The Wife:

I missed last week’s TAR because I was having my own mini-version in the Pacific Northwest as I took a two-night trip up to Seattle to visit my soon-to-be home for graduate study. The experience was not comparable to TAR in any way other than I saw a part of a city in a day and was shuffled from place to place competing tasks such as meeting with professors, getting coffee or sitting in on a seminar during which a fire drill occurred. That was probably the most TAR-ish part, actually.

While I was in Seattle, the racers spent another leg in Thailand, flying from Phuket to Bangkok, where they had to taxi themselves to a boat yard to get their first clue. Jaime cemented my hatred of her by being completely mean and insulting to cab drivers. I’m sorry, bitch, but not everyone on the planet speaks English, nor do they want to. Just fucking learn to be patient and stop adopting the attitude that someone is less intelligent than you because they don’t speak your language. Seriously, if I were traveling with Jaime, I’d have punched her pretty little face about eight times by now because there is never a part of the race where she isn’t mean to cabbies.

Once at the boat yard, teams faced a Road Block in which one team member must attach a propeller to a long-tail boat. If done correctly, they would get a clue that would lead them to sail across the lake to their next destination. And this is where everything got totally fucked up for two of the five teams. Only Margie and Luke and Cara and Jaime had the foresight to bring their bags from their cab to the dock, just in case they weren’t returning to their cab. Once Tammy and Victor realized they were going to motor across the lake, they took the time to redock their boat and grab their things. Kisha and Jen and Mark and Michael didn’t think to do either of those things, with Kisha and Jen even leaving their passport and money bag on the dock and not turning around to get it. The part that truly baffles me about this is that it was a Road Block, so only one person was aboard the boat attaching the rudder, while the other sat on the docks. Why didn’t that other teammate grab their stuff and bring it aboard? It’s not like they didn’t have the time!

After that set-up for disaster, the teams eventually found their way to a Detour:

  1. Broken Teeth, in which they would search through 50 sets of dentures to find matches for five patients
  2. Broken Record, in which they would join a party taxi with three local ladies and sing the same karaoke song over and over until they reached their destination.

Straight up, I would totally have gone to sing karaoke with Thai ladyboys. Oh yes, as Kisha and Jen realized but Mark and Michael never did, the Thai women they shared an intimate karaoke-fueled taxi ride with were, in fact, ladyboys, some of whom were much more beautiful and real than others, but all of whom were totally fabulous. I really do applaud the Thai for creating environments that welcome alternative genders and sexualities such as ladyboys. Recently, the government created a college just for them (similar to New York City’s Harvey Milk High School for LBGTQI kids) so that they could be themselves without feeling any potential pressure from factions of society that may not understand them. All of the teams seemed to be in agreement with me, except for Margie and Luke, who avoid things involving music and singing, for obvious reasons.

“I’m a bad singer, but he’s a really bad singer!” – Margie, on Luke’s inability to sing

So the mother and son decided to play with dentures, an activity described by Phil in the episode’s title as: “Rooting around in people’s mouths could be unpleasant.” Indeed. But Margie, being a nurse, was pretty fucking good at it. So good at it, in fact, that it got her and her son to the Pit Stop at Piya Thai Palace in first place, winning themselves a trip to Puerto Rico.

Mark and Michael got into some kind of row over whether or not to get their bags, and eventually decided to spend all of their remaining money to go back to their cab and get their bags before continuing on to the Detour. Sans cash, they had to barter their personal possessions to settle their cab bill. This would come back to bite them in the ass, as apparently you cannot barter your things for money on The Amazing Race? Surely, I thought they would have some penalties for not arriving at destinations by proper means (circumventing with cabs in place of feet or boats or whatnot), but apparently what I thought were mistakes weren’t and what I thought was totally okay totally wasn’t.

