"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 10

 In this last episode of Season 1, Michael and Ralph competed to win their own restaurant. They got to decorate the restaurant to their liking, and several of the contestants from earlier were brought back to serve as their teammates helping them cook their meals. Michael set up his restaurant in a more modern style whereas Ralph fashioned his to look like a 1920's-era New York steakhouse. Although both teams fumbled a little, Michael because he wasn't always assertive enough and Ralph because he sometimes left the hot plate to cook, ultimately both pulled off an immensely successful service. In the end Michael was made the winner, and Gordon Ramsay was so impressed that he gave him the opportunity to train with him in the UK, which he gladly accepted.

Now that Michael and Ralph were the only two players in the game, their personalities suddenly became much more apparent than they were originally. It seemed as if they were specifically chosen as foils to one another, with Ralph as the more hot-headed and Michael as the more calm and soft-spoken. Each had its advantages, but the real turning point for Michael was when he started being more assertive with his teammates, who thus far had not been acting much like a team. Interestingly, Michael at one point broke the fourth wall when he scolded Jessica by telling her she'd been in the game for "months," implying that the game has been going on a lot longer than you can tell just by watching the episode. 

I have to wonder now if I misjudged Michael a little bit. At first I had thought he already had an established career as a chef but this episode he was treated as a sort of young upstart  by both Ralph and Gordon Ramsay. Maybe he was an underdog we were supposed to root for all along, and I just didn't notice. He was also more sympathetic this episode than I remember him being all season, but on the other hand, maybe I just didn't know what I was missing--he seems like an absolute saint compared to some of the guys from later seasons of the show! I also couldn't help but notice a lot of comments on the video noting that the contestants in this season appeared much nicer to one another than the contestants from later seasons, which seems pretty funny.

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 9

 So this season began with the team members hanging out and drinking some champagne left out for them. Then they had to wake up super early the next morning to bake bread. Jessica was still a bit drunk so she slept for most of it. Then they had to make souffles. Ralph's was declared the best, though Gordon Ramsay found fault with all of them; so he was allowed to pick which of three entrees (beef, chicken, or tuna) he wanted to prepare. He chose beef, with Michael cooking tuna and Jessica chicken.

For the main dining competition, the families of the contestants showed up to Hell's Kitchen (they got to hang out with them a bit at the end of the episode). In general, Ralph's dish was the most popular and Michael's the least; but the families liked Michael's the best. Meanwhile, Jessica seemed to struggle for most of the night and had to have tons of help from her teammates. As a result of all this, she was the one who ended up being eliminated. It's kind of a shame as for a while I'd thought she would win, as she looks like the underdog compared to the two men who don't always take her seriously. But, nothing about her performance these past few episodes has made it seem like she has a handle on running a professional kitchen (which is, after all, the ultimate aim of the show), and even if the producers of the show had wanted to shape her into a winner, they can only do so much. So now I hope Ralph will win, because Michael hasn't been sympathetic at all for at least the past two episodes if not longer.

With all that being said, I've decided to take a detour from the first season and watch some episodes from some of the later seasons, mostly because the last episode of this season is over an hour long (I'll probably watch it over the weekend when I have a bit more time). Already, just from watching short clips of some of the later seasons I've seen things that would make the contestants and situations of the first season, at their most unceremonious, seem downright dignified by comparison!

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 8

This episode began with Gordon Ramsay challenging the chefs to make dishes using leftovers. Elsie won the competition, although Jessica managed to impress Gordon Ramsay too. The men, not so much. Since Elsie won the competition she got to appear on a TV talk show. The other players went out of their way to point out how jealous they were, which struck me as a bit odd since they're already on TV in the first place. Perhaps they were exaggerating for dramatic effect?

Anyway, that night the team struggled because they couldn't work as a team, I guess because they were still jealous over Elsie winning the prize yet again (she's won, like, all but one or two of the prizes so far, in one form or another). As a result, Gordon Ramsay kept switching them between stations, and eventually had to shut down the restaurant early yet again, and he refused to allow the players to nominate each other, supposedly because he was disappointed with everyone. Elsie was the one who ended up being sent home, but she didn't seem too upset about that, particularly in light of her doubts from the previous episode. I'd rather suspected that something like this might happen for a while--as sympathetic as she was, I'm not sure it would be believable if she had won. I couldn't help but notice that it almost seemed like the show was trying to ship her with Gordon Ramsay a little bit, which is pretty weird, considering both of them are supposed to be married.

In any event, something I noticed fairly early on in this episode is that the competitions have taken on a bit of a different character now that it's everyone for themselves. When they were team efforts, it was pretty hard to focus players' animosity against any specific player; but now that the competitions are individual and only one person wins, the person who does win is going to end up attracting a lot more resentment. I think that's probably the point, with the aim of demonstrating the ability of the team members to work together to prepare food even if they're jealous or resentful of each other for some reason (a very real possibility in the restaurant business).

