Last night’s Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off faced a lot of stiff competition for our viewing attention. What luck did this senior project of a TV show have against the likes of the Golden Globes, new episodes of Downton Abbey and The Good Wife, and the premieres of Girls, Enlightened, and Californication? Also, what luck did it have against the Weather Channel, recorded episodes of C-SPAN’S BookTV, or that Animal Planet show where they just tell you the ways different breeds of dogs are nice? In general, when I look across the faces of the remaining six contestants — Kathy Najimy, Carnie Wilson, Hines Ward, Dean McDermott, Cornelia Guest, Johnny Weird, and Chilli — “luck” is not a word that springs to mind at all. I see an explicit absence of it. Actually, maybe their faces do make me think of HBO’s Luck, and how it was probably a bad idea to make a show with all those old, washed-up horses, and how merciful it was they all got shot.
The second episode of the season is titled “Hollywood Walk of Farm,” and it’s a subtle reference to how if you are very famous in show business you get an area of sidewalk in a gross part of Los Angeles (and then crusty punks let their dogs pee on it), and also how this week’s challenge involves walking around a farm. I’m sure the contestants were not told what this episode was titled because otherwise I bet Kathy Najimy would have not wasted a second reminding everyone she is the only one with an actual star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. I find Kathy very charming, but when everybody else introduces themselves to the crowds of diners by way of, “Hi, I’m Johnny,” or, “Hey guys, I’m Dean,” Kathy says, “Hello, I am KATHY NAJIMY.”
This week’s challenge is “all about respecting your ingredients”; if that were the case, I don’t think most of these people would be let anywhere near these ingredients. The teams will harvest their vegetables from the fields of Underwood Family Farm, then cook their meal for the workers on the grill. Carnie is appalled, saying, “I don’t BBQ. I prepare the food to be BBQ’d by somebody else.” I think she means that to sound condescending, but kitchen-wise, isn’t doing all the prep work lower on the totem pole than actually cooking the meat? Oh, cool, I just caught myself trying to examine the logic of anything this madwoman says. Kathy and Cornelia both start vibrating at higher frequencies over the chance to cook vegetables; as they remind us a dozen times, they are both vegetarian “chefs.” Strong language. Cornelia loves nothing more than clopping around in her garden barefoot, though I get the feeling that afterward she has a boy who scrubs her feet for her.
Speaking of scrubbing feet, Chilli and Hines Ward do not share Cornelia’s love of getting their toes, or any other part of themselves, muddy. Chilli is wearing sandals and tip-toes around the fields like a drunk tight-rope walker. She says, “I don’t like dirt, and I don’t like bugs.” Hines is nearly as plain about it. “Animals stink. I don’t really care to touch animals.” Chilli and Hines are the only competitors of color, as long as you don’t count what’s up with Kathy and Carnie’s roots, but I don’t understand Chilli’s assertion that this shared heritage explains their mutual disgust for grime. I think it’s actually because they have both been rich for a long time.
Team Guy and Team Rachael each pick new team captains for this challenge. Cornelia, what with her mud feet, is a natural choice to lead Team Guy in this vegetable face-off; Carnie takes the reins for Team Rachael, as she is a sane, rational, organized, inspiring leader. Her first order of business as team captain is to scream nonsense words at the top of her lungs and then slap herself in the face until tears come out. Chilli digests the news that she’ll actually have to “farm” the ingredients herself, and if you look closely enough at her forehead you can almost see her try to instantaneously develop psychic powers and signal her management to get her the hell off this television program.
Each team member must choose a different protein, so naturally a scarecrow is rolled out with labels of main-course options attached to parts of its body. That is a totally regular thing we all understand, a good, old-fashioned game of Reverse Pin the Tail on the Scare-Donkey. Team Rachael must pick second, and Carnie is furious when Chilli picks salmon before her. Johnny naturally chooses chicken breast, his fatless, tasteless protein of choice. He looks even more Reubensesque in this episode. (I do not mean Rubenesque, as in pleasingly plump and suggestive of the painter Rubens; I mean that he looks even more like Paul Reubens.)
Once again, the teams brainstorm their dishes with Rachael and Guy in separate trailers. Rachael does not seem to like anybody on her team very much, but how could you like anybody who suggests a dish called “Eggplant Farmesan,” as Kathy does? “Farmesan” is a horrible, disgusting word, and it brings to mind what the teenagers who work at the farm might call horse semen. It appears that the only thing Hines knows how to cook is meat with scallions and soy sauce on it, and when Rachael tries to suggest a chimichurri sauce for his flank steak, he gets extremely overwhelmed. He nods and repeats, “Yes,” and then says, “I don’t know what she’s talking about.” That’s not the last time we will hear that refrain from Hines. How did this guy learn so many dance moves on that other show?
Over in Trailer Guy, Cornelia wants to make stuffed mushrooms, and Chilli says, “I’m a little nervous about the mushroom dish because a lot of people don’t like mushroom dishes.” That’s a good reason to be nervous about the mushroom dish. Johnny wants to make more healthy, flavorless food, but Guy talks him into making a watermelon salad. Johnny names that dish “water salad,” and he keeps repeating it, and I just want to tell him, “Please stop saying ‘water salad.'” Ol’ Daddy Dean is going to cook lamb chops with strawberry mint jelly. Dean is starting to seem like a ringer, and it turns out it’s because he kind of is. We learn that he used to work as a cook in a restaurant, and that he has serious ambitions for a culinary career after this show. I almost wrote about how that’s not fair, then I caught myself when I remembered that this show, and everyone on it, does not live in any kind of normal, human world governed by regular values.