Jaime and Cara checked in in second place, followed by Kisha and Jen, who made it through on free cab rides from generous Thai people and, in Kisha’s case, without shoes. Phil couldn’t check them in, however, without their bags, so he sent them back to get them in a taxi. Officially, Tammy and Victor claimed third place. Mark and Michael then arrived and were penalized two hours for each instance of bartering, thus collecting a full four hours in penalties, which allowed Kisha and Jen to return and check in before them. Luckily, this was a non-elimination leg, so the wee stuntmen would have to wait out the remaining 3 hours and 10 minutes of their penalty at the beginning of the next leg, as well as complete a Speed Bump. Ouch. I mean, they made a really boneheaded move by forgetting their bags, but I had no idea you would be punished for bartering. Were Dandrew not punished in Russia last season because the cabbie decided not to take their shoes? I mean, where’s the consistency here?

For the next leg of the race, teams flew from Bangkok to Guilin, China and taxied to Qing Xiu Lu to find a hair salon where they would receive their next clue. Somehow, Kisha and Jen managed to get on their earliest flight out, putting them in the lead for this leg, while Cara and Jaime kept pace with Tammy and Victor by booking the same flight. I always end up liking the teams that have a second language in their arsenal, and it turns out that Tammy and Victor, like so many Chinese-American kids I know, were forced by their parents into Chinese school as children, and thus read, write and speak Mandarin. (Remember now much I loved Sarah, the Browbeaten Girlfriend of Terrance the Almighty Douchenozzle, just because she spoke Portuguese?) This definitely gave them a bit of an advantage on this leg of the race (summed up by Tammy as, “Now we know when our cab drivers don’t know where they’re going”), and smart teams stayed close to them to leech off of their knowledge.

Bitch, please!

Bitch, please!

In the previews for this episode, we knew that Jen and Luke were going to get into a major altercation at the clue box, and it was on like the break of dawn when Luke ran up to that clue box in front of the beauty salon and Jen slammed into him from behind. He put up his arm to block her, and she thought this was a “bitch move” so her sister said so, which really upset Margie and, when his mother later told him, Luke. What Jen has to remember is that Luke cannot hear her approaching, so when he put his arm up, it was just a natural reaction to someone you don’t know fucking grabbing you from behind. He wasn’t necessarily doing it to be mean or to keep her from the clue box. He was just doing what one does to protect oneself. So for Kisha to call Luke a bitch was definitely uncalled for in this situation.

From the salon, teams traveled to the #24 bridge, where they participated in a Road Block involving one of my fucking favorite things in the world: Cormorant Fishing. One teammate had to go out on the river and “train” the birds to retrieve thrown fishies. First of all, cormorants are ridiculous looking birds, and I love them for that alone. But I am also fond of cormorant fishing because there are so few people in the world that still practice it. In China, it used to be a profession that was passed down from generation to generation in the provinces where it is practiced. But as fewer and fewer children want to be fisherman for a living, there are now fewer and fewer cormorant fishers. I have some mixed feelings about the process used to train the birds (where their necks are tied with strings so that they can be brought back to the boat to deposit fish), but when the birds are trained, their handlers treat them very well and revere them. It’s kind of like using a hunting dog. And, like a hunting dog, the birdies might bite you, as they did to Luke. (By the way, props to the camera man who got the horror film shot of the bird approaching with venom in its beady little bird eyes. That right there deserves an Emmy.)



Before anyone could go out and play with the birdies, though, Jen had to go and be a bitch to Luke at the clue box again. He did run a little hard into her, but I think he was trying to beat her there and she just wedged herself in front of his momentum. She definitely pushed him away, though. And not defensively. And as though the bitch calling wasn’t enough, at this point Kisha announced that she planned to smile and laugh at them anytime the mother and son attempted to discuss the brewing conflict. Way to take the high road, Kisha.

After fishing with cormorants, teams headed to Ancient South Gate where they would face their Detour, involving two Chinese leisure pursuits of calligraphy and choreography.