I'm actually really looking forward to seeing what the next couple of episodes are like, now that there's only three players. Especially since at least two of the players seem fairly aggressive. I will say that by this point my hopes are not high for either Michael or Ralph to win. I mean, they're professional chefs yet neither of them could cook with leftovers nearly as well as two women who hadn't spent any time in a professional kitchen before now? Really? Considering Gordon Ramsay's standards and his statements about previous credentials not mattering, I'm not sure I'd believe it if either of THEM won now!

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 7

 In this episode, the contestants stopped being two separate teams and each became one team, with the understanding that it was everyone for themselves. The first challenge involved learning to make a flambe dessert. Jimmy won the challenge, much to everyone's surprise, and so he got invited on a helicopter date with Gordon Ramsay (shhh...!). He invited Michael to come along, seemingly to pay him back for not eliminating him earlier when he had the chance. However, Elsie somewhat cynically remarks that Michael only passed over Jimmy for elimination in favor of Chris because he knew Chris was his biggest threat. And I have to wonder a little bit if Jimmy knew this, and that's the real reason why he chose Michael--to protect himself from Michael if he's ever in a position to eliminate him again.

This dinner challenge was the first time they were cooking without the help of the sous-chefs, so it was pretty hard going. Elsie was relegated to the dining room, preparing salads and flambe desserts for the diners. She struggled a bit at first but eventually got the hang of it. Meanwhile, both Jessica and Jimmy got into fights with Gordon Ramsay because he was dissatisfied with their performance. As such, when Gordon Ramsay called upon Ralph to pick people for elimination he picked Jimmy and Jessica, with Jimmy being the one who got eliminated. I wasn't terribly surprised, but his departure was genuinely heartwarming, with a reflection on how much he's grown as a chef, and how Gordon Ramsay really is proud of him for getting that far.

Interestingly, Elsie displays some signs of flagging, and has begun to question whether this is something she really wants. She even asked Ralph to put her up for elimination at one point! I guess, realistically, she doesn't have much of a chance of winning either, seeing as she already has a job and kids to worry about.

I also can't help but wonder if the show is trying to ship some of the contestants a little bit. I'm sure it's all pretend, but it's pretty funny to see Michael and Jimmy going on a helicopter date together, complete with champagne (for example). Jessica also has a conversation with Michael while the contestants are waiting for Ralph to select people for elimination, in which Michael seems to question what Jessica's relationship with Ralph actually is (she insists he's just a mentor, of course). I wonder just how much of that is deliberate, but I can see it adding another layer of drama if it's ever played up at any point.

Speaking of Michael, it's implied (but never outright stated) that he hid some steaks Jessica was supposed to cook, which slowed her up and caused her to get in trouble with Gordon Ramsay. They really do seem to be setting him up as a villain, don't they? Between the group psychology of the game and the fact that audience members don't like players who turn on or sabotage their teammates, I wouldn't be surprised if Michael ends up eliminated the second he drops the ball (if indeed he does).

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 6

 This episode began with the players having to do a taste test as a team, to show Gordon Ramsay how good they were at identifying flavors. This led to a rather weird situation where Gordon Ramsay hand-fed them ingredients as if they were baby birds and he was their mother, or something. Anyway, the Red Team won, largely because Ralph was so bad at identifying ingredients (he couldn't get ANY of them right despite being a professional chef!).

For dinner, the players had to come up with their own menus to serve, and then the guests had to pick which menu they wanted to order off of. The Red Team did a pretty good job of coming up with recipes that suited everyone; on the Blue Team Ralph commandeered pretty much the entire menu, much to Jessica's and Andrew's displeasure. In the end, the Blue Team received more orders and served more food, but because Andrew kept screwing up the fish, they lost. Jessica ended up being the best of the worst (again), and she ended up throwing out Andrew even though the fish dish was Ralph's and he hadn't wanted to make it in the first place. It isn't terribly surprising that Andrew would be sent home, though, because I don't think he's made a single good dish the entire time. And, to his credit, he managed to come across as fairly sympathetic in the end, moreso than I was expecting him to be at the outset. Gordon Ramsay explained his decision by saying that Andrew was out of his depth and "can't cook," something I found surprisingly hilarious for no clear reason.

I wouldn't be surprised if Jimmy was eliminated in fairly short order, since he seems a bit out of his depth as well, and has been for the past couple episodes. He's definitely come farther than you would think he would, but once again, he's enough out of his element that I'm not sure it'd be believable if he won.

Meanwhile, Michael and Ralph continue to show themselves as the biggest threats. However, one of the points Gordon Ramsay made earlier is that he holds those who already have experience in a professional kitchen to higher standards, implying that prior kitchen experience doesn't actually impact the contestants' chance of winning. Which is good news for people like Elsie and Jessica, the latter of whom looks more and more like winner material with each passing episode.

