I did not watch last night’s new episode of Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off live, but while my DVR was recording it, someone tweeted at me saying that I’d have “a field day with this episode.” Having now caught up on Episode 4, I imagine this person was trying to say that the whole hour was so filled to the brim with sopping-wet garbage that I would have an easy, playful time tearing it apart. This person misunderstands my relationship to trash, and also my relationship to field day. As a kid, I was very indoors-y. I liked books and The Simpsons and discovering myself on AOL, not color wars and loud kids getting competitive. At my school, we also had to run a mile on field day. Also, I always forgot it was field day and accidentally wore, like, corduroys, so the run was doubly painful. Supposedly it built character, but it was torture. Watching this show doesn’t even build character. It does give me cramps, though, and I absolutely spend the last third of it out of breath.
Team Rachael, composed of Kathy, Carnie, and Hines, has won two weeks in a row, leaving Team Guy down to only Dean and Johnny. Johnny is pretty relaxed about the whole thing — as long as they give him four hot showers a day and plenty of eye cream, he’s good — but Dean’s tortured journey through the nine circles of Rachael and Guy keeps bringing him face to face with one disappointing truth after another. He repeats, “I failed myself again,” and then he drives a railroad spike through the meat of his hand. This whole season was probably filmed over the course of eight days, but Dean seems to be getting physically more hulking and contorted and tragic with each episode. He says, “I’m in the process of creating my brand, the ‘Gourmet Dad.’ Am I pursuing the right dream?” I don’t even know what to say about “creating my brand” being somebody’s dream. Do you really dream about that? What are you eating before you go to bed, because maybe you should mix up your routine? Try having some almond butter on a celery stick and then take a melatonin, because your dreams are super dumb. “Last night I dreamed I was giving a speech to all the girls I liked in high school, and when I looked down I realized I only had a T-shirt on and no bottoms. Everyone could see how small my brand was.”
The contestants arrive and are presented with a bouncy house, water guns, games, and balloon animals: Obviously, they will be catering an insane sex party. They meet Adam and Jaden, whom I can only assume are both eccentric fiftysomething millionaires who have undergone extensive gene therapy to remain small and elfin, so as to better live out their Peter Pan–esque kink fantasies. Wait, no, I’m wrong. They are real children, and the contestants are going to be throwing a party for kids. Johnny is not thrilled. “I’m the only person without children at this point.” Yes, at this point, but who knows what could happen over the course of the next three episodes? Don’t count yourself out as childless yet. Everybody must make 30 savory and 30 sweet small party bites. Dean sees an opportunity to redeem himself. “This has ‘Gourmet Dad’ written all over it. I know their little palates.” Don’t go advertising that.
At no point are we told who Adam and Jaden are or what they’ve done to deserve televised, catered birthday parties. They are odd and precocious, respectively, but so are lots of small children. Who are any of these children, in fact? It’s both unsettling and irresponsible how casually the semi-human contestants on this show get nearly 60 children put in their charge. I see no other adults around, not even parents lurking off to the side enjoying each other’s company while the children party. I feel genuinely nervous while Jaden and Adam are questioned by Team Rachael and Team Guy about their food preferences. At least there are lots of cameras around, in case anyone here goes to court one day. Jaden and Adam are children, so they like shitty, little-kid food. Jaden loves quesadillas and sloppy Joes (“I love to get messy!”). Adam is slightly more particular. “You never know with me,” he says, and that makes me laugh. Adam seems a bit off. “Today I feel like …” He trails off and eats a handful of grass.
Trailer-based brainstorming happens. Rachael is insistent that sloppy Joes get cooked. I have never once, at any age, thought to myself, Man, I would like to eat a Sloppy Joe right now. I don’t actually believe kids really like them. Kathy is going to make hummus, again, and Rachael calls them “Savory Dippers,” a horrible name that nearly ruins chips and dip for me. It’s almost as annoying as everyone saying “crispy treats.” I guess Rice Krispies Treat is a trademark, but nobody calls them “crispy treats.” Stop trying to make crispy treats happen, this show. Carnie ignores most of Rachael’s advice and is set on making her raspberry bars. Faced with all these options, she says “Don’t put too much in front of me!” which is definitely something she’s struggled with much of her life.
Johnny is going to cook chicken, naturally, but most of his focus is on trying to connect with these strange little sub-humans. Guy coaches him on how to talk “cool.” He tells Johnny to say things are “off the hook” and I feel like I’m watching Encino Man. Guy’s lingo is so strange; I watch a lot of “Triple-D” (as he calls his show) and when he’s not saying that food is “the real deal,” he is making increasingly complicated references to a mythical place called Flavortown. In an episode I saw on Saturday, he took a bite of fried chicken and said, “When you go to Flavortown Phone Company, and you get that crunch-back ringtone, this is what it sounds like.” What does that mean?! Why is anyone visiting Flavortown’s phone company? A crunch-back ringtone? I feel like I’m on drugs, but I’m not.
Meanwhile, Dean has had an ace up his sweaty, nervous sleeve all season: He’s going to make liquid-nitrogen Dragon’s Breath Marshmallow Bombs. When the kids bite into them, steam will come out of their nose like a dragon. It’s his big closer. In case his anxiety was not clear enough, he says, “This is not just for my charity, this is also for the credibility of my career.” You are really telegraphing the stakes here, Dean. Luckily, this dessert seems like a winner. “I’m gonna blow these little boys away.” Careful. His brand could not handle the big blow that a loss here today would be. Giant blow.
