|by Leslie Seaton
Is it possible? Could this be happening to me? Could I be wearying of reality television? I don’t know why but about 30 seconds into tonight’s Hell’s Kitchen, the unexpected whiny thought popped in, “I don’t wanna watch this.”
And that’s weird, because not only do I generally gravitate towards reality TV, I’m also obsessed with cooking and I kinda heart rabid alpha male Chef Gordon Ramsay even though his face looks like it’s being smushed by someone stepping on the crown of his head. Shouldn’t I be settling down with juicy anticipation to watch this show?
Maybe I’m tired of the inevitable start-of-show-recap that has the previous week’s eliminated player saying how the judges/tribe-mates/rageaholic-head-chef made a huge mistake in eliminating him/her. Maybe I’m tired of the start-of-show post-elimination debrief with the other players. Maybe I’m tired of OBVIOUSLY-selective editing that is trying to “heighten drama” but is really just kind of insulting to the viewer’s intelligence. (Three clichés all trotted out by Hell’s Kitchen within that first 30 seconds.)
OK, so maybe it’s NOT reality television per se: It’s the tired formula that the editors and producers keep falling back on. Maybe it’s time for the avant garde to invade reality television! Or at least return it to the hands of the documentarians whence it came.
So the needed bit of information from the clichéd opening: the chefs are shocked that Gabe – who was not nominated by his teammate – was the one to be sent home. This departure from the standard process alerts them all to the idea that no one is safe.
The next morning, the chefs are called to the kitchen to meet with Ramsay early in the morning. Sara, who was in the shower when the call came, arrives late, which, as you can imagine, endears her eternally to Ramsay.
He tells the teams that he’s horrified at their performance through the past two services. Their teamwork is falling apart in two areas: communication and timing. Their challenge today will test both these elements. Each team will prepare three entrees, but only one chef will be in the kitchen at a time. In relay fashion, they will each have a turn, and so the development of the dish will be dependent on how they communicate during the transition between chefs. And the whole process will have to be done in twenty minutes (that’s the timing part).
The women’s team has an extra player, so Heather – the capable sous chef who got burned last show – volunteers to sit out. Sara – the woman whose vocal enthusiasm got her in trouble with Ramsay last week – says in interview that she feels that “Princess” Heather’s overplaying her injury. “Princess?” Heather seemed to be the toughest of the women chef last week so not sure where Sara’s assessment is coming from.
Tom and Virginia are first up for their teams. Virginia gets started making one of the dishes – tortellini – by preparing the pasta from scratch. Tom finds some tortellini already prepared so he starts working with that. Ramsey sees this and tells him to make it fresh himself.
Next up are Giacomo and Rachel. Tom and Virginia have 15 seconds to tell their successors the kitchen status. The transition is almost successful except Giacomo doesn’t absorb that the fresh tortellini has already been started by Tom, so he starts his own batch.
The next transition is to Maribel and Keith. Maribel doesn’t catch that Rachel has the tortellini cooking in a pasta pot – in fact, she doesn’t know that tortellini is the third dish. She makes good progress on the other dishes, but the tortellini boils away and she’s completely unaware. When she transitions to the last chef, Sara, she can only tell her about two of the meals, and so the women are in some trouble with their entrees.
Tortellini problems for the men too. Due to continuing communication problems, the final two chefs, Keith and Garrett, also make tortellini. So all four chefs make the pasta, although Tom was the only one who needed to.
When time is called, the guys have three dishes and the women only have two. However, the taste and quality of both of the women’s dishes top the men’s, so Ramsey declares them winners of the challenge despite the missing tortellini. I guess two out of three technically does win, but if you asked some customers what they would prefer (would you rather have a meal for each person at your table, or would you mind one person not eating if it made the other dishes taste better?), I suspect most of them would pick the complete but mediocre order. Unless they really hate one member of the dinner party.
The men are pissed that they have lost again, and Garrett proclaims, “At this point, I’d rather be on the girls’ team.” He says this as though the idea of being on the girls’ team is akin to poking your own eye out with a knitting needle. Harrumph.
