Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Cape Fear: The Bachelor Finale recap

Every day from now on is going to be like this. . . .just kidding

Well, that was disorienting, huh?
Let’s face it, The Bachelor finale is all about suspension of disbelief. We know that the odds of the winning couple actually walking down the aisle are basically akin to the odds of being mauled by a polar bear and a regular bear on the same day (to quoth the e-trade baby) (And if loving the e-trade baby is wrong, I don’t want to be right).
And yet. . . we go with it.
We wonder: Who’s he going to pick? Who’s he going to pick? We wait for the first glimpse of leg to come poking out of the limo—ahhhh, I see the edge of Lindzzzi’s emerald velvet cape! We mourn for the poor rejected finalist.
And then, when the Bachelor gets down on one knee—all excited and hopeful and tremulous-of-voice and teary—we cry right along with him and his happy bride-to-be. Because we’re suckers like that.

But how to respond to Ben proposing to Courtney?
For one thing, we all knew it was coming.
If Chris Harrison’s none-so-subtle: “The most controversial season finale of The Bachelor evah” last week wasn’t enough, the giant cover story in Us Magazine: “Caught Cheating! Three Girls in One Weekend”—about Ben supposedly cheating on fiancée Courtney—certainly did the trick. (These days, the check-out aisle at Safeway needs to come with a giant spoiler alert.)

Then, of course, there’s the pesky fact that we all know that Courtney is the she-devil—albeit, one who has recently acquired the ability to approximate human behavior. (Speaking of which, how much did you want to high five the girls on last week’s “Women Tell All” special, when Courtney broke down in tears and apologized and they just stared back at her with a “Can you believe this crazy bitch?” look of amazement on their faces.)

So here’s what we know going in:
1. Ben proposed to Courtney
2. She be crazy
3. He’s already cheated on her (allegedly!)
4. They’ve already broken up (kind of)

Who says fairy tales don’t come true?

So, forgive me if I fast forwarded my way through most of the Bachelor finale to get to the “After the Rose” special, where shit really went down.

But let me share a few stream-of-consciousness thoughts on the (completely unnecessary) show itself.

Could Ben’s mom and his sister look any more like him? They are basically Ben in drag. It doesn’t help that Ben’s mom has his exact same fetching little page boy, only hers is dyed blonde. (And later, Ben is seen sporting a marled yarn sweater that could only have come from the “Aspen Collection” at Chico’s, so apparently he and his mom share more than just hair.)

At first I thought Julia (big sis) was some kind of Miss Cleo when she asked, “Was there a girl that was more dramatic that the other girls didn’t like?” but then I realized that she was just stating a foregone truth, sort of like when a psychic blows your mind by surmising that you “wish you had more free time” and “sometimes feel underappreciated at work.”

So Ben’s sister and mom meet Lindzzzi first and Lindzzzi is very nervous and keeps dropping silverware, which is probably why Ben dumps her.

They like Lindzzzi very much and agree with Ben that she “lights up a room.”  (That’s Ben’s tagline for Lindzzi and he’s sticking with it.)

(Random aside: Did you notice that the producers felt compelled to put a fondue pot on every available surface? This was just to make sure that we know for certain that they’re in Switzerland.)

Next, they meet Courtney. At first they don’t like her, but somehow she manages to win them over with her grace (?), natural charm (?) and warmth (?).

“She’s a really amazing girl,” Julia says. “I’m blown away.
I do think she would fit really well into the family.”
I know, you guys. I’m as surprised as you are.

Date day:
Do you ever notice that the producers of The Bachelor always make the couple walk up to each other from a distance? So there’s always that awkward moment where you don’t know how long to lock eyes, when to say hi,  if you should do a goofy wave, or perhaps a goofy dance, or run toward each other with your arms extended? On The Bachelor, as in life, the long-distance walk greeting is rough.