The contestants cook, and it’s madness, as always. Kathy has a stroke or something, because four times she means to melt butter and add marshmallows to a pan, but she adds Rice Crispies instead. Four times she does this. Each time she has to toss out the pan and the butter and start over. And then she does it again. And then twice more. That is pretty insane. It’s not Carnie-level insane, but it’s close. In Jaden’s honor, Carnie calls her dish “Sloppy Jadens.” I bet Jaden, as a teenage girl, will love that name, and I’m sure no one will now call her Sloppy Jaden until she graduates from college. “Hi, Sloppy Jaden, enjoy your name forever!” As this young girl matures, she will come to more and more appreciate having her name associated with the word “sloppy.”
Team Guy cooks for Adam and the boy children, and Team Rachael cooks for Jaden and the girl children. Johnny puts on two paper hats and immediately does not connect at all with the boys. “You look like a devil!” Hines lets his nails get painted. “Now I am becoming the life of the party,” he lies. Carnie puts on a giant red clown wig, and it is probably a health code violation that she doesn’t toss a hairnet over it. Though, Carnie’s hair is already dyed that weird fake-maroon color that lots of moms in their 40s do, and so it’s unclear which is more toxic: her “real” hair or that prop closet wig. Either way, these children probably don’t want it in their quesadillas.
Earlier in the episode, Rachael and Guy promised a very special guest, and with the parties in full swing, it’s time to cart him out, nearly literally. Very professionally, Guy walks out this small guest with a camouflage T-shirt over his face so as to hide his identity. It’s creepy. Was he off-camera getting waterboarded? Rachael says, “We have a very special guest who knows a ton about being a celebrity,” and that is just a good, helpful, interesting introduction. It’s Rico Rodriguez, who plays Manny on Modern Family. Oh, great. What a treat. When the shirt is pulled off his head, he’s startled, like he’s been locked in the trailer of an 18-wheeler for three sleepless days and nights. The girls aren’t sure if they are supposed to scream for him, and it’s a little depressing. He is not exactly a heartthrob, but he’s certainly famous. He knows a ton about being a celebrity, remember? Mostly, he’s a 14-year-old who is a lot like the character he plays on TV. He says things like, “I like cheese. I’m pleased with this.”
The kids eat all the steam-tray garbage and give weird, little-kid feedback for the cameras. One annoying kid says, “The Sloppy Jadens weren’t unique or special.” Why do they have to be? It’s a party; eat your meat and be quiet. I’m sure this girl’s parents are raising her to believe that she is a uniquely gifted snowflake, but that’s almost certainly not true, because almost no one is, and she should learn that as soon as possible. She should learn that she should be so lucky as to be a regular Sloppy Joe that most people “kinda sorta” enjoy. One kid tries Johnny’s chicken fingers and says, “I think I’m gonna throw up.”
Dean holds back on revealing his make-or-break brand-building dessert until the very end of the parties. He’s dressed as a wizard, and he fills up a huge bowl with liquid nitrogen. The kids are mesmerized. He dunks his “bombs” into the vapor, waits 10 seconds, and serves the dessert. The kids bite into it and steam comes out their noses. They are so super into that. The girls look over from their party longingly. Guy loves it, too. He admits that he’s going to steal it. “This will end up in my repertoire of dessert gigs I do.” What? You do dessert gigs? What does that even mean? “Can’t chill down this weekend, bro, I’m in Madison, Wisconsin, for a four-night stand doing dessert gigs at the Palace. Gonna do some real-deal Dragon’s Breath. You know how sometimes you try to catch the train to Flavortown but it’s actually a Polar Express, and you don’t want to get on because you’re just a little kid, but Tom Hanks convinces you, and you learn that the Spirit of Flavortown is real, even if your parents are divorced? That’s what these desserts will taste like.”
The parties end, and the kids go back to the orphanage, or wherever. I hope they have parents. Rachael and Guy tally the votes, and, gasp, it’s a tie. Both teams did equally poorly. To settle this unprecedented standoff, the cooks of the two bottom dishes will face off for elimination. The worst dishes, as decided by little children voters, were Johnny’s vomit-inducing chicken fingers and Carnie’s raspberry bars. Carnie is very surprised, as she was so confident in that recipe. But as one child diner put it, it was not popular because “lots of kids do not like fruit.” Well put. Johnny and Carnie have 10 minutes to make something with hot dogs. They get cooking. Johnny fries onion rings and cooks up sausage, because he does not fully understand what hot dogs are or how they work. Dean is extremely anxious Johnny’s hot dog has no hot dog. Carnie, meanwhile, slops a lot of garbage onto her “take” on a cheese dog. Ninety percent of the time, when someone says a dish is their “take” on something, it means you should “take” it straight to the trash. Kathy is crying. Carnie says, “I just want to get it over with,” and I could not agree with her more.
Rachael and Guy flip-flop back and forth over which dog they like more. Carnie’s cheese was not melted, but Rachael and Guy agree that the flavored ketchup was their favorite part of the meal, because they are both monsters. Rachael says, “I was eating the ketchup out of the bowl with a fork,” and I nearly hurl. Johnny’s dish had great flavors, but it was not a hot dog. As they weigh their decision, Kathy consoles Carnie. “There’s no question in America’s mind that you are one of the best chefs this show has ever seen.” Talk about hyperbole, Kathy. I think you are overestimating Carnie’s, and the show’s, place in the collective unconscious of this great nation. The judging is stressing Guy so hard that his sunglass tan-line gets worse. The judges pick Carnie’s dog as their favorite. Johnny steps forward like he’s a Spartacus. “Yes, that is my hot dog.” He hugs and kisses and sashays away, leaving Daddy Dean all alone on Team Guy.