Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 11 – Sandbagging On Campus

This week the show sent the chefs back to college – Louisiana State University to be precise – to serve as the lunch ladies and lunch dudes for the school’s freshman orientation. As those young adults begin to learn things at college, we the viewers learned about the latest Top Chef rivalry which appears to be emerging. Nick vs. Carlos. And judging by the previews for next week! this is not a one and done clash.

My take on this first skirmish is that I fall on the side of Team Nick. As the eight chefs each found a workstation in the cafeteria, Nick claimed one of the ovens for his purposes. It seemed most of them were doing something similar. Nick was using this oven to keep his plates warm when Carlos announced that he needed an oven. He asked Nick and Nick refused him. He could have been accommodating, but he was not required to be. We are down to eight – it’s time to buckle down and win this thing. I have no problem with Nick saying no.

What I do have a problem with was Carlos telling Tom and Emeril that Nick took his oven. Not only is that not true but it planted a seed with the judges that Nick was not playing fair and gives Carlos an excuse if his dish failed. It is the Top Chef equivalent of a low blow in boxing or a chop block in football. Really uncalled for and not cool. Nick was understandably upset and confronted Carlos about it in the Stew Room. Carlos denied intention, and perhaps that is true, but it doesn’t change the fact that the damage was done.

I was surprised that we didn’t see Carlos explain to the judges that he misrepresented the oven incident. He was in the Top Three – Nick in he safe middle – it wouldn’t have hurt him at all to come clean. And at the time he had no idea if Nick was in the middle or bottom, so an explanation could have set things straight. Not only did he, in Nick’s words, sandbag his fellow chef, he didn’t make it right when he had the chance.

Top Chef has a very short list of “villains” – I wonder if Carlos is on his way to joining it.

The other interesting dynamic which emerged was one of the more timely moments of immunity that has been seen in a while. I believe that if not for her impressing Questlove with some squab drumsticks, then Carrie was going to be departing thanks to her truly awful idea of serving broccoli to college freshmen. I really don’t know what she was thinking. At least Justin had the excuse of never going to college – but even that is thin, as I am sure he has encountered teenagers before.

Both of them were confined by their choice to serve cold dishes, but there was a lot of wiggle room there. Carrie volunteered for the tough gig because of the immunity, but that was no reason to mail it in. A cold dish could be anything. There were no dietary restrictions and no concerns about healthy requirements. They could have made a horrible 1500 calorie Chili’s style taco salad. Not blanched broccoli or bland cold shrimp.

Carrie was very lucky. Next time she wins immunity I hope she remembers to be bold.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Finale – That Spot Between Brazen And Reckless

An outstanding season of Survivor comes to a close not with a bang, but with a whimper. We were teased that big moves could be coming at all times – none came. We were informed of a brutal Final Tribal in published reports – and it was tame and borderline annoying. And the man who deserved the win, who received the hero edit despite claims by others of his villainy, earned the win in the end. Survivor is on a roll now with four consecutive deserving winners (Kim, Denise, Cochran and now Tyson) and five of six (Boston Rob) with an argument to be made about Sophie vs. Coach as the sixth.

Yes. Tyson is Survivor champion. The man who voted himself out of Season 20 has come back to win Season 27. And he deserved it more than anyone else. Hands down. Think about it – if he lost the Final Four immunity and got booted, whom would you have voted for? Gervase, Monica or Tina? And if any of them had actually own would it have felt satisfying? No. All played decent to solid games but none were Sole Survivor worthy. Only Ciera would have been a worthy winner and I still would have voted Tyson over her.

Tyson had the idols. He owned the strategy. He won the last two immunities. And he aced the Final Tribal Council. While Gervase could only cling to his “I haven’t played in 13 years argument” and Monica had to claim her no big moves as being a big move, Tyson owned his moves and played on the jury’s hearts at the same time. By saying that he only came on the show so Rachel could play and after she wouldn’t let him Rupert his way out of the game, he vowed to make it count by winning. Gold. He made his one apology for his jerk comments to Katie’s face after she Paschaled her way out of the game. And he was the only one to answer Aras’ good question correctly. When the three we’re asked who the would vote for in a Final Two of the others, the other two said Tyson and made good arguments for doing so. Tyson said Monica because he read the room correctly and judged that Gervase may have been a bigger threat.

Was the jury brutal to Monica? No. We’re they puzzling? Heck yeah. Why did they keep asking the same questions over and over again – who is Monica? It was as if they wanted some dark secret to be revealed like this was some movie script. Did they want to find out that she shared needles with Vytas in a previous life? It was bizarre. Monica exasperatedly asked if they have never met a nice person before. Now I am wary of people who think that way about themselves – but point is valid. Monica seems like she is an open book – they just wanted to read something else. I think she is one of many women who have ignored themselves for most of their lives in order to nurture a family. She is my age and I get that. She came on the show to share it with Brad but also to prove something to herself. That’s it. If the jury didn’t respect her game then fine, say that. Don’t keep picking at her frayed emotions just to make her cry. It was unbecoming of them.