  1. In Choreography, teams would join dancers in the park to learn and perform a choreographed ballroom dance routine. I immediately wished the local Chinese population did this in St. Mary’s Square instead of morning tai chi and afternoon games of go. It would be a lot more fun to watch, especially if random white people joined in and totally failed at dancing.
  2. In Calligraphy, teams had to visit four calligraphy stations in the park and copy the master’s brush strokes. If they copied them correctly, they would get a stamp. Four stamps got them their next clue.

Cheerleaders Jaime and Cara chose choreography, as learning choreography was basically their job for the entire time they were employed by the Miami Dolphins. Unfortunately, they totally failed at this challenge, leading Jaime to once again grow frustrated with people who don’t speak her language and flail her arms about screaming, “Does anyone speak English??” as though it were part of the routine she didn’t learn. Maybe you’re just losing your muscle memory, Jaime! Get your ass back to a dance class!

Luke being Deaf, Margie and her son chose to follow Tammy and Victor and Kisha and Jen to the calligraphy stations. I was a bit sad to learn that Tammy and Victor felt their Chinese writing was poor because, like every other Chinese-American kid I know, they totally didn’t pay attention in Chinese school. However, their spoken prowess was good enough to wheedle their way in front of the calligraphy master before all of the other teams and begged him to stamp them first. (Best tactic ever: “If we don’t win, our parents will cry themselves to death.”) It was smart of the other teams to follow Tammy and Victor in this case as each calligraphy station spelled out the Chinese name of their next location. All the easier to find those places with Tammy and Victor reading the names aloud, right? Much easier to ask someone for directions if you know how to pronounce the characters rather than trying to read the signs!

Once these teams completed all four calligraphy stations, they made their way to the Pit Stop at Banyan Lake, where they had to find the view depicted on the scroll handed to them by the calligraphy master. Kisha and Jen arrived at the mat first, winning a trip for two to Barbados, followed by Tammy and Victor and Margie and Luke, coming in third for the first time in the entire race. (Margie and Luke are always first or fourth, it seems.) As Phil ventured to ask these three teams about the pressure now that there are only a handfull of teams left in the game, Kisha and Jen smiled and pretended everything was copasetic, while Margie and Luke fiercely debated in ASL about bringing up their altercation with the sisters. I do not even fully know what to make of this situation, except that Kisha and Jen’s smiles and, yes, laughter at Margie and Luke really drove Margie over the edge. She took it as the sisters mocking her son’s strained speech. (Yes, when he’s angry, he does try to speak and, as you’d expect, it doesn’t go very well.) She lambasted them about how Luke has been made fun of his entire life for his Deafness and that they do not know what it’s like to be different. The girls rightly pointed out my astute observation that they have been Black their whole lives, and an angry Margie tried to explain how it was different to be disabled than it is to be non-white. Phil tried to ameliorate the situation by suggesting that, perhaps, the initial act of shoving at clue boxes had been misinterpreted (it had), but that didn’t really fix the problem.

Frankly, I do think Kisha and Jen are being dicks about the situation, and I feel for Margie. No mother wants to see her child hurt in any way, and I can definitely see that name-calling is especially hurtful to someone who isn’t hearing. But I really think the bigger problem in this situation is that, because of Luke’s Deafness and his bold refusal to learn to lip read, he has become completely dependent on and been overly coddled by his mother. He’s never really learned to fight his own battles or to simply ignore things that do not matter, like being called a name or accidentally pushed into something. This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but it became one.

Anyway, Cara and Jaime eventually figured out that their dance routine and checked in fourth at the mat, leaving super-duper behind Mark and Michael to be Phileminated.

Next week, Jen pulls a Salome and cries about having to swim! Will someone explain to me why water is scary? Because your body is, like, half water. So . . . yeah . . . totally not scary. Not scary at all. (Husband Note: More than half our body, woman!) (Wife’s Retort: Technically, yes, up to 60% of the body is water, but it varies from person to person. “Like, half” is accurate.)


