Top Chef: "It Reminds Me of My College Days, When I Was Broke and Drunk"
Alas, poor Fabio. "If only he would have consulted with me," says Richard plaintively, "he'd probably still be here." But he's gone, baby, gone, felled by a misbegotten burger. And so everyone else is left to troop back to the kitchen for the Quickfire Challenge, where Padma, looking almost chemically cheerful, begins speaking in rhymes. Everyone is perplexed until a trio of Muppets pop up beside her, and then they look only slightly less perplexed.
Angelo puts on his best "think" face.
That's right! Sesame Street's Cookie Monster, Elmo, and Telly are the judges for this challenge, which will be to spend 45 minutes making cookies. "It doesn't get better than this!" Antonia exclaims, though judging by the expressions on some of her competitors' faces, it just might.
"I'm hoping I can make a cookie so I'm not embarrassed," says Mike, but he's probably not as embarrassed as Padma, who attempts stilted banter with her guests as the chefs race around the kitchen. "I don't fear pastry!" Richard proclaims as he hauls out -- wait for it -- a liquid nitrogen tank and prepares to make something that bears no discernible relation to pastry. "Is there ever going to be a challenge where he doesn't use liquid nitrogen?" Mike wonders on behalf of viewers everywhere.
One question that does remain unarticulated: Given that these Muppets lack both digestive tracts and teeth, who exactly is doing the judging here? Is it Padma, nibbling primly away? Or are more sinister forces at work, and the Muppets merely a literal, furry symbol of the manipulation that both the contestants and we, the audience, are subjected to by reality television?
Sadly, the challenge provides us with no answers. Instead, the Muppets rightly call out Richard's deep-frozen zucchini thing as not a cookie, and observe that Antonia's blobby brown chocolate cookies look like "cow chips." "My cookies looked like shit!" Antonia gasps, clearly delighted.
More delighted is Dale, who wins the challenge -- and $5,000 -- with his pretzel and potato chip shortbread with caramel. And then the Muppets finally leave, and everyone's frozen grins begin to melt. "Now that we've unleashed your inner child, we're going to turn you loose like kids in a candy store," Padma says, and announces that the winner of the Elimination Challenge will win $25,000.
Screw Sesame Street -- if anything can unleash someone's inner child, it's the promise of a sudden cash windfall. The catch, of course, is that this particular "candy store" is Target, and calling Target a candy store is like calling the Gowanus Canal a swimming pool. The chefs will have three hours to shop for everything (food, supplies, et al) -- which is about the amount of time it takes the average shopper to find a Target employee willing to help locate the kitchenware section -- and then cook for 100 store employees and the judges.