We lay the odds on contestants “Back To Win” our favorite middlebrow cooking show
If Top Chef represents the highbrow zenith of cooking competition shows and Hell’s Kitchen the sleazy off-Strip nadir, MasterChef is firmly in the middle, serving up viewer-friendly takes on haute cuisine each summer for over a decade. For its twelfth season, MasterChef is about to bring back 20 former cheftestants, who battled in a series of audition episodes to determine who gets to cook the most amazing beef Wellingtons. They are also, the previews show us, put the reputation Wolfgang Puck’s Spago “on the line,” as though it were 1991 and the reputation of Wolfgang Puck’s Spago actually mattered. But even though these are mostly unknown cooks with mostly unknown reputations, it’s still a cooking competition show and thus we can preview it and set some odds.
Ranking 20 chefs, much less remembering who the hell they all are from a decade of MasterChef, is a daunting task, but we can use the language of reality TV to help us along. With the audition episodes completed and the field of 20 set, who’s most likely to lift the giant ugly glass trophy?
BRANDI (Runner-up, season 7): Such an obvious huge favorite that she got a personality package before the first episode even really started. (Like so many other former cheftestants, she abandoned a normal career to start a catering company and become a “brand ambassador” for products you’ve never heard of.) MasterChef tends to establish a front-runner by means of extremely clumsy editing choices, and Brandi was all over the first audition episode. Impressed the judges by cooking venison under pressure and beat an entire group of runners-up. +300
BOWEN (5th, season 9): Bowen had an almost comically stereotypical relationship with his tiger parents and a freakish ability to cook almost anything, whether or not he’d ever even heard of it before the show. I rank Bowen this high based on my recollection of his sheer talent. One of the most technically adept MasterChef also-rans, he’ll be around for a while. +450
CATE (4th, season 8): An absurdly strong contestant in her original season who judges kicked off early because of some bullshit. Another “nice” one. Wowed the judges with her venison. Why don’t more of these people cook venison? +500
STEPHEN (3rd, season 6): “People have been eating chicken and waffles for so long. How about rabbit and donuts?” Joe called this dish “psychedelic” (a compliment) and the others raved too. Acted completely surprised that the judges gave an apron, which is not the sort of reaction you’d expect from someone cooking rabbit and donuts. +600
BRI and FRED: Former season 10 also-rans, current halves of an extremely annoying food stylist bromance. “Social media influencer” types who just need to hook up already. Literally as soon as the producers heard of their friendship, they began contriving ways for one to turn on the other. +800 each. Chances of Bri turning on Fred: -400. Chances of Fred turning on Bri: +2000.
WILLIE MIKE (7th, season 5): A former choral singer from Houston, we remember Willie Mike as one of the most good-natured figures in reality TV history, shrugging off Gordon’s abuse with the seen-it-all manner of someone who can’t be rattled. Previews for this season show Gordon throwing some sort of meat in the air and screaming “IT’S RAW!”, which sure feels like he’s directing it at our Willie. Wears matching purple glasses with his mom and sister, which somehow comes off more adorable than weird. +1000
DERRICK (Runner-up, season 6): Another familiar face from finales past, Derrick used to be a heavy metal drummer before discovering the world of celebrity cooking. Struggled with his agnolotti dough and almost didn’t have any pasta to put on the plate, but eventually won the judges’ favor. Must be some cook, because his band is fucking terrible. Expect all kinds of tedious musical puns whenever he makes something that isn’t a big pile of slop. +1100
CHRISTIAN (5th, season 5): Christian’s deal is that he’s extremely confident. That’s about it! Made a pretty workmanlike bourbon-glazed salmon and got an apron regardless. Every season needs a good heel, I guess. +1200
ALEJANDRO (4th, season 11): This dude was literally just on the show in September! Power of positivity-preaching animal trainer who once appeared on an episode of “Ultimate Beast Master.” Whole shtick is that he cooks wild game, har har, but apparently does it well enough that he was invited back six months after the judges showed him the boot. +1600
EMILY and SHANIKA (10th and 8th, season 9): Season 9 frenemies forced to compete once again. These two openly despise each other, which should make for all kinds of wacky hijinx. The actual cooking almost doesn’t matter, as Emily and Shanika’s plans to destroy each other will make for great television. Shanika wants nothing less than for the world to consider her “one of the greatest female chefs of my generation.” Not on this show, sister, and not with strawberry arancini. +2000 and +2500. Chances of one of them ripping out the other’s hair extensions at some point: -180
SAMANTHA (4th, season 9): Utterly nondescript – like, I do not even remember this person, so it’s plausible that she’s a replicant. Cool glasses. Fresh-faced college kid type who loves to (you guessed it) bake. +2800
GABRIEL (7th, season 8): Ultra-meek high school kid who predictably came out of his shell over the course of his season – and he’s even more confident now, so watch out, world! Ramsay offered to pay his culinary school tuition and Gabriel took him up on it, getting him to pay for a couple years at Johnson and Wales, which is an alpha move. Fun fact: Johnson and Wales routinely defeats my alma mater at basketball. +3200
AMANDA (13th, season 6): Amanda can bake, like seriously bake, which is always useful when dessert week invariably comes up to screw everyone. Can it take her much further than that? I wouldn’t bet my Dunkin’ Cake Batter Signature Latte on it. +4000
MICHAEL (15th, season 10): Finished a mere 15th in his original season. Well-known keto cookbook author (apparently) who barely looks like the same dude after losing 80 pounds. His filet mignon was cooked well, but lacked imagination. +6000
SHELLY (9th, season 5): Hardscrabble “American dream” type who came from an unbelievably deprived background in Brooklyn and bootstrapped, etc. Infamous for trying to sabotage literally everyone around her when her team went off the rails during team challenges, with varying levels of success. Runs a Jamaican taco stand now, which does sound pretty good. Excellent real name of “Shelly Flash.” +7500
TOMMY (7th, season 6): The extremely fashionable Tommy looks and sounds like a low-rent Prince impersonator. Absolutely spent an hour dickering with producers about his real age before settling on “59.” Doesn’t matter what he cooks, the instantly tiring Tommy is the real main course. +8000
SHAYNE and DARA (3rd and runner-up, junior seasons): Former “MasterChef Junior” finalists brought back to receive the full treatment now that they’re of age. The highlight of this segment was definitely Dara’s suspiciously older-looking boyfriend. I wouldn’t expect much from either of them now that the show will unleash the judges. Gordon in particular already looks like he wants to launch “Shayne the Train” into the sun. +10000. Chance of Dara’s boyfriend showing up on TMZ this season: -110.