Maybe Fox knew lots of people would be checking out early for Thanksgiving, since this week’s episode was slightly lackluster. It opened with an egg challenge. The child chefs were asked to make as many sunny-side-up eggs as they possibly could in ten minutes, told that however many eggs they were able to successfully prepare would directly correlate to what kind of advantage they had in the next challenge.
Sunny-side-up eggs are, apparently, a deceptively tricky dish for anyone, as evidenced by the fact that this exact challenge has been used before in the adult version of MasterChef, and the grown-ups fared only marginally better than the kids did in this edition. But the entire challenge is something of a non-event with the chefs having predictable problems with pan temperature and time management and egg preparation. The only real highlight comes with an amusing bit of editing that cut back and forth between Abby and a sizzling egg as she exhorted it to cook faster. Sadly, Abby only managed to cook two eggs correctly, with the other contestants each delivering between four and ten eggs.
The advantage, as it turned out, is that each kid can choose an ingredient from the pantry for their next challenge (four eggs means you can grab four ingredients, etc.), so each child had either a very vast or very narrow range of options when it came to preparing their signature dish for the judges.
If all of this sounds flat, it’s because it sort of was. There was a certain winning quality about watching the kids talk about their imagined restaurants and showing off their elaborately planned layouts, some meticulously colored. And sure it was darling to see a little girl extoll the virtues of her future restaurant — called “Horses and Courses” — complete with ride-up pony parking, but the rhythms of the episode were a complete disaster. The entire thing was so ill-timed that dish-tasting and judging began halfway through the episode, since it means the show had to devote an entire 20 minutes to the criticism of hardworking children.
But that wasn’t the strangest bit about the judging. Once you start watching MasterChef Junior with something like a discerning eye, it becomes increasingly clear that, for as amazing as the children are and as kindly as the judges appear — comforting and critiquing the kids in equal measure — a sinister instability simmers just below the surface. Take, for example, sweet Logan, he of the unflappable bow tie and politician father, who dreams of a future where he owns and operates an underwater restaurant.
Logan struggled with his dish’s foam (shades of Top Chef seasons past) and presented a very basic steak dish with overcooked rice. Ramsay tasted it and let Logan know that it wasn’t acceptable. And then Ramsay kept on telling him. Repeatedly. Going over all of the elements of the dish that failed and how it was so disappointing to see Logan’s dish falter, despite his well-seasoned meat. The segment seemed endless and the longer Ramsay harped, never raising his voice but still refusing to relent, the smaller Logan seemed until he completely shut down. The child couldn’t even make eye contact as he eked out one-word responses. “Yup.” “Okay.” The entire exchange seemed only to exist so Ramsay could be the big hero and comfort Logan before sending him back to his station. It didn’t work.
In any event, many of the kids cooked their meat poorly, so the bottom group was made up of four children. When all was said and done, Josh and Levi were sent home, a conclusion that was both surprising and unsurprising, since Josh was never going to be a real contender and Levi seemed to foster the potential to make it all the way to the finals.
The most disappointing thing about this elimination, besides the ever-present tears of children, was that the episode ended with Gordon Ramsay asking Levi what the best part of the competition was so far — and Levi answered, “Meeting you,” thus furthering the strange mercurial undercurrent of the show.