Thursday, January 25, 2007
Well, possums, we didn’t think we’d have to quote Elton John so soon again, but hey, hey, the beetch ees back. Fortunately, so is the food, at least for most of the episode.
Here, then, the obligatory synopsis (though you’ll have to forgive us if our notes aren’t exact, since we were laughing too hard to catch everything; as Nancy Mitford was fond of saying, it was “blissikins”).
The show began with montages of the four finalists—Marcel Vigneron and Elia Aboumrad in Las Vegas, Ilan Hall and Sam Talbot in New York—packing their bags to travel to the “finale” in Hawaii. There was also footage in which—shockingly!—coworkers of all four finalists said nice things about them on camera. There was even footage of Marcel in an apartment with two other guys—Gary and Kenny—whipping up new and exciting dishes, as if to say to the audience, “See? He’s got friends, maybe even room mates. He’s not a total pariah.”
We also got to see that, young follicles being what they are, Ilan’s and Elia’s hair had started to grow back. But that wasn’t the only surprise. When we first caught a glimpse of the new and improved Sam Talbot, we were surprised that Bravo, slavishly given as it is to product placement, didn’t emphasize Sam’s recent discovery of the Mach 3 and Pert Plus. And it seems that he defied Ilan’s accusation of “wussiness” by finally taking the clippers to his own hair, as the greasy topknot appears to be gone as well. Alas, all it did was emphasize just how elfin his features are, practically ideal for a Franklin Mint series of Lord of the Rings characters.
(Speaking of product placement, we were definitely convinced that Marcel is a good sport by the little routine he did when they entered their hotel suite in Hawaii and he feigned excitement at finding “fine champagne,” a bottle of Korbel, waiting for them. A man who is a master cook at Joël Robuchon’s restaurant, and therefore knows that Champagne is an AOC (appellation d’origine contrôlée) and, consequently, that to refer to Korbel as “champagne,” let alone “fine champagne,” is not only an act of extreme charity but very possibly a WTO violation, nevertheless does just that—and on a cooking show, no less—to satisfy Bravo’s insatiable product-placement whores. Once we wiped away the tears of laughter, we asked rhetorically, “How can anyone possibly say that Marcel is not a team player?”)
At LAX, on their way to Hawaii, Elia, Sam, and Ilan arrived conveniently (and contrivedly) before Marcel did, giving them an opportunity to start slamming him in the comfort of Business First Class. (Remembering the deceit on the plane to Paris during the last season of Project Runway—what we saw was staged, and it wasn’t the real plane they took to Paris—we wondered just how real this little scene was.)
Once in Hawaii, the finalists were met by the reigning Miss Hawaii in a shockingly ill-fitting and fugly yellow dress (paging Kayne Gillaspie!), and taken for a helicopter ride to a wondrous Hidden Valley, there to have a celebratory Hawaiian lunch with guest judge Alan Wong. We were immediately reminded of Nancy Drew and the Mystery of the Golden Pavilion, from which we learned everything about Hawaiian culture and cuisine before we’d so much as heard of James Michener or Magnum P.I. Chef Wong seems like a lovely, sincere, and hospitable man, but the whole traditional Hawaiian prayer before the lunch, featuring a buff, half-naked man, was decidedly uncomfortable and smacked of the sort of retrograde, pandering tourist ethnography that is the hallmark of the Nancy Drew books. (Although, as Miss XaXa pointed out, looking at a half-naked man with perky nipples as he blows a large conch is a form of worship for some people.)
After lunch, Padma Lakshmi informed the finalists that there would be one more Elimination Challenge, and that two of the cheftestants would be sent home. The challenge? To put a personal spin on traditional Hawaiian luau dishes for Chef Wong’s birthday luau.
During the cooking and serving process, Elia went into full-beetch mode about Marcel, complaining about offenses various and sundry. Ilan and Sam then tried to convince Elia that she should say something to the judges about how Marcel cheated: “If I say something, you have to say something.”
At Judges’ Table, the judges spoke long and well about the various dishes, relieved to have the focus finally back on the food. There was even a little scuffle between Padma and Tom over Sam’s dishes, with Tom taking Sam to task because his dishes involved no cooking, just marinating, which Padma insisted was cooking of sorts. (We’re going to borrow Alanis Morissette for a moment to talk about how ironic it was for Tom to make a crudo on the Today show today of all days.)
During Judges’ Table, we were distracted by the outbreak of soul patches among the men on the show, with Ilan being the sole soulless one. We confess we’ve never seen the point of sporting a merkin under one’s mouth, but chacun à son propre goût and all that.
We were snapped out of our soulful contemplation when Tom called Elia on her bullcheat. It was actually Ilan who set the ball rolling, “Elia and I were talking…all of us feel…blah blah blah,” and Elia floated cheating accusations against Marcel. This did not please Tom, who looked on the verge of spontaneous combustion. When pressed for details, Elia was unable to provide any. Sam, who earlier was encouraging her to talk, hung her out to dry, as did Ilan. And Tom let her have it with both barrels, and Padma sent her packing. Pobrecita de Elia. She trusted those two gringo boys, and look what happened. Tsk tsk. You should have remembered the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and the Gadsden Purchase, querida. And then Sam got the axe. Padma was so genuinely verklempft at having to let Sam go that she said Ilan was going to the Top Chef “final” rather than “finale.”
Of course, the episode was full of the usual unintentional double entendres—“feeling the itch in the back part of my hard palate,” “cause a reaction in your throat,” “Ilan’s leg in my lap,” “My poke is the best,” Elia’s unfortunately named “tuna juice” creation—but the real doozies came after the elimination, when Ilan and Marcel were the last two standing. To wit:
Ilan: “I can’t wait to make you cry tomorrow.”
Marcel: “Don’t flatter yourself. It’ll take more than a little paprika to make me cry.”
Ilan: “I’ve got more in my knife kit than paprika.”
For Jeff Stryker’s sake, who writes this stuff? It’s like sub par Gordon Merrick, or premium ChiChi LaRue, the sort of dialogue usually uttered in a scenario featuring tool belts, baby oil, and a Tangerine-Dream-on-Quaaludes soundtrack. Indeed, we nearly got a chortle-induced hernia when the West Coast broadcast we saw carried an ad for “KY Brand Intrigue.” And a friend of ours, a real con-o-sewer of these things, pointed out that “Marcel” and “Ilan” are archetypal Bel Ami names, proving, if proof were needed, that Bravo really has taken the “gay network” crown from Lifetime.
But really, we were most reminded of that Technicolor Western camp classic, Duel in the Sun (referred to by wags as Lust in the Dust), David O. Selznick’s folly of a follow-up to Gone with the Wind, in which Gregory Peck, playing poky cowboy Lewt McCanles, and Jennifer Jones (Mrs. Selznick) in brownface, playing “lusty half-breed” Pearl Chavez, love each other so much that they hate each other. In fact, they hate each other so much that they finish by killing each other. At the end, they have a real humdinger of a shootout in a cinematically craggy landscape, then crawl, bleeding, across the rocks to make out and die in each other’s arms. It’s quite something, and our money’s on Marcel for the Jennifer Jones part. (Why? Just take a look at these choice bits of dialogue: “Under that heathen blanket, there's a full-blossomed woman built by the devil to drive men crazy” & “Pearl, you're curved in the flesh of temptation. Resistance is going to be a darn sight harder for you than females protected by the shape of sows.”)