Anyway, in keeping with the “we won’t just break Lindzzi’s heart we will f*ck with her as much as possible” theme of the show, Courtney gets to go strolling around the quaint town with Ben—la-di-da—while Lindzzzi has to do a death-defying ski drop down the Matterhorn and be suspended mid-air in a gondola.
“I’m worn out,” she tells Ben later that night. No shit, Lindzzz. This has been less a dating show for you and more an Iron Woman competition.

Lindzzi’s date is very lovey-dovey and warm, whereas Courtney’s date is beset with awkward moments and tense confrontations and if I wasn’t completely spoiled, I may’ve actually been fooled.

Also, Courtney takes a page out of Blakely’s book and gives Ben a photo album of their love, leading me to wonder “who’d she have to blow to get those show photos?” (I kid, I kid.)

So it's proposal day and everyone wears their traditional Renaissance proposal cape and carries a giant turkey drumstick.

Moments after this photo was taken, Lindzzi was shot by an exotic game hunter

As always, it’s painful to watch Lindzzi’s face as Ben breaks up with her. It goes through stages:
1. Confident and jubilant
2. Doubt creeping in
3. Dread creeping in
4. False optimism brought on by Ben’s kind words
5. Return of crippling doubt
6. Abject despair
Aaaand. . .scene.

Oh well, Lindzz. Remember, it could’ve been worse. He could’ve said: “Welcome to No-Proposal-Ville, population you.”

Ring shiny. Me propose now.

Now it’s Courtney’s turn. She’s confident and here’s her (faulty) reasoning: “I’m a good person and good things happen to good people.” (Riiiiight.)

She hands Chris Harrison her cape (one more thing to add to his resume: Host, therapist, pimp, cape holder. . .) and heads to Ben.
And there’s not a wet eye in the house, as Ben gets down on one knee, clutches Courtney’s creepy gloved hand and proposes.

And she says yes! They’re going to live happily ever after, everyone! Or at least until the next commercial break!!

Now it’s time for Bachelor: After the Final Rose.

“You just watched Ben do what millions of viewers hoped he . . . would not do,” starts Chris Harrison. (Lolz.)

Ben comes on stage. He has grown an unfortunate little scraggly goatee.
(I understand the attempt to grow that thing. And maybe in a week or so it will fill out and look less “douchey.” But with an hour before show time, why not just look in the mirror, cut your losses, and shave the damn thing off?)

So here’s what happened with Ben. Once the show aired, he began to feel he had been played the fool by Courtney, so he retreated to a sad little Ben place where he took advantage of  his newfound celebrity and macked on a lot of women (allegedly!)

If only he had been warned! If only some of the girls had told him that Courtney was toxic! If only a red flag or two had been raised! If only he’d had any sense AT ALL that Courtney was “in it for the wrong reasons"!!! But how was he to know that he was being played? How? Nobody uttered a single word to him!!!

*Implied facepalm*

Anyway, so Ben defends those photos in Us Weekly and insists that “he did not have sexual relations with those women.”

Then Courtney comes out and is lustily booed.
How does she explain her appalling behavior on the show:
“I’ve got a little sass in me.” (That’s one “s” too many, sweetie.)

Now they are together and Courtney has her hand on Ben’s leg in very possessive way.

“Where do you guys stand?” Chris asks.
“In a good place,” Ben says, twitching a bit. “We’re engaged and we’re in a good place.”

(Don’t you just love the reaction shots from the crowd? Lots of eye rolls, “ohnoyoudi’int” head shakes and conspiratorial whispers).

They replay what can now officially be described as the world’s most awkward proposal and the crowd reacts with funereal silence.
Ben is crying. And Courtney is trying to remember how she conjured those tears last week in acting class.

“That beautiful moment has been soiled by all this,” Ben says. Soiled by what? The fact that Courtney is a sociopath and you’re a chump?

Suddenly, Chris Harrison has. . . the ring. How did he get that thing? (Host, therapist, pimp, cape holder, and ring snatcher. Impressive, Chris.)