I respect Monica’s game. She flipped on Aras/Tina when a better deal came and got herself embedded in the leadership of that Unloved Alliance. She chose to go to the end with the boys because she thought she could best them more than beat the others. She was probably right. Personally, I felt she played the third best game of them all and would have been pleased if she beat Gervase and Tina. Not totally satisfied, but pleased.

Now if she would just quit talking about herself in third person then we can really get along.

So. The Finale. I guess we start with the Truel. As soon as I saw the balance challenge – the same one with vases that enabled Andrea to defeat the guys during Season 22 and re-enter the game – I predicted that Tina would win. Her slight frame seemed to be better equipped for this. Hayden struggled perhaps due to sweat dripping in his eyes and was out first. Laura flailed her arms comically throughout the challenge, barely holding on several times. Tina even wobbled badly at one point – but in the end Laura lost it. I must admit, she did a lot better than I expected. Her physical game is probably as good as almost any other woman to play. However, socially she appears to need work.

In fact, with Laura and Tina each getting voted out twice, it may be time to update the list of Survivors Snuffed Three Times. Each of them has now done just that. Andrea, Jerri, Cirie and Candice too. Ozzy holds the record for four torch snuffs. Rupert would have joined him but he was never actually voted out this season.

Ciera was hoping for a solid two with her mom to sway Monica. It was telling that this young woman who never played before felt that she couldn’t trust a three-time veteran, former winner to talk to Monica properly to sway her. I will give Ciera credit – she went ALL OUT to convince Monica over several days to flip. As Probst said during the horrible reunion show – Ciera showed how you play this game. Do whatever it takes to win. Vote out your mom. Draw rocks. Whatever. I want to see her back. She is very Cirie-like to me. Not a physical threat but a serious strategic and social threat.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Ep 14 – Hail Mary, Full of Lapdogs

Ok – Let’s get this column in the books. Stat. We have the Survivor Finale coming in a couple of days – and I will be spending that day in attendance, for the first time, for one of my beloved Miami Dolphins’ home games. The catch – I don’t live in Miami. So, because of this little quirk in the space-time continuum – the always-anticipated recap of the Finale and Reunion will be, most likely, delayed.

However, even so, I can safely say that I can give you the theme – Tyson or Monica wins Survivor: Blood vs. Water. Although, I will say for certain right now that I will be rooting for Ciera to take home the crown. I don’t expect she will, but that’s who I am rooting for. I think Tyson has earned it, but Ciera is not far off. He’s earned the title by living in the Winner’s Bracket all season – he’s always been in a position of power – first in the Aras Alliance, and then the Unloved. Ciera has done it through the Losers Bracket. She barely survived all of the early votes, and then latched on to the back end of the Unloved Alliance. She now stands exactly where she would have if she didn’t flip last week – fourth among the Final Four.

The two games are very different – but both have been impressive. In fact, there have been a lot of impressive people this season – both returnees and newbies. Monica did not impress me much in One World, but she’s been a beast in challenges and was wise to flip from Team Aras to the Unloved. Hayden has shown some real charisma these last two episodes – and some scrappy fighting skills too. Gervase’s game hasn’t been great – but he’s still here and is light years beyond what he showed back in the first season of the show. Laura has begun to challenge Matt and Ozzy for the title of Best Redemption Island competitor. If they are the Kings of RI, she’s the Queen. And that doesn’t even take in the quality showings from Caleb, Vytas, Dr. Cody, and others.

I guess what I am trying to say is – Blood vs. Water is going to be (barring a horrible train wreck finale) one of the upper echelon of Survivor seasons.

What impressed me in this episode?

1 – Sportsmanship. Let’s be honest – Survivor has not always been known for sportsmanlike conduct. There is a long history of hard feelings and bitter juries that we all don’t need to rehash here. Even the fans have been rough – remember Jerri getting booed off stage at the All-Stars Reunion Show? But perhaps it’s the spirit of family that we have had this season – that nastiness has been few and far between. It really only existed between Culpy and Marissa, and Culpy and the Codys. Oh, and Colton – but he really doesn’t count.

In this episode, we see good gamesmanship after the Rock Pull as the Final Five return. Hayden is praised for his good move, and Ciera for taking a huge risk. Tyson says he was excited to be a part of it – although he is sure Katie wasn’t excited to be a part of it. Snerk. But there was no nastiness to Ciera. In fact, there was goofing around with her. Kudos to the Final Five.

When Ciera had her unlikely win later on – they were all happy for her. No one was bitter when they didn’t get chosen for the reward. It was all positive. And when Hayden and Ciera’s plan to load up a bunch of negative emotions on Monica – there was no lashing out. It seemed as if she took it as pure gameplay. And as Hayden left with his torch snuffed – he shook hands and called a good game and left with dignity. Are we sure this guy was on Big Brother? Everyone else I have ever seen from that show was not like this.

