This week opens out in the wilderness of Malibu, where we find Christina Tosi driving a tractor, towing behind it the remaining 16 kid contestants. She's still doing it in a great printed dress, meaning her wardrobe person is consistent if not unwavering.
Their destination? Obviously a giant carnival in a field complete with balloons, bouncy slides, and games with the kind of stuffed animal prizes that cause children to turn red in the face and scream at their parents until they have to be escorted home because they are spoiled only children who care way too much about winning (what, just me?).
Addison proclaims her love of bouncy houses by saying, "I wish my house was a bouncy house," which is great in theory, but my guess is it would lose its novelty real quick. Also, I'm nursing a moderate wine hangover, so the thought of ground instability and the smell of hot plastic right now are making me nauseous again.
Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot are riding the ferris wheel, looking down on all of the chefs (something they can do even without the oversized ride). They explain that today everyone will be celebrating a very special birthday party. Since the contestants are all eight to 13 years old, this party will be for kids who are 8-13 years old, too. Man, I miss things like celebrating my birthday with a party or remembering what birthday I'm celebrating. Now when people ask I'm like, "Uh, thirtywhocares."
At the party will be an entire table of kids for each of the ages. But they won't be getting Chuck E. Cheese pizza. (Well, they wouldn't be getting it anyway because we're in Malibu, so I'm sure kids' birthday parties are catered by super-hip chefs and the food costs more than a modest sedan.) For this challenge, the pint-sized chefs will be working together in two teams of eight to cater this multiple-birthday party.
Gordon and Graham's kids will be at their own table and clearly have very discerning palates. They won't be judging the competition, but they will be tasting it.
Addison and Nate were the top two of the previous challenge, so they will be team captains for the day (+2 each). Addison gets to pick first and chooses Kya. Plus one to the youngest girl in the competition for being picked first. Nate chooses Derek and then Addison chooses Mia and it seems like we'll go with boys picking boys and girls picking girls for a bit.
When JJ gets picked to be on Nate's team, he has to take off his camouflage jacket — and reveals that underneath it he is wearing a camouflage t-shirt. I couldn't be happier. The kid I sat next to in fifth grade once wore a bright yellow-and-red striped long-sleeved shirt, but then took it off to reveal the exact same shirt in a short-sleeved version underneath and I laugh about it at least once a year (+3).
Addison and Nate finish picking their teams and eventually come to some kind of gender equality middle ground after clearly picking their friends first. Tae-Ho oddly gets picked in the last two, which is strange because he's strong competitor. The other kids might be scared of him because he's easily a torso, shoulders, and head taller than most of them.
Ian is picked last to be on Nate's team, but he's excited to be on the red team because he likes red and is also wearing a red shirt, which all adds up (+1).
Graham explains that the menu for the party is set. The teams will be making awesome fish tacos (which is redundant), chicken wings, and turkey burgers. The teams are free to interpret those dishes however they'd like, but they need to keep in mind that the diners they're serving are kids just like them. So this might not be the challenge to whip up an avocado foam or try out a foreign vegetable.
The winning team in this birthday challenge will move on to the next phase of the competition, whereas the losing team will be forced to compete in a "pressure test" back in the MasterChef kitchen. The kids are terrified of this test, but only because they're too young to understand just how stressful other tests can be, like the SATs or the MCAT or asking your boyfriend "It's 2 a.m., who are you texting?"
Addison decides that her team will be doing a mango salsa with the fish tacos and tells one of the other chefs to "write that down." One point for mango salsa because it's a great choice and two points for the Sorkin-esque directive. She decides they'll go straightforward for the burger with sesame buns, lettuce, and tomato, and for the wings she chooses a honey barbecue sauce recipe.
Over at the red team's station, Nate struggles to find confidence as a team leader. There's infighting among the chefs about whether they should put "vegetables" on the burgers, which sparks a great tomato debate. Nate's passivity and lack of leadership leaves the rest of the team running around screaming questions and not getting anything done until he walks away from the station saying, "Oh my god!" (+1). Ian replies, "Please get a grip, we've gotta do this," and now I wonder if I need to hire an eight-year-old as my life coach (+3 for Ian).
Gordon has a pow-wow with Nate telling him to organize his team, so he takes a deep breath and does just that. He decides to keep the burgers simple, to do an "Asian sauce" on the chicken wings, and offer a mango-pineapple salsa with the fish tacos.
