This episode begins with a toxic cloud of suspicion choking the bluebird of happiness that sprouted its delicate, crispy meringue wings after Team Black, composed of Spice Rack, Madame de Pompadour, and Frankie the Bull, won the Elimination Challenge after the Herculean task of convincing a group of overweight children at a fat camp to eat pizza and chocolate-peanut butter cookies. The subsequent accusations that Spice Rack had cheated by replacing Splenda with sugar in her cookie recipe resulted in no one being sent home and has tarnished the Black Team's victory.
Freshly bepompadoured and looking like Jerry Lee Lewis, and with the dramatic intensity of middle-period Lana Turner, Marcel tells the camera, "I was feeling all sorts of distraught and disappointed." What did we tell you about his retreat into a world of hair gel and alliteration?
We see Elia putting on mascara in front of the bathroom mirror (so that's how she gets her eyes so es-mokie) while Spice Rack, like a dental Lady Macbeth, tries to wash the taste of treachery out of her mouth at 500 rpm and tells us that she is not a cheater.
Then Josie, sporting the hairdo of a lesbian egret, takes us into her gap-toothed, Chicleted confidence. (As Miss XaXa relates, folks in the South say, "That girl could eat corn through a fence," whereas in France a gap in one's teeth is considered a sign of sexual voracity, e.g., Madonna). "Marisa and I have been really good friends through all of this. We're the only ones that really trust each other." You could almost hear the Bernard Herrmann music on the soundtrack. That, mes enfants, is called foreshadowing. That's the gun that's going to blow someone's head off in the third act. As previously noted, the Bravo editors are masterful at this, telegraphing plot points with the subtlety of Judith Regan-O.J. Simpson specials. To seal the deal, Josie and Tarte Titass are shown sharing what looks like (oh please, saints in heaven and the MGM pantheon, grant us the strength not to make a bad pun) a HoHo, but might be a plum, and will turn out to be the fruit that turns them out of paradise.
Haute couture scullery maid Padma greets the cheftestants in the Kenmore Kitchen to tell them about the Quickfire Challenge. She hasn’t even opened her mouth, and already we have a problem. The hair, through the overeager ministrations of a gay hairdresser armed with hot tongs and a grudge, is ironed so flat that it looks like Salman Rushdie slept on it. She’s back to wearing pink in the kitchen, though long-sleeved (even if unbuttoned to the third button), and she’s brought back those damned black bicycle shorts with riding boots again. We hate them not only because they’re preposterously unattractive but also because they give her the sort of bowlegged posture of a Dickensian orphan. We half expect her to break into a chorus of “Food, Glorious Food” or “Consider Yourself.”
And the make-up! We’ve refrained for weeks from talking about this, but the flat hair sends us over the edge. Padma, cara, would it kill you, just once, to wear lipstick a shade darker than Sheer Ambition or Unblushing Bride of Paunchy Postcolonial Pasha (available from MAC, with 1% of all proceeds going to fund Elton John’s ego)?
Padma is joined by guest judge Chef Michelle Bernstein, of Michy’s in Miami. The newest war bride in Jeffrey Chodorow’s culinary seraglio, Chef Bernstein used to be a dancer with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company, and now stands in her wrinkled linen-dyed-to-look-like-denim dress with her hands on her ample hips. Tactful as ever, our chulo Chef Carlos says on his blog that Chef Bernstein, his “fellow South Floridian,” is—how does he put it?—“saucy.” You can tell that about her. She looks like a cross between Sandra Bernhard and Punky Brewster, and has the pugilistic intensity of Judy Davis incarnating Judy Garland on that tv movie of a few years ago. “You wanna piece of me?” her very stance seems to say. Miss XaXa also picked up on that half-drag queen, half-welterweight pose. “Raging Bull?” says Miss XaXa. “Try Raging Bitch.”