The seven contestants head out into the vast fields of Underwood Family Farm to gather their vegetables, and it’s a genuinely difficult task. These guys are bozos, but would you know how to distinguish what’s what on a giant farm by yourself? As Dean says, “It’s too big of an area.” Hines is so uncomfortable on the farm. “I don’t even know what the hell fennel is.” Carnie and Kathy, of Team Menopausal Hilarious Ladies, run around screaming with a red wagon. They do not seem any more calm once they begin to set up in their outdoor kitchen. Carnie screams, “Where are the pans?” and then starts repeating, “Butter?” over and over again such that I think she may be having an actual breakdown.
The suddenly levelheaded Najimy talks her down. She says, “Carnie, we need you more than you’ll ever know.” What does that even mean? Why can’t she ever know how much you need her? “Carnie, your face is the Keymaster and Guy’s beard is the Gatekeeper and only you can unlock the passageway to the Thetan home planet.” Sufficiently calmed down, Carnie rips the top of the ketchup open with her teeth and gets a mouthful of ketchup water. I think she just wanted the ketchup as a snack; every day at 3 p.m. she eats 24 ounces of Heinz to keep her blood sugar up.
Not content to only gross people out with something called “water salad,” Johnny calls his proscuitto-wrapped chicken skewers “chicken marbles.” That sounds delicious, and I would certainly eat that food prepared by this ice skater. “I have marbles, Greg; could you milk me?” The chefs scramble to finish their dishes within the hour. Chilli sets the cedar plank on fire, and she asks for help putting out the fire. Hines says, “I don’t know what the hell a ‘fire’ is.” Daddy Dean, as they call him, saves the day, and he also helps Cornelia finish her dish. Plus, he added gelatin sheets to his strawberry mint jam. What a pro this guy is. Kathy is running behind and isn’t sure her eggplant or fennel salad will be finished in time. To remind us of this drama, she says “fennel salad” many, many times. Is she paid by the fennel lobby to try to say “fennel salad” on TV as much as possible? That’s a strange contract. A lot of the chefs didn’t finish cooking their vegetables, but time is up.
For professional entertainers, they’re all bad at introducing food to 25 strangers. Hines says to the farm workers, “I picked up some doo-doo out there,” which is a fun joke about how he hopes to never do manual labor ever again but he’s happy that they get to enjoy it daily. Maybe it’s their doo-doo. Kathy hams it up talking about her eggplant farmesan. “Get it?” she screams. She is so nervous, and she says, “My stomach is around my feet.” Carnie thinks to herself about where her stomach is at that moment — probably in a landfill somewhere.
Team Guy presents its dishes. Johnny knows that there may be problems with his chicken marbles, so he says he makes a point to present himself well. And then he does so poorly. He misremembers the name of ingredients and rambles and winks and bows and at one point lays down on the ground and goes to sleep. Luckily, everybody loves his “water salad.” Cornelia dramatically declares, “Our fate is not in our hands. It’s in the fate of these families.” Yeah, these farm workers definitely have it made, Cornelia; they always have so many people’s destinies in their hands. Wouldn’t it be great to switch places with them? They probably take their shoes off all the time.
The workers vote, and Team Rachael wins the challenge. Hines’s flank steak, which did not contain Rachael’s chimichurri, was the crowd’s favorite. Dean and Cornelia, with the least successful dishes from Team Guy, must face off in Battle Corn. Cornelia’s first thought is to combine the corn with tomato, and she pronounces “tomato” exactly like you might expect someone like her to pronounce it. Naturally, Dean’s first thought is corn omelette. Oh, you mean “the usual”? We all wake up and order corn omelettes all the time. “I don’t want anything fussy today. Just a cup of coffee and a corn omelette, please.” Much like Dean, a corn omelette is an American classic. He grabs cheese as well, saying, “An omelette without cheese is like a hug without a squeeze,” which is a variation on the classic French saying, “Frisee without lardons is like sex without hard-ons.”
Dean’s 15-minute corn omelette is very busy on the plate, with apples, avocado, grilled toast points, and more; it looks like the sort of thing you’d see on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives where the locals talk about how big the portions are while Guy nods and pretends to look interested. An interesting aside about that show, which I sort of watch a lot: Guy hates eggs, in any form, and egg dishes are the only things he won’t pretend to like on the show. In fact, if you type “guy fieri hates” into Google, it suggests auto-completing it with eggs, Jews, or gay people. That’s not a joke.
Cornelia’s corn salad is very boring. She is that particular type of Mom-Cook who spends a lot of money for ingredients at Whole Foods and is very into being healthy, but all she really likes to eat is vegetables, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. It’s not interesting, and the judges are not having it. Or maybe Guy is not into it because he’s exhausted from his crazy, heinous sunglasses burn line. Even though he’s been on television for what seems like a decade now, you still can’t get this guy to throw on some sunscreen. What a clown. Cornelia is sent packing, and now that Dean has revealed his desperation for a post Cook-Off culinary career, she is happy for him. He wants it more. Guy just wants to take a nap.