Jesse and Sam have never used a deep fryer before, but they're on wing duty on Nate's team. Maybe they got the job because between Jesse's long hair and Ramones t-shirt and Sam's mohawk they are a rock n' roll tag team (+1 each for look). The first batch of wings comes out charred and burned, so Graham gives the two a quick lesson in what "done" really means for a chicken wing.
Gordon checks in on the blue team to find things aren't as smooth-sailing as it first seemed. The seasoning on the fish that Kaitlyn is cooking is apparently a mystery, because even though she's searing it, she has no idea what spices it's coated in. Gordon's concerned that the fish is way too spicy for kids to like, or even eat. Kaitlyn rinses and scrapes the rub off of the fish since the team doesn't have enough left to just start over. Plus one for being able to pivot.
The kids start serving party-goers and it's very obvious based on accent which kids are related to Gordon. Graham's kid is wearing a bow-tie, and if I could give him points for that, I would. I mean, I guess I can because there couldn't be less structure to any of this, but it seems complicated at this point. Anyway, he's real cute.
Service wraps up and both teams had some highs and lows along the way. It's a close call, but by a narrow margin, Addison and the blue team win the challenge. She finally gets her dream as she and her team accompany the judges to none other than the bounce house. Nothing like jumping up and down a lot on a full stomach!
Back in the MasterChef kitchen, the judges reveal a several-foot-tall croquembouche, or "a Christmas tree made of cream puffs" according to one of the kids. The kids are all blown away by it, but Nate is nervous, saying, "Back in Philly, we're all about cheesesteaks and pleasure." Plus 10 for whatever that means.
For the pressure test, the competitors don't have to make a six-foot-tall croquembouche, but they do have to make ones that fit on a normal cake stand — from scratch. Derek isn't fazed as he has made a croquembouche before (+3).
Amaya is stirring her cream puff dough with a wooden spoon and notes, "I am going to get a whole lot stronger doing this" (+2). Maybe this is the next big fitness trend. Tracy Anderson, are you paying attention?
This challenge brings a lot of trouble into the kitchen. Nate runs out of dough, Derek isn't getting the filling all the way inside the profiteroles, and Ian burned his caramel. It's a lot to handle.
Sam is up first and Christina is impressed by his croquembouche, especially considering it's the first time he's ever made one (+1). So impressed that she offers him a job and he turns her down.
Nate is next and very flustered. He didn't assemble the dish properly, didn't have enough cream puffs to build a full croquembouche, didn't finish cooking the pastry, and used way too much of his slightly burned caramel.
JJ and Jesse both did well, but with some suggested technical improvements for the next time they assemble one of these pastry towers. Though Derek had made this dessert before, he neglected to cook his pastry for enough time and thus didn't deliver a great dish. Amaya ran into the same problem and also didn't assemble her final plate quite right.
Gordon calls Ian's dish a "croquemess" because his cream puffs are all misshapen and flattened out. Unfortunately, they also don't taste good, which Ian acknowledges in the confessional with a heavy pour of sarcasm (+1).
The winner of the evening is Sam, and even though he doesn't want to be a pastry chef at all, after winning the pressure test he's reconsidering his career options. Avery, Jesse, and JJ all did a great job with the challenge, too, so one point each.
Ian and Amaya are safe, which means that Derek and Nate are both going home. I'm going to miss Nate; his sound bites and positive attitude were the most entertaining thing this show has seen all season. They're both crying. I'm crying (+3 to both). It's another Friday night at my apartment, really.
The Definitive And Very Serious MasterChef Junior Power Ranking*
1. Kya, 132 points
2. Tae-Ho, 114 points
3. Ian, 53 points
4. Avery, 45 points
5. Jesse, 43 points
6. JJ, 40 points
7. Addison, 37 points
8. Amaya, 32 points
9. Sam, 28 points
10. Kaitlyn, 27 points
11. Nate, 21 points
12. Mia, 14 points
13. Zac, 13 points
14. (tie) Corey and Kamilly, 6 points
16. Adam, -22 points
17. Jaeclyn, -27 points
18. Derek, -35 points
19. Kyndall, -36 points
20. Vivian, -40 points
21. Chad, -42 points
22. (Tie) Kade and Alexander, -45 points
24. Annabelle, -48 points
*Now five weeks into this numbers project there is enough scratch paper with scores scattered around my apartment to make me look A Beautiful Mind-style crazy to anyone who comes over, which is thankfully no one.