By Rene Lynch
12:53 PM EDT, August 29, 2013
Paula Deen's "MasterChef" appearance was everything that would be expected from the onetime Queen of Southern Cooking. She was charming, looked as cheery as a daffodil and wondered aloud why one of the competitors missed an opportunity to deep-fry some catfish. ("Some things you just have to fry," she explained.)
The episode kicked off with Deen pulling up in a tractor loaded with bales of hay and greeting the final five competitors with a "How y'all doing? Are ya ready to find out whatcha gonna be doin' today? Hop on the back y'all and I'm gonna take ya to the party."
Deen's foes will find plenty to complain about Fox's decision to air the episode, which was taped in March, months before Deen's reputation imploded following revelations about her use of the N-word decades ago. That damaging revelation was dug up by a lawsuit filed by a former employee, a lawsuit that has since been settled.
Show executives considered a variety of ways of handling the episode, from not airing it to trying, somehow, to edit Deen out. Those options weren't realistic, however, and would have greatly disrupted the competition at a key stage -- winnowing the field down to the Final Four. In the end, Fox decided to air it.
For Deen's fans, the episode was reminder of what has been lost since the Food Network decided to part ways with the controversial celebuchef. So, was this appearance Deen's TV swan song? Or Deen's first fledgling step back into the spotlight?
Social media seemed divided on the issue. Deen's appearance on the show had her hosting a thank-you luncheon for local volunteers, with the competitors cooking the meals to be served. One person tweeted that no black people appeared to be at the luncheon. Another tweeted that "Paula Deen came off very likable. Yes, this could be a small step toward a comeback."
Deen's appearance highlighted a topsy-turvey two-hour competition that at one point saw Krissi and Natasha on the chopping block. Could it be? Could one of them really go home? Of course, not, this is "MasterChef," the most leg-pullingest show on TV!
Chef Gordon Ramsay allowed Natasha to dangle on the string for a few moments before announcing that all five competitors would move along to the next round, because it was just too tough to call. (Or, it was just too much good TV!)
The shocker of the night?
No, not how unbelievably cute the judges' kids' are.
No, not just how delish that Vietnamese pork noodle soup looked.
No, just how how un-delish that sea urchin dish looked. (Apologies, Joe. I'm sure it was, indeed, amazing. It just did not translate onscreen.)
The shocker of the night was that Elf -- er, James -- was sent home after Luca and Jessie shrewdly gave James a delicate panna cotta dessert to re-create for the judges. (It was far more likely that Natasha or Krissi would have nailed it.)
But James -- who some had predicted would win the competition -- failed to put that dessert into the turbo blast freezer, so it was more like a... gloopy soup.
So, what do you think about this Final Four?
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