The Wife:

After enduring “Restaurant Bores” last week, I’m glad Top Chef provided me with an episode that was actually entertaining. I liked the idea of the cheftestants battling head to head with the All-Stars in an Iron Chef/cooking demo hybrid. Watching the chefs try to smack-talk their way through their prep sessions was great, and actually a nice look into the kind of playful camaraderie of the kitchen that Top Chef‘s contestants often lack. I base my entire knowledge of how professional kitchens work solely on the writings of Anthony Bourdain, by the way. And a little bit from his friend Gabrielle Hamilton. Both of these writers speak of the kitchen as a place of playful camaraderie where, on the line, in the middle of a dinner rush, the cooks are very serious about their work, but entertain themselves during the shift by teasing and egging on their companions. If you’re moving too slow on the grill, someone will call you a conjo or tell you that they know you can suck dick faster than you can pan fry a skate wing, and, maybe, they’ll insinuate that your mother is also prone to that similar proclivity. It’s a name-calling game that, like playing the dozens, calls on its participants to prove their mettle, both at firing off snappy comebacks and firing dishes in a timely manner. So seeing this kind of playful trash-talk enter the Top Chef kitchen was a nice change of pace from the often austere working conditions we usually see on this show. (I get that these guys are working with people who aren’t their usual crew, but, still, you’d think they could have a little bit of fun on the job, eh?)

But before that glorious contest of braggadocio began, the cheftestants had to participate in their requisite Quickfire Challenge, brought to you by Padma Lakshmi, Scott Conant of Scarpetta restaurant and Quaker Oats. Each chef was asked to create a dish showcasing one food group . . . paired with Quaker Oats in a new and surprising way. Padma designed who would get what food group by asking chefs to blindly choose squares on some football-type board that I didn’t understand at all because I am, how you say, not so sportif. Jamie got fruit, Leah got seafood, Hosea got meats, Fabio got veggies, Jeff got poultry, Carla got nuts and grains and Stefan got dairy. You know, there are some things I like oats with, and some things I do not. For many of these dishes, I would say that they fell into the latter category:

The Quickfire Dishes

  • Jamie: coconut and oat crusted shrimp with fresh fruit salsa
  • Hosea: weinerschnizel with warm potato salad
  • Fabio: oat-crusted eggplant, stuffed with an array of veggies that did not need to be there because nothing could fix that over-oated eggplant shell
  • Stefan: banana mousse with oatmeal and oatmeal petit fours, which I might argue is oatmeal’s natural habitat
  • Carla: nut-crusted tofu with salad
  • Leah: oat-flour crusted sea bass (I think. I actually just wrote down the word “seafood” instead of the actual fish)
  • Jeff: fried chicken pollard and fried zucchini and grits
Seriously, Fabio, what the fuck were you thinking?

Seriously, Fabio, what the fuck were you thinking?

Scott Conant disliked Leah, Fabio and Jeff’s dishes, and rightfully so. Jeff’s overly-fried everything was just too heavy. You know why? Because frying oats makes them way more substantial than any fried thing should be. Fried stuff is supposed to be light, and that’s why Jamie’s lightly crusted shrimp worked, but Jeff’s many fried things didn’t. Another person who shouldn’t have crusted stuff in oats was Fabio, who simply didn’t know what to do with vegetables because he’s so much happier cooking all the delicious meats in the world. Clearly, he doesn’t have Jack Bishop’s totally awesome Italian vegetarian cookbook, because there are so many great parts of the Italian diet that don’t have to have meat. Although, in fairness to Fabio, you know what definitely isn’t part of the Italian diet? Oats. Seriously, we do not really work with oats. Flour and cornmeal, yes, but oats? Not so much. Not even for breakfast. When I lived in Italy, my breakfast was a hard roll dunked into a cappuccino, or, strangely, when I was living with Illaria, a bowl of Mulino Bianco Gioccioli cookies in milk. (Best factory processed cookies in the world are Mulino Bianco anything. Pepperidge Farm can suck Mulino Bianco’s cock.) Either way, not oats. As for Leah, I think her dish failed because she cooked in oat flour and general malaise. Man, I can’t wait until she’s gone.