I hope this bodes well for a solid jury with no axes to grind. Time will tell.

2 – Ciera wins immunity. Now, let me just say that it is very likely the fact that I watch these shows with a close attention paid to details and changes – something most people don’t do – but I called this early on in the challenge. How? Because Probst was laying it on rather thick with his mocking of her last place status leading up to the word challenge. In fact, I noticed how some of the commentary from Probst was in voice over format. This means they looped it in after the fact to add to the drama. This is done all the time on Top Chef – but I guess CBS techies are much better than the Bravo ones because it is seamless on Survivor and jarring on Top Chef.

So, Ciera, who has been horrid in challenges, the yin to her mom’s challenge yang, gets the win and can say she has won an immunity challenge. She has now won one more individual immunities than three-time player James ever won. And just as many as three-time player Jonathan Penner won. She proves, yet again, that you don’t have to be super buff, or a man (looking at you Probst), to be a great Survivor player.

That’s right. I think she is a great Survivor player. Her game play the last couple of weeks has impressed the hell out of me. I am very hopeful that she gets another chance at Survivor – it would be interesting to see her play again without her mom as part of the season. Not that it mattered much this time – remember, the woman voted her own mom out of the tribe.

3 – Good strategy. How often have we seen arguments at Tribal Council? Tons of them. How often have they been part of a legitimate strategic debate? Rarely. This is two weeks in a row where interesting game play was debated on the floor of Tribal Council. If only Congress could still do that. I like how Ciera and Hayden realized where they were and what they had to do – with no idol to be found, they had to find a way to flip one of the other three. Tyson and Gervase would be a waste of time – Tyson knows that Hayden and Ciera are serious F3 vote threats. Gervase seems to think he can beat Tyson. He’s wrong. He’s made the same enemies – but Tyson has done it better.

So they had to work on Monica. And there is logic to that play – Monica may beat Tyson, but she may have a better shot at beating Hayden and Ciera. And that was also the only chance the newbies had to make this work. Hayden called it a Hail Mary play – for non-football fans, that’s the name of the play that you usually see at the end of the half or the end of the game where the quarterback heaves it 50 yards to the end zone with the hopes that someone will catch it. Sometimes it works – usually it doesn’t. That’s what they had to rely on.

So, Ciera is tasked with approaching Monica – which she does just before Tribal, a smart play as it gives Tyson and Gervase little time to react. Ciera lays it on thick – to sum up…she tells her that the boys have been talking smack about her behind her back. They don’t respect her. They think she’s a lapdog and a puppet on a string. Monica is such a strong woman, she needs to show them who’s boss. And the like. It is the correct play – but a long shot. The argument back is a hard one to deflect – if it was so awful, then why not tell Monica before, over the last several days, rather than right before the Tribal Council where you are about to lose the vote?

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 10 – There’s No Place Like Home

This was one of those weeks where it really sucked to get knifed out of Top Chef. Similar to two weeks ago when Louis was ousted, no one did anything really wrong this week. A couple of small errors led to Bottom Three status, but even those dishes were good, or had some substantial elements of being good. And for a challenge where each chef had to dig deeply into their emotions to find the dish that they crave when they go home – it is at least a small consolation that something so personal was not completely mangled.

Getting right to the end – Cap is the one who made the biggest error, and so he is the one who takes the fall this week. He went down home and put together some country biscuits which reminded him of his days with his dad. The problem – the butter he used was too hot and the biscuits didn’t cook properly. They were raw in the middle. Cap did his best to cover it up – he put the gravy right on the biscuit and served jam on the side – but you can’t slip that past the likes of Tom and Emeril. And so Captain Vietnam falls a bit short of his goal.

I gave Cap some crap early this season due to his very quiet early edit, and then his clashes with the guest host during the Vietnam episode. However, he grew on me as the season progressed. Plus he was cool with the criticism and interacted with me on Twitter about it. He showed he had good humor about his involvement on the show – and as it went along, I began to find myself rooting for him.
Oh well – good luck, Cap. I now need to find a second favorite on the show, since Cmar still clearly has the top spot sewn up.

Hubert Keller joined Padma in greeting the chefs for this week’s Product Placement Quickfire Challenge. He’s a longtime friend of the show – and former Top Chef Masters contestant. Let’s be honest about one thing – I can never understand a word he is saying, so this may be a problem. With Final 9 immunity on the line – and ten grand from a certain donuts chain – the chefs have to make a dish which features coffee. Pretty straightforward. Cmar wants to win so she can replace her stuff which is “old, broken and kind of sad looking.” Never change, Cmar. Chung wants to win because she needs air conditioning in Vegas. Oh boy, that’s a valid point.