Padma announces that the Quickfire Challenge will be devoted to leftovers. Of course! Padma, how could we have had so little faith? That’s why you wore that heinous outfit. It’s leftovers. Of course! We keep forgetting that you try to dress for the theme. We’ll have to watch for the semiotics of your Quickfire Challenge outfits, like when the Washington press corps used to interpret Madeleine Albright’s brooches for hints to foreign policy.
The challenge will deal with offal, the “leftover” pieces of the animal after the flavorless filet mignon, etc., has been removed. The cheftestants must make a dish using one of the ingredients gathered for their gory delectation—pig trotters, lamb kidneys, beef hearts, fish heads, pig’s blood, veal tails, beef cheeks, honeycomb tripe, chicken feet, lamb hearts, veal tongues, and sweetbreads.
The food preparation montage isn’t going to have Eisenstein quaking in the great beyond. It’s rather a dull affair, with only two pronunciation clunkers, Josie saying, “OH-fal,” and Josette Eber saying, “ah-FALL.” Spice Rack tells us, “Marcel went for that pig’s blood. Kinda looks like a vampire, dontcha think?” We yawn and flick the ashes from the clove cigarette in our Syrian malachite cigarette holder.
Darling, is this really the best you can do? That whole cheating thing must really have shaken you up if you can’t come up with something bitchier, and we refuse to do your work for you. Bravo doesn’t help matters by throwing in cheesy F/X when she says the word “vampire.” Besides, it’s also unfair to those recappers who are really good with PhotoShop, as it deprives them of the opportunity to stick Marcel’s face in a photograph of Eddy Munster for fear it will seem too derivative.
Elia tells us that she’s going to clean the kidneys and sweetbreads she’s using, and tells us that sweetbreads are the glands of the veal, pointing to her neck to show us. It’s rather a sweet gesture.
It’s time for the judging. Tarte Titass tells Chef Bernstein that she’s made pappardelle and used the beef cheeks. Miss XaXa’s head turned violently toward the television. “Oh,” Miss XaXa explains, “when I heard her say ‘beef cheeks,’ I thought she was talking about herself.” We’re so amused by this that we forget to correct Tarte Titass’ pronunciation of “pappardelle.”
As Chef Berstein tastes, Miss XaXa says, “Is it me, or is she being bitchy to the female cheftestants and flirty with the men?” She chortles when Chef Bernstein breaks into a grin and purrs to Cliff, “The oxtail’s really good.” We decide not to pursue the implications of making such a statement to a beefy and attractive black man, and instead focus on something else. There was no mention of oxtails before, only veal tails. Veal is a young calf and an ox is an adult castrated male cow. Not the same thing at all.
Miss XaXa is chortling again, because Chef Bernstein is back to the oxtail: “I cook it everyday…” “So you’d know,” says Padma sycophantically. “Mmm…you would hope,” retorts Chef Bernstein in a sort of icy bitchiness that takes our breath away, as if to say, “Look, you vapid, social-climbing bitch, how dare you cut in on my monologue, interfere with my pick-up, and try to impugn my competence while appearing to do the opposite?” We wonder if Padma’s scar is tingling the way Harry Potter’s does when in the presence of Lord Voldemort.
In picking her least favorite dishes, Chef Bernstein tears into Josie, telling her that at a restaurant, such a dish would be sent back. Then she tears into Elia, telling her that the kidneys weren’t cleaned properly, that she made no attempt at a sauce, and that she made something that Chef Bernstein loves to eat hard to eat. Elia’s eyes are smoky, and not from the mascara, but from the flames shooting out. “Ees thees woe-man for real? I’m supposed to make keedneey taste like ah-leevs with a sauce?”
In the end, Chef Bernstein picks the dishes made by Cliff (surprise, surprise), Ilan, and Sam. In the end, the greasy Lothario, er, “hot diabetic,” wins, and we know exactly why. As he tells us, “I was excited about my dish. She was excited about the dish. Really excited to have immunity.” Sammy, we’re about to lose control, and we just can’t hide it.