The challenge’s successes included Carla’s nut-tofu, which, frankly, as a vegetarian I would never order at a restaurant. I’m not into tofu steaks. I much prefer eating it in a stir-fry, soup or noodle dish than trying to pretend that I want to cut and eat it as though it is supposed to be on par with a meat steak. Also praised were Jamie’s lightly-crusted shrimp and Stefan’s exploration of oatmeal’s natural habitat. Conant picked Stefan as the winner because you can’t argue with nature, but I would have given the challenge to Jamie for managing to take a cumbersome ingredient and make it look like it belonged with the food she made.

Stefan didn’t win immunity, but instead got the right to choose his opponent in the Elimination Challenge, a head-to-head cook-off against seven of the show’s All-Stars: bromance Spike and Andrew from season 4, season 4’s Nikki, season 3’s Camille, season 2’s Josie and season 1’s Andrea and Miguel. Each cheftestant would pair-off against a rival and cook a dish inspired by the regional cuisine of several NFL teams: the Dallas Cowboys, the Miami Dolphins, the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks, the San Francisco 49ers, the New York Giants and the New Orleans Saints. The cook-off would be limited to dishes that could be fully prepared in 20 minutes with ingredients provided by the Top Chef kitchen specific to each region. Furthermore, the cook off would take place in a real demo kitchen at the Institute of Culinary Education in front of an audience of totally jazzed culinary students. (Seriously, I bet anyone who skipped class that day is totally kicking themselves.)

Stefan, trying to strategize by picking an opponent he knew didn’t last very long into her season, chose Andrea, known for her vegetarian cuisine, hoping she wouldn’t fare well in a challenge celebrating the cuisine of Texas. Jeff chose Miami and got to cook off against Josie, who I’m glad has taken the hate crime that was perpetrated against her in stride. Fabio chose Green Bay and faced off against Spike, while Hosea, the seafood chef, went with Seattle and got paired against Miguel. Leah chose the New York Giants, because New York doesn’t have its own cuisine, she figured, so she could make whatever and wouldn’t have to give a shit about it, and cooked against Nikki. Hometown girl Jamie rightfully chose San Francisco, because she knew we’d murder her upon her return if she didn’t, and got to cook against Camille, who I do not remember at all from season 3. Carla, reppin’ the South, chose N’awlins and cooked against her favorite chef Andrew.

Youre all on time out.

You're all on time out.

Padma then told the chefs that any person on the home team who lost their culinary battle was eligible for elimination. At the challenge itself, Padma dressed up like a sexy referee and announced that the four judges would award a 7-point touchdown to the chef whose dish they liked most, with a 3-point field goal up for grabs based on the majority opinion of five audience tasters. If the judges were deadlocked, the full 10 points would be awarded to whomever the audience tasters gave the field goal to. The highest score at the end of each battle would get an automatic win and whichever team at the end of the seven battles had the most points, won the whole shebang. Here’s me trying to be sporty by giving all the battles cutesy nicknames!

Battle 1: Leah vs. Nikki in the New York Knockout
Leah cooked a seared strip steak with creamed corn and snap peas, while Nikki prepared seared chicken livers with goat cheese and some other stuff on challah, which she mispronounced. The judges awarded Leah 7 points, while the 3-point field goal went to Nikki.

Battle 2: Hosea vs. Miguel in the Battle for Seattle
Miguel created a cedar plank salmon with noodley bits, while Hosea prepared an amazingly intricate crispy salmon egg roll with a ginger-blackberry sauce. Hosea took home the full 10 points.

