If you were to look for a single overarching criticism of Top Chef Masters, it would be that the lack of personal stakes and relatively high level of competence make for little drama.
"The competition is heating up dramatically," said Naomi in this episode, falsely. "Everyone is feeling the pressure," she added, incorrectly.
In actuality, the chefs casually surfed through this episode like most of the others from this season, but this time around they did it with a goofy sense of cheer and fun that made for good viewing.
The Quickfire challenge was a beloved stock favorite: the "blind-plus" tasting. Five senses are isolated (with nose plugs, earplugs, and blindfolds) and put to the test.
First up, tasting dishes with nose and ears plugged while blindfolded. The items included mustard greens (which might be hard to ID even with a working sense of smell) and four easier things like cashews and papaya. The "hearing" part of the challenge featured Mary Sue and Hugh squaring off to call out what items were, based on their sounds, including Rice Krispies in milk and the buttering of toast. The comic high point was Naomi yelling "Ice!" before anything was actually done.
Overall, the challenge nailed an interesting point: If you disable a sense or two, the rest of your senses have a hard time figuring out what to do. And smell, on its own, is easily confused.
Hugh won, and didn't score immunity, but did earn some ducats for his charity.
The cheftestants were presented with random regular dude Chris, who, particularly when standing directly next to the hulking Australian hunk-host, appeared to be an adorable little elf.
We weren't really told a whole lot about Chris or his girlfriend, Victoria, but the contest revolved around them. The six chefs each had to contribute a course to a meal that celebrated different aspects of the Chris-Victoria relationship so that Chris could propose on air.
There was an interlude wherein the chefs related how they met their partners, and it was dull like unseasoned polenta. Come on, people! We've been led to believe that the whole point of chef-ing is banging people over the decommissioned salamander in the filthy back room after working a brutal 14-hour shift. No such luck though. The stories were not merely sanitized; they were actually antiseptically cheery.
Guest judge Gael Greene, however, enlivened the proceedings by telling James Oseland how Elvis Presley once engaged in coitus with her in a hotel room and then asked her to order him a fried egg sandwich from room service on her way out. Greene was, throughout the episode, very funny. More of her, please.
The meal went well, and the proposal was unexpectedly real-feeling. James Oseland and Naomi both teared up, which was surprisingly touching. Let me reiterate my prejudices: Oseland and Naomi are the real high points of this show. I want Naomi to win, and James Oseland to somehow beat all the other judges and win, too.
Floyd, Mary Sue, and Naomi had the favored dishes. Naomi took home the big win with some rather dull but apparently tasty porcini-braised chicken thighs.
Traci, Hugh, and Celina were on the bottom for reasons that were not entirely clear. Traci's apple galette seemed fine, if a bit dry, and she wrote "Je T'Aime" on the plate with chocolate, which is the couple's internal catchphrase. Hugh's broccoli, beef, and onion ring dish was generally enjoyed but the steak was rubbery. Celina made a pretzel with cheese and ale dipping sauce and a salad that was appropriate to the couple (who love eating pretzels at hockey games) and was enjoyed by them. She caught flak from the judges, however, who were angry that her pretzel was shaped like a pretzel and not a lobster pie with pretzel puff pastry.
The final elimination was fairly boneheaded. It went a little something like this:
"Hugh, your meat was rubbery and you told us, explicitly and condescendingly, that you don't mind cooking down to gastro-idiots like our simple but ultimately heartwarming elf couple. But you have an interesting unibrow and you constantly drop passable one-liners, so you can stay. Celina, your pretzel and salad dish was delicious, and exactly what Victoria wanted. But it was too pretzel shaped. You have to go home. Next time, try being more interesting and/or more superficially attractive."