We have reached the height of World Cup fever: defending champs Germany have been bounced; host nation Russia are conveniently into the round of 16 after falling into a historically easy group; Argentina needed last-minute theatrics from [checks notes] Marcos Rojo to advance; Mexican fans hoisted South Korean fans as if they were gods; and, of course, on Wednesday night, Gordon Ramsay judged a cooking show while wearing a soccer jersey.
MasterChef is a fun enough diversion on most nights—a good drinking game: take a sip every time Joe Bastianich talks about Italy while really nervous contestants pretend to be interested—but Wednesday night’s episode promised to be even more special. This was a World Cup–themed episode. (Fox airs MasterChef, and also the entirety of the World Cup; now you know why this happened.) Heading into the night, there were myriad possibilities for how the episode could play out. I put on my Eden Hazard jersey, and then an apron, and my Christian Pulisic USMNT jersey over that, and asked myself: Will the contestants serve food to soccer players, or perhaps create dishes that will be judged based on how much they resembled former Brazil star Ronaldinho?
Alas, like Fox’s own, lamentful coverage of the actual soccer (don’t believe me, ask Moonlight director Barry Jenkins!), MasterChef’s World Cup episode was lifeless, uninspired, and weirdly, remarkably lacking in soccer-adjacent antics. At least we got to see three world-renowned culinary professionals in full soccer gear, I guess. Here are my most pressing MasterChef–World Cup crossover questions.
Are the Judges Being Held Hostage?
Here’s what first piqued my interest in this MasterChef episode:
There’s so much to unpack here. First off—yes, that is former USMNT player Alexi Lalas on the left. (It makes sense he’d be involved since he’s a Fox Sports studio analyst.) But here are our judges—Gordon Ramsay, Aarón Sánchez, and Bastianich—holding up the jerseys of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and Neymar, respectively. They all look miserable.
If you wanted to really read into this, you could assume the show’s illustrious panelists are soccer diehards, and that the thought of holding up jerseys from opposing countries was sacrilegious to them. However, while you could maybe make that argument for Gordon Ramsay—he’s an avid soccer fan, and I’ll never forget when he was aggressively tackled by Teddy Sheringham in a charity game—Sánchez and Bastianich look like they’re being held hostage by kidnappers who are very specifically into FIFA and Michelin stars.
When I first saw this photo, I assumed the judges would also be wearing Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar jerseys, but apparently they only held those up for the promo. Instead, in the actual episode they wore kits of their native countries: Scotland for Ramsay, Mexico for Sánchez, and—guess who?—beloved Italy for Bastianich. They all looked absurd.
It’s especially funny because only one of these teams, Mexico, actually qualified for the World Cup. As for the above photo, we’ll never have a real answer as to why a kidnapper with a preference for strikers forced the chefs to take it.
Does Scotland Not Have Street Food?
The winning chef of a walnut-themed opening cookoff, Cesar, got to choose the next challenge for his peers. The judges gave him three options in the form of popular street food—a great prelude to watching soccer, duh—from their native lands, with fried pizza for Italy, chocolate-dipped churros for Mexico, and uh, a hamburger for Scotland?
Really, Gordon? I don’t mean to slander burgers, which are always great, but you can get one literally anywhere on the planet. Hamburgers aren’t even from Scotland! Couldn’t you have gone with something like bannock, stovies, mutton pie, or haggis?
And I have additional beefs (heh) here! First of all, burgers are not street food—sliders, maybe, but burgers, no way. Secondly, the point of the challenge was to force the contestants to serve a tricky dish, and I’m sorry, but a burger is not that hard to make, no matter how many times Ramsay says the phrase “intricacy of a beef patty.” I can barely boil and cook my own pasta, but throw me on MasterChef and I could make an edible burger.
(Cesar, correctly, chooses the deceptively tricky churro.)
Does MasterChef Know the World Cup Already Started?
Doing a World Cup episode of MasterChef is a shameless plug, but that’s fine! Plugs aren’t a bad thing if they’re somewhat interesting.
But MasterChef brought on Alexi Lalas for five tepid minutes, during which he greeted the contestants, complimented the judges on their jerseys (he said “Damn, sexy, look at those legs” and I wish I could forget that happened), and informed the audience that Fox is broadcasting the World Cup. That’s not the weird part—the weird part is that his two most obvious plugs for the World Cup seemed to imply … that the World Cup hadn’t even started. Here are the two choice quotes:
“We are going to bring you the World Cup.”
“I hope you guys join us on Fox for what is going to be a spectacular World Cup, and I can’t wait to bring it all to you.”
Maybe the people at Fox don’t understand how to use tenses correctly; maybe MasterChef is somehow unaware the tournament is in full swing; maybe they filmed this months ago, and Lalas is just really lazy and didn’t care enough to speak in the present tense.
My guess is the last option—Lalas, who Fox (very erroneously) introduces as “one of America’s most incredible soccer players ever,” didn’t even stick around for the soccer street food competition. He left through the back door with the stoicism of a Kawhi Leonard.
Is Cesar Actually a Villain?
Even though this episode was light on soccer-adjacent fun, I can’t lie: I got super invested in the competition. And my perception of Cesar, the churro chooser, changed really damn quickly.
He was first introduced as a high school teacher who has a passion for cooking on the side—he has taco tastings at his apartment, so cute!—but after he won the first contest, he got to choose 10 additional contestants to sit out in the churro challenge. (One last bit of soccer punniness: He got to pick 10 because there are 11 players on a soccer team.) In making his choices, Cesar admitted that he wanted Bowen—a skilled chef from China who has apparently been killing it this season—to struggle and potentially get eliminated because he saw him as his biggest threat. He believed Bowen wouldn’t know how to handle the churro because he’s accustomed to Asian dishes. His mind-set, while sound in a reality competition, was undoubtedly pretty ruthless. “You are minutes away from sending him home,” Gordon said. This is how Cesar responded:
CESAR, I DON’T CARE HOW MANY TACO TUESDAYS YOU HAVE. THIS IS AN EVIL SMIRK AND YOU ARE MEAN.
WHY WOULD YOU DISRESPECT THE CHURRO?!
Eight contestants were left in the churro cookoff; one of the chefs, Alecia, was a bit of a showboat when tossing the churros in sugar. She made the ultimate chef mistake: She got overconfident. Alecia’s churros were, ultimately, doused in way too much sugar, to the point that some of the churros were crumbling apart. Chef Sánchez was pretty damn irate.
(I nod in agreement, because churros are incredible and should always be treated with respect.)
This was bad news for Alecia—a person who, as Sánchez clearly intimated, had no soul—but good news for Bowen. His churros were bad, but hers were worse, so she was eliminated. I was relieved for Bowen—I hope he gets sweet revenge on the supervillain known as Cesar.
And that was that. While the World Cup MasterChef episode failed to deliver any soccer-related thrills, it did turn me into a Bowen superfan. If only Fox had the same passion about its World Cup coverage that I now have for this cooking show.