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 5

 So in this episode Gordon Ramsay changed up the menus so that all the contestants had to serve pasta dishes. First he challenged them to make pasta. The Red Team made more, so they won that competition. That evening, the teams each took it in turns to cook dinner and serve it to the guests. The Blue Team won the main challenge, despite Red's attempts to sabotage them by encouraging the guests to order the most difficult menu item, although I can't remember if it was for food or service. Michael was the best of the worst on the Red Team this time around, so he had to choose people to eliminate--and he took the opportunity to throw out Chris, the other professional chef on his team, passing over Jimmy, who appeared to have struggled the most with the tasks at hand.

I should say that I'm not actually terribly surprised by this. Chris was established pretty early on as a strong contender. At first, when everyone had to work as a team, this was a good thing, but as the number of players dwindles and it becomes more and more apparent that only one person can win, the most aggressive players are the ones who become the biggest targets the fastest. I can't help but notice that I don't think Michael has ever been in the position of eliminating someone before, and I wonder if he partly planned it that way so as not to make enemies early on. I wouldn't be surprised if later Michael gets thrown out at the first opportunity, now that he's signaled that HE'S a threat. Of course, that might not be for a while, as I suspect the show is hoping he becomes an interesting villain.

What this all means is that a player like Jessica, for example, might have a pretty good chance of winning, because it's not immediately obvious that she's a threat. Jimmy and Elsie don't seem like threats either, but once again, they seem out of their element enough that it probably wouldn't be believable if they won. It's hard for me to see Andrew winning either, but to his credit he did become more sympathetic this episode, as he seemed to be making a conscious effort not to be such a loudmouth (although he did have another shouting match with Ralph), and acted pretty nice to Elsie on one occasion. 

"Hell's Kitchen:" Season 1 Episode 2

This episode began with the teams cleaning and preparing squid to Gordon Ramsay's specifications. The Red Team won, with Dewberry putting forth especially good work. As a result, when it came time for the main challenge (serving the people in the restaurant, again), the Blue Team were forced to cook with no air conditioning (Gordon Ramsay apparently got the idea from his own experience cooking in a kitchen with a broken air conditioner)! However, ultimately the Blue Team still won because (evidently) both Jeff and Dewberry slowed things up again (I didn't see that part because I couldn't find that piece of episode). So Dewberry was eliminated.

I'm noticing a theme here: so far, the focus has been more on whether the team members can work as a team than whether they can cook well. Both of the people who have been eliminated so far were good enough cooks but got eliminated because they couldn't be team players. Furthermore, Jeff, who was slated for elimination as well, highlighted his willingness to work as part of a team while trying to convince Gordon Ramsay to let him stay.

Jeff apparently suffered from kidney stones during this episode. I'm not sure whether I think that was real or fake, but I think it easily could have been real since kidney stones, to my knowledge, are more painful than actually dangerous. I'm a little more suspicious of the other contestants' reactions, none of which seemed to show much or any compassion for him at all. They were on the opposing team, so I'm wondering if that was an attempt to antagonize him?

It's also occurred to me that there's two contestants in particular that I think we're meant to dislike: Chris on Red and Andrew on Blue. Chris, at least, appears to have partly redeemed himself this episode by helping out his teammates, but Andrew is mostly just annoying and stuck up. Jessica, on Blue, isn't particularly sympathetic either. I'll be interested to see what becomes of them as the show goes on.

I'm watching "Hell's Kitchen!"

 Why, you might ask? I was inspired by this video about the Hunger Games, which explains all about how similar the Hunger Games is to reality shows we watch today. I have no particular interest in or experience with reality TV beyond "The Amazing Race," which I watched for a number of years in middle and high school (and probably isn't the best show to prove my point anyway, since the way it's structured seems like it would make things more difficult to stage and manipulate). "Hell's Kitchen" is perfect because it combines a topic I'm interested in with the sort of reality-TV atmosphere that the video above is referring to.

So far I've watched the first episode of the first season. First all the contestants had to cook a meal for Gordon Ramsay, some of which he appreciated more than others. The contestants took the opportunity to say a little bit about who they were and where they came from. Then they were split up into two teams, Red and Blue, and had to serve a restaurant full of people. I think the people who cooked the worst dishes initially were sent out to serve the guests.

Ultimately the Red Team lost the competition, and so Elsie, the best of the worst on that team, had to pick two people to potentially eliminate. The one who ended up being eliminated was a lady named Carolanne (or something), who could actually cook but had no experience in a professional kitchen. I suppose Gordon Ramsay thought it wouldn't be believable if she won the game. The other person considered for elimination, Dewberry, was depicted as having a nice conversation with Elsie ahead of time, and he claims that if he's ever in a position to choose someone for elimination he might pay Elsie back for trying to throw him out. I rather suspect that some part of that was staged, or at least manipulated to make it look like a bigger thing than it was. Elsie, for her part, is someone who was depicted as fairly sympathetic early on (she's apparently a mother of a fairly large blended family) but might become less so in light of her having to eliminate someone. There are some people who are fairly resoundingly unsympathetic, though (on both teams), and I'll be interested to see how long they last.

Also, I counted no fewer than three contestants from New Jersey. Represent! XD