Nick has used coffee before and knows he has to balance it out with other flavors because coffee will overcome the entire dish. Carrie is trying to make a crepe in 30 minutes and is struggling. She will later give up the plan and improvise in the last five minutes. Cmar continues to doubt herself during Quickfires and is making a self-proclaimed weird dish. Huskey is making risotto. Silly, silly Huskey. Only BB is immune to the Risotto Curse. And speaking of odds-on favorite BB, she thinks Nick is her primary competition. Hmm. Game on, I guess.

I’d give you the dishes – but the Bravo website has elected not to post them. Not sure why.
Cap – Salmon. We get nothing from Padma or Q-bert.
Carrie – She turned it into custard. And Q-bert liked the crunch
Huskey – Risotto. Nothing.
Carlos – Spongecake. Q-bert says that was tough to do in 30 minutes.
Nick – More salmon. With a whole mess o’ coffee. Oops.
Chung – Tenderloin. Oh, they like it.
Cmar – Crepe. With bacon and coffee jam. She gets a double interesting from them.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Ep 13 – I Wanna Rock!

This week is late. I know. But better late than never. One thing you will not be seeing in this column this week – anything mean about Tina or Katie. Their family has been through too much this week to be mocked.

But what did happen this week was pure madness. Madness, I say! There is one thing that cannot be denied about this simply excellent season – these are some really bold players. This Tribal Council proved it – Hayden made a relentless argument. Ciera chose to roll the dice on a risky strategy. And Tyson went over the cliff without hesitating – risking what has been an excellent game so far and seemingly not worrying about it.

Another thing I took from this Tribal Council – Gervase is not going to win this season.

But let’s focus on the primary event of this episode. Unlike John from Samoa, and Cochran from South Pacific, no one from this crew was afraid of the randomness of the Survivor tiebreaker. Six players entered Tribal Council – four in an alliance – and in the course of the discussion, that alliance broke. Hayden played whatever card he could – and I say Hayden because Katie didn’t get any substantial screen time during this event. His best card? Showing former teammate Ciera that she is going to finish fourth – and will never be presenting to the jury. She is the bottom rung of her alliance – and deep down…she knew it.

Hayden played that well. Even if he was trying not to “rustle feathers.” What came from that misuse of the English language was hysterical. As the debate over who is going to be one step closer to the million-dollar prize raged on, Hayden and Tyson waged a battle over the proper way of saying “ruffle feathers.” That was my favorite part of a crazy episode – not the rocks, but the battle over grammar that preceded it.

I was beginning to wonder about him. I had written down my question if there had ever been someone who got this far in the game, with this kind of pedigree, with this kind of potential, who did nothing at all in their season. I have been disappointed with Hayden to this point – and yet he’s still there. Still alive. And he just came very, very close to winning this game with this move.

Because if this worked – he would have held the majority alliance with the two daughters. And Ciera would have few allies on the jury, and Katie would have no argument to make about any moves made in the game. Hayden would have won this game if Tyson had pulled the rock.

Now, as for the rocks. I have said it before – I hate this rule. I don’t like random things like picking rocks out of a bag deciding someone’s fate on Survivor. This game is too hard, too grueling and too important for these contestants. There has to be a better way to break these ties than something so arbitrary. If we make fire at the Final Four – why not here? What about an impromptu challenge? That would all be better. And I get why the two receiving votes gain immunity – it makes the others have motivation to avoid the tie vote – but I don’t like that the two targets of the vote are given the free pass.

While the drama was stellar, think about how horrible it would have been for us, the viewers, to watch Tyson play such a great game this season and have it ruined by a random selection of rocks. Now if his alliance turns on him, or something else caused him to get voted out – that’s different. But it would have been as big of a show-based tragedy as has unfolded in 27 seasons. That’s strictly show-related – obviously what happened this week to Tina and Katie is real life, as have others in the past. I would much rather see excellent game play either be rewarded or beaten with equally good game play than see it defeated by colored rocks and the pure luck.

So, we have the Final Five – with a Tyson/Gervase/Monica combination in the position of power. Tyson is the clear leader of the group – but could be victim of bitter jury when push comes to shove. Monica is his clear threat to his game – her social game as mom and her physical prowess is a real tough argument to beat for a guy who has betrayed a bunch of jury members. Tyson and Gervase would be wise to sub in Ciera at the Final Four into the final three in hopes that she’s angered just as many of the jury members as they have.

I discount Gervase because, as Hayden correctly stated, he has not done any big move that Tyson wasn’t the ringleader of in the first place. The laughter on the jury when Gervase was making his boasts during Tribal was a tell tale sign that he may soon become the latest member of the Zero Vote Club. That, and when he called the jury “losers” at the truel.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 9 – The Most Lopsided Restaurant Wars

This is the episode that every season of chefs wants badly to reach. It is the Survivor Merge of Top Chef. It is the most fun the chefs have all season – even if it is also the most work they have to do. But if you are a professional chef the one thing that you want to do the most is open a restaurant. So the challenge of doing so in a 24-hour period must be loads of fun.

