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'MasterChef' 2014: As 2 more leave the kitchen, do judges seem Courtney-biased?

It didn't take long on the fourth episode of "MasterChef" (Season 5) to find it a show of surprises. As soon as the show began, viewers discovered that home cook Gordon Houston had withdrawn from the competition of his own accord due to sickness (an American "MasterChef" first). So, with 18 finalists still standing to do battle, it was time to see who wouldn't have what it takes to make the Top 17, starting with a Mystery Box Challenge and ending with an Elimination Test. By the end of the show, a couple of frontrunners would be humbled by poor performances, but one, Courtney Lapresi, would face elimination and, as Chris E. Hayner at Zap2It recapped June 16, should self-re-evaluate of her cooking skills.

Mystery Box Challenge

The judges gave the remaining 18 contestants a variety of live seafood items with which to concoct a dish. With main ingredients like crab, shrimp, lobster, prawn, and scallops to deal with, the operative term for the finalists became "challenge." Many of the home cooks had trouble developing a dish, not to mention bringing one to a satisfying completion.

During the cooking process, Ahran Cho, who is the youngest competitor on the show (18), openly accused the "MasterChef" judges -- Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot, and restauranteur Joe Bastianich -- of favoritism toward Courtney Lapresi. It is difficult to take such a charge seriously and perhaps it should be written off as an insecurity due to Ahran's age.

But in the end, it is Ahran, Francis B. (again -- and why doesn't Ahran think there's bias here, since Francis B. has been a contender for winning a few challenges?), and Christian who made the top three dishes -- although editing and confessional narrating also pointed to Courtney being an also ran. Ahran was chosen winner in the end, her Spicy mixed seafood stew chosen as best.

Elimination Test

As the Mystery Box Challenge winner, Ahran was given immunity from elimination in the following challenge, the Elimination Test. She was told she was the youngest person ever to be in the "MasterChef" pantry as the winner of a challenge and was given the choice of three pastries -- muffins, cookie, or donuts -- with which to try and eliminate her competition. Choosing the latter, the judges returned to the kitchen and told the 17 home cooks that their task was to complete a dozen donuts boxed.

And then the inexplicable occurred: Courtney Lapresi forgot to add eggs to her first batch of dough, so it didn't turn out. To add to her problems, she didn't have enough yeast to make a second batch. Courtney was then forced to rely on the kindness of her competitors, something that is iffy at best and very dicey when dealing with those who undoubtedly see her as a top competitor. After asking just about everybody for some yeast, Francis L. (Legge) provided some yeast (and she rewarded him with a kiss on the cheek for his charity, much to his surprise).

Meanwhile, Francis B. (Biondi) was having a difficult time as well. His dough refused to rise. So he made round donuts, which Chef Ramsay called "meatballs."

In another surprise, another advantage was given to Ahran, who was watching everything from the balcony. She was given the opportunity to choose a fellow finalist for immunity.

Luckily for Francis B., Ahran chose him to join her on the balcony. Her reasoning? She said she respected him and he deserved to continue, despite his poor showing making donuts. She also said she wanted to win against the best.

Courtney, who very well might be, besides Francis B., the home cook to beat in Season 5, was the first to be judged. And, as luck would have it, she has made a third error. Although her donuts look like prize winners, Chef Gordon Ramsay literally spit out the donut he tasted. For some reason, there was far too much salt in Courtney's recipe.

Leslie Gilliams, who admitted he had never made donuts before, impressed the judges with three different types. But even more impressive was the charitable Francis L., who looked as if his foray into baking donuts would be a complete failure: He had chosen to cook 12 different kinds of donuts. But instead of disappointing, his donuts -- including the strange topping mixture of prosciutto, stout, and maple syrup -- were loved by the judges. Daniel McGuffey, for some odd reason, presented 16 donuts. However, Chef Elliot thought they tasted great.

Final judgment: Leslie and Francis L. had the best donuts and would be the team leaders in the next Team Challenge.

So it was down to elimination time...

Unsurprisingly, Courtney made the bottom three. She was joined by Kira Novak, whose donuts, although nice to gaze upon, had absolutely no filling in them when Judge Joe took a knife to them; and Cutter, whose donuts were poorly frosted, unfilled, and not well presented at all. Still, they tasted alright.

Cutter got the good news first, but was warned by Chef Ramsay that the judges were growing impatient with his unimpressive performances. Besides, two other boxes of donuts were worse than his.

The judges admitted that Courtney's box of donuts were the worst but the potential she had shown throughout the competition indicated that she had something to give, so she was sent to the balcony. Kira ultimately had failed to rise above mediocre during any of the challenges, so the judges chose to eliminate her.

Which most likely had people at home thinking: Ahran might actually have been on to something with regard to the judges being biased...

"MasterChef" airs on Fridays at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.

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