We’ve reached the equivalent of Mile 22 in the Top Chef marathon. Vision gets blurry, the lactic acids are burning holes through our calves, and everything around you starts to feel ... weird.
We know the show’s taping schedule is compressed into a few grueling weeks. Food and sleep is at the mercy of producers. So how surreal must it be for contestants, already physically and mentally beaten down, to walk into the kitchen and see a weirdo like Pee Wee Herman determine your fate?
While the Charlize Theron gothic challenge was a high-water mark for Top Chef, this episode was an hour-long descent into the surreal, and not the Salvador Dali-good-kind-of-surreal. Both the quickfire challenge (make an inspired take on pancakes) and elimination challenge (ride a bike around town, leech onto a kitchen, cook for Pee Wee) seemed like a square peg trying to fit into an odd, oblong hole. This was probably slotted as the season's "fun episode," but it came out as fun as a tetanus shot.
Were chefs supposed to take Paul Reuben's character seriously? Pee Wee likes chicken, egg salad, ethnic flavors and ketchup in his food. This is the stream-of-consciousness ramblings of a man with either no taste, or the medically insane. The chefs took their marching orders from Pee Wee with a forced grin, and rode their bicycle across San Antonio with $100 worth of product, begging restaurants to let them use their kitchens. In the end, Lindsay Autry was named winner, and New York catering chef Grayson Schmitz got the heave-ho.
This means Chicago’s Sarah Grueneberg (Spiaggia) survives into the final four. There’s a 50/50 chance that she’ll be joined next week by another ousted Chicago chef: Aria's Beverly Kim. Kim and Schmitz are the finalists in the web-only "Last Chance Kitchen," the winner of which rejoins the competition. Then we’re back to where we started at the beginning of this hour: five contestants competing in a cooking competition, with Pee Wee Herman nowhere in sight.