Now on Top Chef, most of the time, the two sides are…how do I say this…competent when it comes to this challenge. Usually there is a small fatal flaw that decides who wins this thing and everyone goes home happy.

Not this year.

The presumed Dream Team of BB, Justin, Sara, Carlos and Chung turned into a rather bad dream. I mean, it was like Freddy-Krueger-Haunting-Your-Mind bad. It was so bad that the VIPs with Danny Meyer hadn’t even had their entrée yet when the Judging Team came over after finishing their meal with the other group. Simply put – Sara was probably the worst front of the house person in the history of Restaurant Wars. The only way it could have gone worse for her was for her to fart uncontrollably or manage to set herself, or a judge, on fire. It was really bad.

Just as bad? Justin’s management. I know that Sara did not train the staff with his revolutionary new ticketing system (patent pending), but really, why even risk things by installing a brand new ticketing system. Just do things easy – the way most waiters know how to operate. That front of house was a mess, and that kitchen was a mess. The whole thing was a mess. It was pretty embarrassing to watch. I think the chaos even reduced Carlos to a blubbering idiot as his dish clearly suffered from the madness around him.

Really, really bad.

Not really bad? The other team. Not only was the food good – mostly – but also it was the complete opposite dynamic as the other team. Nick was the model of the perfect executive chef. The team knew what they were doing, there was a plan, and they all dug his leadership. In addition, Cap probably had his best episode yet. His front of house should be used by future Top Chef contestants as the proper way of doing the job. Simply put – it was perfect. It was made even more perfect (is that possible?) in comparison to the full body vomit performance that Sara was putting on next door.

I felt that either Sara or Justin could easily get booted for the disaster. I felt that either Nick or Cap were truly worthy of the victory. It was really tough to figure out. Usually the executive chefs win or lose this challenge – but the front of the house performance was just so good and bad on each side that it could be argued the other way. The judges seemed to be having trouble too.

In the end, Nick’s delicious dish coupled with his stellar leadership gave him the win over Cap’s kick ass service. Meanwhile, the judges decided that the front of the house issues are what caused much of the terrible delays in bringing the food out to the guests. In addition, Sara’s dessert was a disaster making matters even worse for her.

To review the challenge – David Chang returned to the show to judge the contest and told them that opening a restaurant meant that you planned on everything going wrong. No kidding. Danny Meyer – the restaurant guru who helped during last season’s Restaurant Wars – was back to take part this season along with some product placement VIPs.

Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Ep 11 – Mom Strength and Daughter Power

Ok – it bears repeating. Anyone out there remotely think that Ciera would be such a power player when this season began? I sure didn’t as the show began to unfold, but I did predict her for Final Four as the season began (my Final Three were Caleb, Katie and Vytas – for the record). But she was barely surviving those early votes and now here she is a major factor in the end game of this season.

Ciera found herself in a very interesting situation. The Unloved Alliance only had Katie lingering in the game at this point. So, at the Final Seven we had a key turning point in the season – Katie’s vote becomes the fourth vote in a majority coalition. The question would be if someone would have the initiative to make the necessary move. And the answer came quickly – someone would.

The men of the Unloved seemed to be in charge – a sausage Final Four waiting to happen – but Hayden started to have doubts. He wondered whether or not he needed to make a move on Tyson before it became too late. I get that. I do question his reasoning though – and it goes into the whole thing with Ciera later on. We are watching Tyson enjoying a hero edit – but in the moment, I wonder if it is that clear. The question, which must have been going through all of their minds in the moment, is whether or not Tyson would be the one they want to sit next to. It is hard to say – he certainly did a lot of betraying. He is Tyson, so he likely irritated some of them. He didn’t really win any kind of challenge for the most part. It must be curious to them what the Tyson dynamic will be.

Hayden clearly thought he would have trouble beating him, while Ciera clearly thought she could.

To be honest – not really sure which one is right. I think Hayden underestimated his likability. He would have had a fighting chance against any combination of the men. But it would have been close. He probably envisioned a better chance matched up with Caleb and Ciera at the end. He also probably realized that he hadn’t made any power moves. His talking points in the Final Tribal would only be likability. That wouldn’t be enough. He had to make a move.

Caleb too. His only move so far was the coup against Culpy. That too would not be enough to sell to a jury – unless he was with Hayden and Ciera. So, a new alliance with Ciera and Katie would benefit them more than one with the returning players.

As for Ciera, I think she realized that sitting in the Finals against these two likable dudes would bode badly. Put her with one of them and Katie – with Katie’s mom and the brothers on the jury – and she’d lose as well. She must have believed that sitting with Tyson and Gervase – who betrayed half the jury – would be her best shot. She also got a little lucky as Tyson got spooked at Tribal and needlessly burned his Hidden Immunity Idol. Now that HII is back in play, and perhaps no one will burn the clue at the next Truel.