The audience gasps. (I love this audience.)

“What do you want to do with this ring?” Chris asks.

Hock it, Ben thinks. But instead, he puts it on Courtney’s finger.
Now the audience cheers, leading me to believe that some underpaid grip is holding up a WE BEG YOU TO APPLAUD sign.

“Do you think this will end with a marriage?” Chris asks.
“I do,” Ben says. “I just don’t know when. . .”

And somewhere out there, hell just got a little colder in anticipation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Totally Stoned: The Top Chef finale recap

Unspoilery food photo. Because otherwise people get "angry"

Is it just me, or is there is absolutely no method to the madness of who the show has chosen to compete to be sous chefs for Paul and Sarah?
There are six of the original castmembers—but not Edward, Lindsay, or lightning rod Beverly. And there are two random master chefs that we’ve never seen before (Barbara Lynch and Marco Canora). And then there’s a scattered assortment of the rejected Alamo gang, including—wait for it—legend-in-his-own-mind Tyler Stone. (Yup, the dude who couldn’t locate the tenderloin of a pig.)

Here’s how it works. They have 45 minutes to cook and then Paul and Sarah will do a blind tasting to pick their assistants.
The dishes are laid out on the table.
Paul picks first.
He selects the dish made by Barbara Lynch. Good palate there, buddy.

Then Sarah picks Nyesha’s halibut with green lentils.

Then Paul picks Umlaut.

It’s already getting a bit awkward that Marco Canora has not been picked.

But Sarah, you see, really wants Heather. Because they’re pals and she has enormous respect for her as a human being. Also, because Heather knows how to make dessert.
But Sarah is confused. She thinks that Heather made the dumplings. But, wait, there’s a plate of scallops with a raisin citrus sauce. Isn’t that dish on Heather’s restaurant’s menu? It must be a sign, right?
“The scallops,” Sarah blurts out.
And who should step forward with a smug little grin on his face and an extra bounce in his step? You guessed it: Tyler Stone (“Stone. Tyler Stone” as he said—not jokingly—in his audition video). Oh, the humanity! (Of course, he thinks he made it because of his super awesome cooking skillz and not because Sarah outsmarted herself by trying to find Heather. Oh boy, she’s created (more of a) monster.)

Then Paul picks Malibu Chris

Marco Canora rocks nervously on the balls of his feet and smiles stiffly.

Sarah picks Heather.

Marco Canora begins to twitch.

Paul picks Keith

Marco Canora begins to scream silently.

And Sarah picks. . .Grayson.

Nuclear holocaust!!!

Quickly in damage control mode, Padma establishes that Marco will now serve as one of the judges. No hard feelings. I’m sure the shame of this won’t ruinously affect his career at all
(Just kidding, Marco. I’m sure you rock.)

So there are two subplots going, as the chefs begin to prepare their four-course meals for the evening.

For Paul, the subplot is: Will he defer to Barbara Lynch or hold his ground? And will she come to respect him as a head chef and team leader?

For Sarah, the subplot is: Will the selection of Stone, Tyler Stone be the death of her?

Things don’t start off promisingly, for either of them.
Barbara Lynch questions Paul’s last minute decision to buy shrimp, as it wasn’t on his menu.
“You’ve got to be confident in your game plan,” she says. (Or something to that effect.)

Stone, Tyler Stone, meanwhile is making all sorts of “helpful” suggestions, like telling Sarah she should sous vide her vegetables.
“He has some nerve,” she says.

Once they start cooking, however, Paul’s problem is quickly resolved. Game knows game, as they like to say in the sports world—and Barbara Lynch recognizes that Paul is the man. She falls into line. (And, for the record, his decision to buy shrimp actually saved him, cause the crabs got “funky” overnight.) (Personally, I like my chickens funky, but not my crabs.)
“Paul is amazing,” says Barbara. “I’m proud to have this opportunity.”