So the boys are put on laundry duty while the girls get to go on a group date with Ramsay on a yacht and drink champagne and wear bikinis (hmmm… no chubby female chefs in the bunch? Sure, Fox, that’s realistic!) and yada and yawn. The lads, meanwhile, actually do something rather clever, which is quiz one another on the cooking process for each of the restaurant’s dishes as they clean the linens.
The women return to the house and do some trash talking to the boys, which immediately made me like them less. Tacky. Garrett gets fired up and makes a comment to the women about them getting dinner ready for the men when they get back.
Heather becomes irate. While I understand her reaction and wouldn’t diminish the underlying sexism that Garrett was displaying, there is some irony that in a competition to become a chef, it is an insult to be the one who cooks? Hmmm.
Heather confronts Garrett about his comments, but he’s really not interested and the exchange is rather pointless. I’d admired Heather and the no-nonsense know-how she demonstrated last week… but she’s becoming a bit grating this week and I wish she could just shut it and let her skills speak for themselves as she clearly has them.
(I’m briefly nostalgic for Harold, the winner from “Top Chef”… quiet, understated, usually humble. Sigh.)
At the next service, both teams and Ramsay are determined to get out all the tickets for the evening. The men are focused, but over on the women’s side, Maribel is feeling homesick and seems distracted.
The restaurant opens and Keith and Sara get started on the appetizers. Keith eats off a cooking spoon and sticks the spoon back in the prep bowl. This is witnessed by the “customers.” (Like real customers wouldn’t sprint for the door after seeing THAT.)
The first starters get out all right, but both teams soon encounter a setback. Giacomo’s oven light has gone out and he either didn’t notice or didn’t solve the problem soon enough. Heather messes up the entrées and Ramseay seems sincerely disappointed in her. Sara and Virginia pitch in to help her with the entrees, and the women start humming along.
The men are not doing so well as they try to get out some final starters. Miscommunication between Keith and Tom leads to a minor humiliation for Tom at the hands of Ramsay. Tom is then pissed, feeling that Keith set him up for it.
Giacomo continues to hold up the men with the entrees. Ramsay is vein-throbbing-irate. And his fury always has this slightly poignant tinge, like a disbelieving misery that ANYONE could be so stupid, slow or not completely committed to excellence. Ramseay has Keith take over for Giacomo at the station.
Meanwhile, Tom burns himself and seems to give up, slowing his pace considerably. Keith notices and doesn’t like it.
Over in the women’s kitchen, Maribel has realized that she only has six Wellingtons prepared and there are currently eight orders for the dish. She gives Ramsay the news and he tells her to make the others from scratch. (Um… I’ve never worked in a kitchen, but isn’t that kind of like, “Duh?”) She makes them fresh but cannot get the temperature correct and the customers waiting for the dish walk out of the restaurant.
Tom messes up some vegetables, Ramsay yells, chaos, failure, the restaurant is closed for the evening.
The women’s team is declared the winner for the evening, but not before Maribel is called out for her errors.
So the men are the losers. Ramsey tells them they will each have to vote for the person they think is the weakest member of the team. They take a brief trip back to the house to confer. It seems clear that Giacomo and Tom were the weakest, so Keith and Garrett are sharing the driver’s seat. Giacomo fights to hang on, admitting his shortcomings but planning to improve, while Tom seems resigned to whatever Fate has in store.
Back at the kitchen, the chefs vote. Tom votes for Giacomo, Giacomo for Tom. Both Keith and Garrett vote for Tom, seeming to think that Giacomo’s energy trumps Tom’s sluggishness.
Well, once again, what they think really doesn’t make a lick of difference to Ramsay. Despite Tom’s receiving three negative votes from his team, it’s Giacomo who will be going home.
I’m all for Ramsay getting the final word – kitchens seem better-suited to iron-fisted dictatorships. But why must we go through the charade of the vote? Oh, right, because it will foment bad feelings between the remaining players (as Tom is now severely pissed at Keith and Garrett). Ham-handed, I say!
Look, Fox, I know it’s too late for this season, but here’s a clue for the future: Ramsay and the professional kitchen are interesting enough on their own. All these reality-staple shenanigans detract from what could really be a great show. Dial down the gimmicks and just let the chefs do their thing.
What say you? Drop Leslie a line at LQSeaton@realityshack.com.