And honestly, I think both Hayden and Ciera were correct in their moves. Sometimes you can lose and still be right. And to Hayden’s benefit – he lost, but didn’t completely lose as Caleb took the fall first.

And they all must know that if Monica is sitting in front of the jury she’s going to win. But they have to manage to beat her in a challenge first.

So, with six left we have the Tyson/Gervase/Ciera/Monica combination in the drivers seat. One would assume Hayden is next to go, barring immunity, with Katie as the backup choice. The two of them will likely be battling each other for survival…unless, something really interesting takes place. I wonder if the previews indicating a Gervase/Tyson split could be more than the usual misdirection. I wonder if Gervase sees that he is moving right along into potentially joining the Zero Vote Club if he finishes the season as Tyson’s right hand man. Next week’s episode could be boring. Or it could really be epic.

The other interesting thing that I noticed in this episode was the dynamic at the Truel. With Vytas taking on two moms – Tina and Laura – one was going to be ousted. The challenge involved a puzzle, so I instantly realized Laura was going to win and the other two would clash for survival. I was correct. Laura stayed with Vytas in the rope tube portion of the challenge to free up the puzzle boxes, and smoked him in the puzzle creation.

Vytas did was has been done a bazillion times on this show – he tried to copy off of her final puzzle. She began to spin it around to prevent him from doing so – and then went a step further. She began telling Tina how to solve it. Was that out of annoyance for his copying? I don’t think so. I think Laura is still playing the game. Vytas is a threat. He is a threat to her on RI in future truels, and he’s a threat to her daughter if he re-enters the game. She saw an opportunity and took it. I have no issue with his moves to copy – it’s in the rules – and I have no issue with her choice to gang up on him. I even have no issue with his choice to give her the cold shoulder after she caused him to lose by one second. In the moment, he was pissed.

Mom strength and mom power is sometimes infinitely stronger than anything else in the world. Probst called it the moms ganging up on the single guy. I don’t think that was the dynamic – I think it was Laura playing Survivor hard. But, really, don’t mess with moms. They’ll win every time.

So the brothers are both out and are tank top buddies on the jury. Tina, Laura and Caleb will clash in the truel next week. There are three truels left before re-entry, and wouldn’t that Final Five dynamic be interesting if Laura returns again?

Survivor: Blood vs. Water – Ep 10 – Water Wins

Blood was spilled this night on Survivor. The twist of the season was having returning players playing with and against their loved ones. The question was always going to be, in the end, would the previous relationships trump the ones made in the necessity of the game. Two weeks ago, with the ouster of Aras and the destruction of his six-person couple alliance, the defeat of blood began. This week – it is all but assured.

The only chance of a loved one reunion is if either Tina or Laura returns to the game at the Final Five AND Ciera or Katie remains in the game at the time. If so, then a pair of two out of five becomes very interesting. Will the other three band together? Or will one of them see an opportunity to be an alternative to two rather than three individuals in the Final Tribal? But the chances of that are small – as there are several truels still to come.

The other way blood got its platelets beaten down this week…for the first time a loved one voted against the other. And I have to give props – Ciera is proving to be a really good player. I mentioned how Vytas needs to come back some other time to play again, well, I think the same goes for Ciera. She is showing rather unexpected game – at least strategically. She is still horrible at challenges. However, two-time winner Sandra was simply awful at challenges and that never got in her way.

And I don’t know just how many past Survivors would have had the cojones to vote their own mother out of the game.

But she did. And she owned it. She very easily could have told her alliance that she wouldn’t fight the vote, but come on, it’s her mom. No vote from the daughter. Laura would have easily been voted out regardless of Ciera’s vote and the younger Morett’s loyalty would not have been questioned. But she went all in and wrote her mom’s name down.

The best part of it – it was the right strategic move, and Ciera knew it. And amazingly, it didn’t seem as if Laura knew it. Mom was in bad shape going into the merge – she was the returning RI truel winner. There is not a good history there for the winners. And now as the last remaining couple – they were both going to be targets. There is no real scenario building that would have seen Laura win this game. However, Ciera is in a good spot to get to the end. Presumably, she’d have one jury vote in mom. The question is can she sway the others – Ciera on the stand, and mom in Ponderosa – that she’s earned this. You can certainly make the argument that she has – she has played HARD. And had to survive a lot of early votes to get where she is right now. I can see the dudes all looking at her as the Unloved Dude tiebreaker vote at the Final Five. That could easily be a F3 alliance for her right there.

She saw this – and went full on House of Cards with her strategizing. Mom had to go. She even suggested to mom that if she didn’t go and lingered to the F6, that she’s clearly done at that point. And if she won the F6 immunity, it would seal Ciera’s ousting. Well played, indeed.

The funny thing is – this was not even my favorite Ciera move of the night. That would be her world class bluff to Katie’s face. I loved this move, even if it really meant nothing in the grand scheme of things in the game. We all know that Tyson has the idol. So, yes, this discussion doesn’t matter at all, but it was still a great piece of Survivor playing by Ciera. Katie had just searched for the idol and was chilling on the hammock. Ciera joined her former partner-in-crime and hung out. They pinky swore. It was nice.

