With only four contestants left, Worst Cooks in America is a different show. Last week the judges eliminated Carla and Michael, cooks with two of the clearest gimmicks: Wanna-Lay-Bobby-Flay and Bow-Tie-Accounting-Dork. With their dismissal, all that's left is to watch the most capable cooks compete, though that distinction is profoundly relative. On other cooking reality shows, there is a drama inherent to having a whole pickup truck full of contestants running around your kitchen: Some people don't get along, some people get along too well, a few have no business competing but look interesting on television while doing it. Then, as the field narrows, that particular drama flakes away and is replaced by the drama of watching only the most skilled cooks competing. These are people at the top of their field crafting works of art. That is not the case here. Now that the ballerina and the frat guy and the chiropractor with the sex dungeon are gone, all that's left is to watch four miserable home cooks struggle and get things wrong. I expected to be let down. Instead, the increased screen time exploded these remaining four contestants from sound bites and punchlines into real people, people with families and human struggles who want to be better providers, and I also cried twice. I'm an old softie.
A Sunday night without a soul-extinguishing cooking show didn't quite feel right after the trauma of Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, so Mark Lisanti here was kind enough to let me keep this sad-party rolling with Worst Cooks in America. He is a classic enabler. In choosing to watch this show I feel a bit like an addict, in that I am making decision after decision that disappoints and scares my loved ones, and also the sort of people I am hanging around with look like Anne Burrell. I have no idea if Chef Anne Burrell has ever done drugs, and I am not implying she has; I am just saying she looks like the sort of person who can't get lots of regular jobs because they have strict "Have you ever taken ketamine at a funeral?" policies.
There are a lot of people who look like Guy Fieri — for instance, this season's Food Network Star contestant Michelle, Anne Burrell, and Violent J after he washes his face — but Guy Fieri is a unique being. He inspires culinary and personal hatred for a number of reasons, including wearing sunglasses on the folds of his neck fat and accessorizing with flame decals. He yells, and sometimes yells while he eats. Despite this, he rose to fame after winning Season 2 of The Next Food Network Star, a show that I find uncomfortably fascinating because it compels its contestants to cook meatballs and fry garnishes within impossible time limits while telling (often fabricated) stories about their mothers, hometowns, or deceased and beloved relatives. There is a lot of perspiring, sometimes onto the plate. The losers are corralled into a boardroom, forced to watch tapes of themselves sputtering and holding leaky portobello mushroom caps, and are criticized by Food Network producers for failing to be genuine, or for lacking a distinct "P.O.V.," or for confusing the words “decomposed” and “deconstructed.” Last week, Alton Brown pinched his nasal bridge and tried to save a contestant on his team (whose "P.O.V." was health food, after having lost over a hundred pounds) by sharing a distinctly Alton Brown–like serving of profundity on what it is like to be overweight — one has to sell oneself because one feels so unattractive, so clumsy. It was sort of moving: So, Alton was once fat. The contestant cried, and then was eliminated. Nobody tasted his food.