Battle 3: Carla vs. Andrew in the Bayou Crawdad Brawl
Andrew put on the worst Cajun accent I have ever heard and made a crayfish crudo with a vinaigrette. Carla, instead, made a 20-minute crawfish and andouille gumbo over grits. Her Southern authenticity won her 7 points, while Andrew got the 3-point field goal. (For those who don’t know, crawdads, crayfish and crawfish are all the same thing. They are also called mudbugs and a variety of other names, depending on where you’re from.)

Battle 4: Andrea vs. Stefan in the Dallas Death Match
Stefan tried to make a duo of grilled meats over cold salads, while Andrea went for a tried and true Tex Mex chili with chipotles, earning her the full 10 points and completely shutting out Stefan, which is well deserved, considering that what he made didn’t say Dallas at all.

Battle 5: Jamie vs. Camille in the Frisco Fish Fight
Hometown girl Jamie made a crab cioppino, a North Beach staple, while her opponent made a sweet potato and miso mash with crab meat, which I guess is a nod to the city’s Japanese population. Jamie took home the full 10 points, and I am going to write her a letter that explains how to actually pronounce cioppino. It isn’t see-o-pino, it’s cha-pino. “Ci” is “cha” in Italian. The faster she learns this, the fast she can avoid having a hit put on her by North Beach restaurateurs.

Battle 6: Jeff vs. Josie in the Miami Meltdown
Josie made a warm rock shrimp ceviche with papaya, which offended challenger Jeff because he would never serve a warm ceviche if his life depended on it. He made a cold rock shrimp ceviche with sangria sorbet. Josie took home the full 10 points, despite how much Tom Colicchio liked Jeff’s sorbet.

Battle 7: Fabio vs. Spike in the Green Bay Grudge Match
Spike created a five-spice seared venison, with no Wisconsin cheddar at all. Fabio made a venison with mustard sauce and a really odd cheddar cheese salad. Spike took home 7 points, while Fabio got the 3-point field goal.

Oh, Spike, I miss contestants with your weird energy and culinary boners.

Oh, Spike, I miss contestants with your weird energy and culinary boners.

Overall, the home team of season five’s cheftestants won the game, but Fabio, Stefan and Jeff are instantly in the bottom due to their losses. Thanks to all the time the editing room spent on Fabio, spouting out far too many Fabioisms to write down, I was pretty sure he was a goner at this point. Seriously, Fabio, what’s with you and monkey assholes? You seem to mention serving them a lot. Winningest chefs Jamie, Carla, Hosea and Leah were called to Judges’ Table where, oddly, Carla is actually awarded a win and given two tickets to the Super Bowl, which I’m sure her football-loving husband and stepson will enjoy very much. Someone owes Hooty-Hoo some hot hooty action. I don’t know what that entails, and I don’t want to know.

The judges surprised me once again by sending Jeff off to pack his knives and go. As far as skill and execution go, I knew there was no way they’d part with Stefan, and I am really shocked that they ousted Jeff over Fabio. I love Fabio, I do. I think he is supremely entertaining, but his food is not up to Jeff’s level. Many of the dishes Fabio creates may end up tasting good, but lack the artful presentation of his other competitors. Sometimes, I think his idea of what goes together on a plate gets lost in translation. I’ve been in many Italian restaurants and homes in Italy where food comes out looking exactly like Fabio’s. This is not to say that it’s at all bad (although those eggplant things were a fucking atrocity), it’s just not very elegant or elevated. Fabio’s had two bad Quickfires in a row now and he’s never actually won a cooking challenge. Jeff may not have had these wins either, but his food was consistently better looking and more complex than Fabio’s. It’s a close call between the two of them, but its pretty evident to me that Fabio the Italian Stallion stayed around this week because he has a bigger, brighter personality than Jeff does. Jeff’s kind of prickly. So, sorry Jesse Spencer. I guess you can go back to being on House now, while Fabio is free to roam the Top Chef kitchen, babbling about cooking monkey assholes or some such nonsense.