However, Katie decided to let it drop that she had the idol. Nice try. Ciera said she could not have had it because she had it already. And Katie fell for it instantly. She folded more quickly than teenage boy’s vow of celibacy when surrounded by cheerleaders. Ciera had successfully figured out that Katie had no protection at Tribal Council and tried to use that info to save her mom at the vote. Really, really good job, Ciera. It didn’t make a difference…but I was impressed.

It’s funny – Tyson’s first time around, his nemesis was a woman named Sierra. Is it possible that could be the case again? Note that moment early in the episode where Ciera tells Laura to let Tyson do everything – puts the target on his back.

The only other substantial development was the truel. So, the first member of the jury would be decided , and two others would survive for another day on RI. Going into this, I was certain that the brothers would cruise for another three days. Especially after seeing that this was not a balance challenge. I will admit, I didn’t give Tina a chance at all. That’s not remotely sexist – there have been tons of women on this show that can ace challenges. This was Tina-ist. I just didn’t think she could do it.

The challenge was the same one from the South Pacific duel where Cochran almost beat Ozzy. Toss a grappling hook to secure three bags of balls. Then place a ball on a table maze, and using a system of pulleys, get the ball to the end of the maze. Tina aced the grappling hook part. That was unexpected. She earned a huge lead over the boys, and despite losing it at the end of the maze, had learned all of the twists and turns. Vytas caught up to her and passed her to win the challenge, but she was able to use her early advantage to defeat Aras. He never really seemed to get a grasp of the maze – he was going way too fast through it.

So, Aras is done. He got overconfident and lost it this season. I wonder how much of that comes from his huge success in winning Exile Island – he wasn’t on the lookout for mistakes. He should have been. Cirie was watching his back all throughout that season, doing the dirty work. All Aras had to worry about was making the jury happy and finding a way to beat Terry eventually. And if we all remember, it was Danielle who finally did that.

I still rank Aras low on the list of winners, and this season does not make me rethink that opinion at all. I will give him this – he left the game in a classy way, and I assume he will not be a bitter jury member. Probst tries to get a touching moment from the brothers as Aras leaves, but clearly they aren’t on board. It is a bit forced – clearly these guys are cool with each other. They fight. They have history. They’re friggin’ brothers – of course they fight and have some strained history. Bah.

So, we move along. The Unloved is in clear control. But what happens once they excise Katie? Or will they? Katie could be a very important vote right now if someone makes a move against Tyson or Gervase. And to be honest, whom do you trust to make that move? I only trust Ciera. And man, what an unexpected place to be in this season.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 8 – I Think Something Bad Happened To Babe

I hope you don’t have a problem with dead animal carcasses, because if you do, this is not the Top Chef episode for you. Avert your eyes, vegetarians, vegans and veggiesauruses. We have some pork.

I’ll get to the Dr. John Quickfire in a few, but let’s talk about that pig. Out comes a big ole dead pig and for those of us who do not want to know where bacon comes from – blissful ignorance tastes a lot better at the breakfast table – this is the time to turn away. Because we also forget what these chefs are able to do – butchering. The elimination challenge was to take apart this pig and have the chefs serve a dish from the animal. The catch – all of the animal must be used. This is a boucherie – the consuming of the entire beast. Of course, I also think this is a Klingon tradition that I once saw Worf teach his son, Alexander. But we’ll go with the boucherie thing.

The chefs went to town on the 300-lb. pig. The most disturbing part? Watching Cap, Nick and Justin just twist off the head. Whoa. And then have BB and Nick “decide to split the head down the center” because she thinks brains make a good ragout. Excuse me for a minute…

…ok, I’m back. We won’t talk of that again.

The important things to know during prep – Justin and Carlos are both making tacos. Bad idea, Justin. Louis is putting popcorn in his dish. Um…ok. Cap is choosing to buy his ramen noodles rather than make them. The 20-year-old me who created a ramen/tuna dish back in the day approves of this choice.

The chefs arrive at the outdoor cooking location and Justin gets all mama grizzly on his grill. I think part of it may be the cool Spaceballs: The flamethrower he gets to play with. Cmar freaks out, again, about an alligator on the loose. She thinks it may eat her face. I think it looked sleepy. Cap is making a Cay-asian dish. BB is going sweet and sticky. Justin is on fire. Uh oh.

Top Chef: New Orleans – Ep 7 – …And All That Jazz…And Bad Voiceovers

This week, our Top Chef friends finally decided to bring jazz music into the mix for a season set in New Orleans. That’s like having Top Chef: Nashville and wheeling in Trisha Yearwood midway through the season. Oh well. Both challenges had a musical theme – and one had a complex, fun theme but was inherently unfair, while the other was pretty simple but kind of boring in the end.

