), the three judges trot out the finalists.

Dara’s on first, and as she strikes a pose, Joe describes her journey to the finale. Cue montage where Dara drops a pot, making a funny noise as it clatters to the floor, or lets Gordon try on her Minnie Mouse bow.

Gordon: I’m silly!

Dara’s montage is pretty workmanlike next to Alexander’s, which chronicles his rise to power as if he’s served the role of ambitious politician amongst the harried sheep who mewl and cower at the might of his significant cooking skills. Graham admits that every contestant’s had it out for Alexander, and in a series of quick-cuts, the kids name their archnemeses.

Kaylen: Alexander.

Sara: Alexander!

Troy: Alexander, sire.

Jack: Alexander. Alexander. Alexander. Alexander. Alex—

Graham: Dude. Quit it. Gavin?

Gavin: My father’s disappointment.

Graham also mentions that Alexander is “affectionately” referred to as “Big Al,” apparently forgetting that calling an awkward 13-year-old boy already treading hopelessly in the terrifying waters of puberty “big” is far from affectionate, or that the most well known “Big Al” in popular culture has the middle name “Gay.” Also, no one calls Alexander “Big Al.” Graham is the only one who calls him “Big Al,” and the three times during the montage when “Graham” says “Big Al” are the only three times during the whole season in which anyone has said those two words together, and I could’ve sworn one of those times was overdubbed.

Alexander’s introductory bit paints him as a cooking prodigy, and for good reason: he’s the one to beat. His only slip-ups this season have been arguably due to losing focus under the enormous amount of pressure of having every other contestant out to shut him down, and each of the judges at the mercy of his ever-impressive talent. And even then, despite numerous ploys to give him a meal he can’t possibly knock out of the park, he’s always stepped up and received glowing reviews. At one point, Gordon doesn’t hesitate to call Alexander a genius. Luca, even, is astounded, and gesticulates wildly.

Luca: Mama mia, these-ah bambinos are a spicy meat-ah-balls!

The montage ends and Alexander lines up next to Dara.

Graham: (winks) You’re killing it, Big Al.

Alexander: If by “it” you mean “Troy, after I win, behind the dumpster,” then probably.

Troy: (from the balcony) Bring it! I’ve got nothing to left to lose! I’ll chew your face off.

The final challenge

The monumental nature of the Final Challenge is exemplified by a series of close-ups setting the major players in grim-lipped profile.

alexander and dara

gordon ramsay, joe bastianich, and graham

Kaylen: Oh snap!


No, she actually says that.

Television Producer: I feel like Kaylen in particular needs to be extra sassy. I’m not sure why.

Alexander and Dara will have 90 minutes to make a three course meal of their choice. That’s it. Via talking head, Dara unleashes her trademark phrase, which is that she’s only 12, so how can she possibly make a three-course meal in 90 minutes?

Joe: You’re right. This is impossible. I’m ashamed of us.

After sprinting to the back to shop in the MasterChef pantry one last time, the two finalists are greeted by a “surprise,” a brief Skype session with some relatives. They offer the kids a few words of luck and love. It’s heartwarming, pointless, and boring, but it helps the two remember, as the judges so often try to assure them, that they’re some truly special young people.

Alexander outlines his plan: shrimp appetizer with baby heirloom tomatoes on crostini, potato gnocchi with pan-seared veal chop, and a deconstructed cannoli napoleon in mixed berry sauce. He doesn’t really explain what a deconstructed cannoli napoleon is, but it sounds like something we’d all agree belongs deep within our faceholes. Dara’s plates are a bit more avant-garde: duo of ahi tuna (poke and seared), sauteed spot prawns with wontons in Thai coconut curry sauce, and for dessert a poached pear in a lemon ginger miso sauce. When they return from the pantry, baskets weighing down their underdeveloped arms, their 90 minutes begin.

Gavin claims that Dara might, after a rough start, take the win, because it’s possible Alexander will overthink his meal and lose control, throwing Dara the advantage when he’d forced to improvise. This is of course the same thing Jack counted on in Episode Three, and Alexander did the exact opposite, crafting a trio of sliders the judges adored. So Gavin, once again, is wrong.

Gavin: Oh hamburgers.

Gavin’s basically like Butters from South Park.

Sara thinks that Dara’s dishes seem creative, but they don’t sound appealing, so she’s got her money on Alexander. Sara, actually, is one of the only former contestants who openly cheers for one of the finalists throughout the Final Challenge, and as would be expected from Sara, she does so loudly. It makes sense Sara’s still holding onto the grudge she developed when teaming with Dara, because she’s nine years old and gives approximately zero fucks.

Alexander and Dara get to work, and even as the judges try to distract them by asking one antagonistic question after another, the two are in the zone. Joe marvels at Dara’s deft handling of the prawn but is concerned her curry might end up too thick, while Gordon doubts Alexander’s allotted enough time to properly monitor the veal chop’s sear. Gordon has a point: even Alexander sweats a bit at the brow knowing he’s risking the whole competition on one mighty tricky piece of meat. Dara’s Minnie Mouse bow keeps falling into her eyes, like the least effective prototype of Geordi Laforge’s visor. It’s pretty adorable.

Time moves swiftly, but with less than 20 minutes left, Dara freaks out. Her carefully cultivated shell first cracked when she realized she’d forgotten the powdered sugar in the pantry, but Alexander saved her by handing over his own. It was a noble action, and only gathered the few remaining audience members over to Alexander’s side, but more notably, it was the first sign that Dara might lose it, and the last confirmation that Alexander has this thing in the bag. So with 20 minutes left Dara stops and pants that she’s about to pass out. While Gordon comforts her—ably so, it’s worth mentioning, given how delicate he is with her while pushing her to finish the competition within the dwindling time left—she sucks down a bottle of water. Alexander awkwardly pats her on the shoulder. He knows he’s got this thing in the bag.

Dara finishes the water bottle, pauses to get her shit together, and returns to her station. Surfer Dad, who’s been zoning out for the past 35 minutes, suddenly realizes he should say something.

surfer dad

Surfer Dad: You got it, dude!

Dom: You’re quoting Michelle Tanner.

Surfer Dad: I’m doing who now?

When time’s up, she joins Alexander in laying out three finished plates.

The tasting

I’ll just cut to the chase, because nothing remotely dramatic happens during the tasting. Alexander and Dara have both made meals of the highest caliber, and the most negative thing they hear is that something should be slightly sweeter, or that something needs more salt, respectively. Their plating is lauded ceaselessly, their creativity literally applauded. Like most of the first season of MasterChef Junior, it’s an absolute love-in.

Yet, Alexander’s bone-in pan-seared veal, to paraphrase the judges, was perfect. When Gordon cuts into the chop, the judges stand astounded. Though Dara’s poached pears show some chutzpah and we finally learn what a deconstructed canolli napoleon is, the competition’s already been decided. Alexander bet on that mighty tricky piece of meat, and he won.

As the first MasterChef Junior, he gets a weirdly phallic trophy and $100,000.

Luca: Mama mia! That’d be enough money to take the plastic off-ah my couch!

Until next season.

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