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'MasterChef' Season 5 begins: Brutal kitchen eliminations leave 22 standing

The hit reality kitchen competition "MasterChef," the most popular cooking competition in the world, entered its fifth season Monday evening on Fox Television. Back again to pare down the finalists to a single at-home chef were restauranteur Joe Bastianich, Chef Graham Elliot, and Chef Gordon Ramsay. And back again were thousands willing to take the challenge and perhaps make the grade of earning a "MasterChef" apron and competing as a finalist on the show.

As recounted by BuddyTV May 26, the Top 30 entered the "MasterChef" kitchen and, after being shown the prizes (a quarter of a million dollars, a cookbook deal, and the MasterChef trophy), were told to make the one dish that tells the judges just who they are as chefs. They were given an hour. And just to make things interesting, America's most accomplished home cooks were told that if their cooking was found lacking within the hour, they faced immediate elimination. No waiting until the dishes were presented. Right then.

Of course, there were eliminations. One guy forgot salt. (Really? How many times have these guys watched "Hell's Kitchen" and seen Chef Ramsay verbally eviscerate trained chefs over not putting a little salt in their dishes?) A woman shows poor execution on a sauce and is told to leave the "MasterChef" kitchen.

But 28 hopefuls make it to the final judging... and 17 get aprons and 9 get a second chance to prove themselves in another elimination challenge. But in the second round, all the contestants are given exactly the same ingredients to cook with and they will be matched up against one of the three judges. Chef Gordon Ramsay is selected. (Unlike last season, this time around the legendary chef didn't find other things to do for a half hour before he started cooking, but what he made out of simple every-day ingredients, a chicken dumpling in minted soup, was a work of art.)

There is one moment when it appears that one of the home chefs will get tossed. Judge Joe Bastianich, while making the rounds among the contestants, sees a growing array of litter and cast-offs from Astrid Lavenia's station. He informs her that if he saw something like that at one of his restaurants, she would have been fired -- but he's willing to give her a second chance. Astrid mutters that she thought they had "people for that." (They do. They're called chefs. You know, like the guys working to create a dish. Regardless, keeping one's station clean is a must in food preparation and service, as anyone watching any of Gordon Ramsay's shows would know. Don't any of these contestants ever watch the shows before they compete on them?)

The nine remaining home chefs present their dishes. Five more are selected. But what would the show be without a little suspense. At the end, Francis Legge is one of two left facing elimination. Chef Ramsay has already told her that, although her pot pie was good, he was disappointed that it was her second pie of the competition. Tearfully, she begs for an apron. In a classic misdirection, Chef Ramsay tells her she will not be joining the others on the balcony (where all the "safe" chefs watch the rest nearly have nervous breakdowns while they await their fates). No, instead they were all coming down to congratulate Francis as one of the finalists.

So 22 head into Season 5. Only one will emerge victorious.

Who knew cooking could be so rewarding as well as challenging? Okay, besides anybody that's ever watched "MasterChef"...

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

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