'Top Chef': Does Nikki Have Nine Lives?
Let's start with the relationship update:
Jen might as well be wearing a veil, she's so busy mourning the departure of partner Zoi from last week. The whole "I'm doing this for Zoi" and "it's a little tribute to Zoi," gets stale really fast. The other contestants left their lovers at home weeks ago and aren't whining about it, so get over it already.
Dale and Lisa: Hatefest No. 1, illustrated by their spat at the end of last week's challenge, continues unabated. Yeah, Dale starts out by giving Lisa a non-apology apology (oh, I'm sorry, really, really, I am, but you just bring so much negativity to this...), and Lisa responds by shooting fail-fail-fail! daggers at him the rest of the episode.
Spike and Jen: Hatefest No. 2. She blames him for Zoi's being sent home. He seems to have a lesbian issue (see below). Not pretty.
Onward to the Quickfire, which is to pick a beer, through a blind taste test, then make a dish to go with it. Bottom three: Nikki (sense a theme here?) with some citrus shrimp; Spike, with a charcuterie plate and some mussels; and Dale, who covers his pork with pretzel dust. Let us all pause for moment here, so Lisa can effectively gloat.
Shocker o' shockers, Richard and Stephanie are both in the top three--the favorites continue to ride high here--along with Jen, in her desperate tribute to Zoi mode. Richard makes a tuna sandwich, which is apparently good enough to overcome the fact that he chose Michelob as his beer. Stephanie makes mussels (hello, yummy French bistro!). And Jen wins her first challenge with shrimp and scallop beignets. Just the use of the word "beignet" is enough to win me over (although I have to pause the DVR briefly to shake off the memories of 5 a.m. visits to Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans). Anyway, let us now pause for another moment so that Jen can blow kisses to Zoi, and Spike can shoot himself in the tush by giving a sarcastic "yeah, lesbians!" remark to the camera. Tell me, is he dumb, dumb, or dumber?
The Elimination Challenge is to prepare tailgate food for 80 at the next day's Chicago Bears game. But--finally!--they are not cooking in teams. Spike does a Speedy Gonzales into the grocery store to buy up all the chicken wings in the house and X-out any competition in that arena. (Didn't win him anything, but didn't lose him anything, either).
Other preparation-day highlights: Ryan declares himself a metrosexual; Mark the Kiwi whines that others had the gall to beat him to the seafood counter for "shrimp on the barbie"; and the cheftestants have to tape the refrigerator doors shut because they can barely fit all the prepped food inside. Hmmm. Is it all those Glad containers that are causing the storage problem, or should Kenmore of the oft-mentioned "Top Chef Kenmore kitchen" be blamed for not providing another unit? Not a pretty sponsor moment.
Everybody goes back to the house for the night, where Spike and Mark take a bubble bath together. Yes, seriously.
Game Day dawns and we get the best celeb guests ever: Gale Sayers! The Fridge! Richard Dent! Thankfully, at least, Dale recognizes them (then again, they are made to wear jerseys to be identifiable.) Mark declares his "testicular fortitude" by being the only contestant to choose charcoal over gas for grilling. "Testicular fortitude" apparently translates into sloppy, messy, gross, man-germ cooking, which quickly makes Mark--who made chicken skewers--an early favorite to go home.
But, wait! Nikki is about to top even the previous dead mac-and-cheese disaster! It's pretty hard to make pasta on a grill, sadly, so she settles on a classic sausage hoagie (peppers, onions, sauce, what you'd expect) but (a) she doesn't bother to make her own sausage and (b) SHE RUNS OUT OF FOOD BEFORE THE JUDGES GET TO HER STATION! Yup, she has (barely) enough sausages left, but virtually no more garnishes, no more sauce. The judges just get a dry Italian pork weiner out of the local meat case on a bun.
In this competition, top and bottom three are determined solely by the votes cast by the tailgaters, so Nikki has a slim (slim slim slim) case of skating by solely on the fact that the non-judge judges who ate earlier are actually fans of her cooking. No dice.
The third disaster is Ryan, who operates on the premise that real tailgate food is too downscale and proceeds to make a chicken thigh atop a bread salad--instead of on easy-to-handle bread itself--then adds a dessert-style poached pear (!) as an unnecessary and just-as-hard-to-eat accouterment.
Top three? Stephanie, again!, with a pork dish; Antonia with a jerk chicken sandwich; and Dale with some tandoori-spiced ribs.
Dale wins, so chalk a big one up for him in the Dale-and-Lisa spat.
Then the bottom three come in and Nikki plays doormat, because she knows how badly she has screwed up, Ryan pontificates about his choices, and Mark at least looks embarrassed when the judges call him out for serving his soup side-dish from a spoon he just put in his own mouth, all the while wearing an apron that looks as if it belongs to a 5-year-old who just finished his first cooking lesson.
Nikki has to be gone, yes? I mean, really, the crowd didn't like her AND the judges got junk. But nooooo.....being a blowhard metrosexual who totally ignores the point of the challenge is what really annoys Padma, et. al. So, bye-bye, Ryan. And Nikki, meanwhile, lives to cook something else icky yet another week.
-- JENNIFER FREY
April 17, 2008; 11:58 AM ET
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