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MasterChef Season 12 Contestants Face Their Worst Nightmare

MasterChef’s first challenge for its Back to Win contestants is a great start to Season 12 as it makes chefs recreate the dish that sent them home.

The following contains spoilers for MasterChef Season 12, Episode 4, “Dish That Sent You Home,” which aired Wednesday, June 15 on Fox.

MasterChef’s first all-returning players season kicked off the main portion of the competition by having Season 12 contestants recreate the dishes that got them eliminated. While the Fox series could have created several challenges out of past failures, combining them into one episode created a clean slate for the chefs. It also provided a shot at instant redemption and proved that the show is not going to hold back this season.

Season 12, Episode 4 was fittingly titled “Dish That Sent You Home.” While past MasterChef challenges have used zany ingredients, strange rules or even WWE guest chefs, this challenge was personal. Contestants were tasked with not only recreating the dish that got them eliminated the first time, but were required to elevate it. Some rose to the occasion, while others showed that they still hadn’t quite moved past their failures.

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The trauma of losing became fresh all over again when contestants were faced with foreboding familiar ingredients. Perceived front-runner Stephen landed in the bottom for the first time in his MasterChef career and was eliminated. His shocking dismissal gave notice to both the rest of the competitors and the fans that the normally predictable early rounds will be anything but in Season 12. However, utilizing this idea so early benefitted the season as a whole.

By facing up to old mistakes early on, MasterChef gave the chefs a new start in the competition. The challenge provided closure on past failures and firmly made the contestants face the future instead of dwelling on the past. It would have been very easy to stretch out the concept of redemption and force it into every challenge. Many comeback seasons of reality shows simply reheat and re-plate the past, but it looks like MasterChef is cooking up a whole new dish. With redemption already achieved, look for contestants to get cutthroat earlier as they seek to show off how much they’ve improved.

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While redemptive, MasterChef: Back to Win‘s first task also added a note of schadenfreude to the proceedings. Everyone loves a redemption story, but there is something perversely satisfying in seeing someone fail at the same thing multiple times. There’s a reason Charlie Brown trying to kick a football works as a recurring bit — it’s the juxtaposition of constant hope and past disappointment. Making entertainment out of failure is a difficult task, but Season 12 never feels cruel or exploitative. The bitterness of the experience is sufficiently tempered by the triumphs of most contestants. Cooking competitions highlight chefs at their best and their worst and the highs and lows make them compelling.

MasterChef took a big swing by having such an all-encompassing first task to start Season 12. By giving the home chefs redemption in the first challenge, the show set them free. Having conquered their previous food foes, the chefs can now focus on serving up new and great food without the proverbial Sword of Damocles dangling over their heads.

MasterChef airs Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. on Fox.

John Dudley lives in lovely Hattiesburg, MS and is a holdout fan of broadcast TV. He also loves reading (sci-fi/fantasy), sports cards, and Lego.

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