Mixed in to cooking and music was a bizarre sideshow as Nick required a visit from the Top Chef Medical Staff. It seems the Philly chef contracted strep throat and is actually forced to skip the Quickfire Challenge. That’s something that I cannot remember ever taking place before – fans, please let me know if a chef has had to skip a Quickfire before. What was odd about this was the Padma voice over that came with the revelation that he was not at the kitchen. She didn’t say this at the time – because it is really obvious that the audio is different. I mean, they might as well have just had a computerized voice say it. Or hire Gilbert Gottfried to read it because it was that obvious she recorded it later on. It said that Nick needed to be ready to go for the Elimination Challenge the next day or he’d be forced to forfeit his slot in the competition. It’s just so odd to me that something so simple of production value would be so badly done.

For the very fun, but strange Quickfire Challenge – famous New Orleans jazz musician/chef Kermit Ruffins comes in to judge. If you did not watch this episode and are relying on the pitter patter of my laptop keyboard, then just close your eyes and imagine what you immediately think of when one says the words, “New Orleans jazz musician.” And that’s Kermit.

The challenge is a fun one – as it makes a nice play on the improvisational nature of jazz music. The chefs play musical chairs. They walk around a huge table that has workstations set up all around the table. The workstations are eclectic – with various proteins, veggies, tools and cooking devices set up. When Kermit stops playing, you set up and start cooking. However, at three other points in the challenge Kermit will re-start playing. And the musical chairs begin all over again. This means you will likely wind up at another person’s dish. And the final stage is essentially just completing the existing work and plating.

I liked the creativity and it was certainly a challenge that appeared to be lots of fun to compete in. However, I feel that having someone win immunity based on where they randomly wound up in the final stage – while failing to reward those who essentially prepared the dish – was rather unfair. Perhaps not have immunity on this challenge and give a cash prize to the chefs who worked on the winning dish. But, alas, that was not to be. In fact, I was wondering, do you take a chance and sabotage the early rounds, knowing that the odds are vastly against your fate winding up in front of whatever horrible mess you left. Nobody did this, but I wonder how many really thought about it.

Chung starts off with bacon, tofu and a microwave, so that gives you a sense of the randomness of the workstations. Sara gets duck and mussels, Justin gets quail and flounder, Boo Boo (BB from now on) starts a French-style dish. After the first shuffle, Cap winds up at BB’s station, BB gets Sara’s and so on and so forth. Huskey is the first to consider not doing much in the early rounds as he just sautés veggies at Cmar’s frog leg station.

Amazingly, the second shuffle puts all of the chefs back at t heir first station! Cmar and Justin are puzzled by what the other chefs did to their dish, while BB is very pleased with Cap’s contribution. At the last stage, only ten minutes are left. Louis has Cmar’s frogs, Justin gets Chung’s microwave and tosses the horrible couscous paste he inherited. Carlos has BB’s and finds it too salty, so he adds cucumbers. Huskey gets Sara’s and is basically just adding sauce and plating it.

Justin, with Chung, Vega, Chung – Tofu.
Cap, with Carlos, Carrie, Carlos – Steak.
Sara, with Carrie, Justin, Carrie – Trout.
Huskey, with Sara, BB, Sara – Duck.
Vega, with Louis, Cmar, Louis – Pork Chops.
BB, with Cap, Sara, Cap – Liver.
Cmar, with Huskey, Carlos, Huskey – Chicken and clams.
Carlos, with BB, Cap, BB – Redfish.
Chung, with Vega, Louis, Vega – Shrimp.
Louis, with Cmar, Huskey, Cmar – Frog Legs.

On the bottom, Louis’ frogs and their lack of spice, along with Justin’s microwaved tofu. Stunning, with that one, of course. On the top, Carlos with BB’s crispy fish, Huskey with Sara’s really great dish, and Vega with Louis’ juicy pork (shut up, you guys). Interestingly, BB had her hand in two of the three winners. She is absolutely the clear-cut front-runner this season. No doubt. Huskey wins the immunity, but I think Sara and BB should have gotten something as well.

For the Elimination Challenge, the chefs are put into teams and have to create a pot luck menu for Kermit and his jazz musician buddies at a jazz club. Vega has never heard of potluck meals. I am certain that will NOT be foreshadowing of the outcome in any possible way whatsoever. We also get a second horrible voiceover about Nick.

The teams are:
Chung, Louis, and Sara
Carrie, BB, Cmar and Carlos – now that’s a powerhouse foursome.
Vega, Huskey, Cap and Nick

The get to eat at Kermit’s before heading out to ship for the challenge. Nick is on the phone with Cap to put in his input. Sara can’t fund broccolini, Louis thinks veggies are…zzzzzzzz….snrk….oh, crap, I fell asleep. Boy, was this shopping and prep section more boring than ever this week? I mean, just thinking about how Louis’ veggies could be the most….zzzzzzz…..

Crap, it’s morning already. Boy, am I late.

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