Sarah’s problem, however, is ongoing.
First, Tyler shows up in the kitchen in dress pants and shoes. (Hey, you never know if a Hollywood casting agent is watching the show, people! You can all have your bandanas and drawstring pants and comfortable shoes. Stone, Tyler Stone, is a sharp-dressed man.)

Then, his mise en place skills are mise en whack.
Seriously, I can chop celery faster than he does. And I have the knife skills of a particularly adroit monkey.
Later, he assures Sarah that he knows how to whip up a white-chocolate ganache better than she does.
“It’s going to be super smooth like me this,” he says. “You’re going to have the perfect texture.”

“Tyler is moving at his own pace, which is highly inappropriate,” Grayson says. “We’re going to jam out with our clams out and Tyler is going to do what he does.”

Yes, she actually said “jam out with our clams out” and no, I have no words.

Judging time. Tom Colicchio is wearing hipster nerd glasses, which I do believe is one of the 12 signs of the Mayan apocalypse.

Paul’s restaurant is named Qi.

Sarah’s restaurant is named Monte Verde.

So here’s how service goes:
Each one of them has a course that goes more smoothly during one round.
For Paul, it’s his “Chawanmushi,” which is sheer perfection for the first judging round (head judge: Tom), but overcooked  for the second tasting (head judge: Padma)

For Sarah, it’s her veal cheeks, crispy veal sweetbreads, and polenta.
For the first serving (Team Padma), the polenta is lumpy.
But she smoothes it out for the second group (Team Tom).

So basically, Tom lucked out with the superior version of both dishes. That’s so him.

There is also some quibbling over Paul’s congee with slow scrambled eggs and uni. (By the way, has everyone here read my love letter to uni? In short: I REALLY like uni. A lot.)
Tom thinks it’s a little bland, and not quite as revelatory as Paul’s other dishes.
Hugh Acheson thinks it’s a slam-dunk. (On principle, I’m on Team Hugh here.)

All agree that both desserts—which both featured kumquats, oddly enough—are stellar.
It’s going to be close. Very close.

There are cute moments with the fams. Paul’s dad tears up, which makes Paul tear up. One gets a sense that Paul’s dad isn’t the weepy type, so the fact that he’s crying is kind of a “big deal.”

Cuter still, Sarah’s fiancée leans in and conspiratorially whispers to her: “Check the fish. Mine had a bone in it.” I’m not sure if that’s cheating or not, but it was pretty adorable.

Final judgment time:
“In nine seasons, this is the best food we’ve seen in the finale,” Tom says. Which would be a lot more powerful if he didn’t say that every year.

“I hate white chocolate. And I thought this was the best dessert I’ve had in nine seasons,” says Padma of Sarah’s hazelnut cake with roasted white chocolate ganache.
(I only mention this because I once tried to start a Twitter war with anyone who loved white chocolate. I couldn’t find many takers. Ballsy move, Sarah. Ballsy move.)

Both Paul and Sarah make final cases for themselves. Paul talks about his newfound confidence—although form isn’t quite following content, because he’s stammering and sweating and looks like he’s about to cry.
“I’m back to being nervous Paul,” he admits. “But I really am very confident.”
Damn, you just want to pinch his cheeks, don’t you?

Sarah talks about her passion for food and being raised by a single mom.

I’m kind of at peace with either of them winning at this point.

The judges deliberate one final time.
The general consensus: Sarah took more risks, but Paul “sweated the details,” according to Tom, better.

They bring them back into the judging room.
“It was as close as it can get,” says Tom.

“Paul, you are Top Chef!” says Padma.

Hugs, confetti, tears, joy, resentment (okay, just a little—Sarah really thought she was going to win.)

And Southwest Airlines website crashes as a million Top Chef viewers across the country book a flight to Austin so they can have the chance to taste Paul’s food and pinch his cheeks for themselves.