Poker players tend to take to any sort of competitive games like fish to water, so it was little surprise to see Vanessa Rousso advance to a third-place finish on the popular reality TV show Big Brother, narrowly missing out on the top prize when many felt she deserved it.
Now, another big-name poker player is on the cusp of reality TV immortality. David Williams has advanced to the season finale of Season 7 of MasterChef, with the final episode set to air on FOX at 8 p.m. EST.
This summer, Williams told PokerNews that competing on MasterChef was the most difficult thing he had ever done, but he was understandably coy about revealing any details of the results. Now, we know he's at least matched Rousso, advancing to the final three after starting the competition with 39 other aspiring cooks in the first episode.
Over the next two hours, we will find out whether Williams, school teacher Brandi Mudd, or DJ Shaun O'Neale will become the next MasterChef. In honor of Williams' effort, we'll be posting live updates here as Williams tries not to repeat history and be the bridesmaid as he was when he first burst onto the poker scene with his runner-up finish in the World Series of Poker Main Event.
A couple of caveats before we begin. The author's only exposure to MasterChef has come idly keeping tabs on it while his girlfriend watches, so don't expect an expert dissection of every culinary zig and zag. Also, this should go without saying but... here there be spoilers.
8:05 Gordon Ramsay and his Christina Tosi welcome us. There's a clip of Williams storming off in the montage that opens the episode. Presumably, he walked back at some point. The hosts tell us this could be the most talented crew ever on the show. Each of the final three have been sent home for the time being and the hosts will visit them one by one.
8:07 It's off to Irvington, Ky. We meet Mudd, a young teacher with curly blond hair and a very thick southern accent. She says she's sticking with her Southern roots but a little upscale.
8:09 Williams is chilling in Las Vegas with his daughter. He tells the hosts he has doubts, but he's been practicing hard and will be going with a seafood appetizer and either beef or poultry for his main course. He doubts his abilities, but Ramsay assures him he's ready for this.
8:10 O'Neale, a fellow Las Vegas resident, gets choked up when talking about his parents. He says he's going with "bold Asian flavors" which could mean... a lot of different things?
8:17 The finalists are introduced in the studio, along with the judges... culinary "gods" whom we will meet after a tense commercial break. They turn out to be... Wolfgang Puck and Daniel Boulud. Not sure who Boulud is, but he says through a thick French accent that each dish had damn well better tell a story.
8:20 Williams' mom, who got plenty of air time in his WSOP run, is in attendance. Former contestants eliminated earlier in the season stump for each of the three as they grab ingredients for 10 minutes for their appetizer. Williams is going with cured salmon. Mudd is going with bourbon-braised pork belly with... a bunch of other stuff, including apricot. O'Neal is going miso halibut with what looks like a sea urchin. They have an hour, and they're off.
8:24 Apparently, the judges are allowed to grill the chefs while they are making their time-crunched meals. Ouch. Williams is evidently exempt from this treatment. They judges seem most skeptical of Mudd's pork belly, as apparently that's a difficult thing to get cooked properly in a short time frame. Off to another commercial.
8:31 Williams finally get grilled, and he expresses confidence his appetizer will be the best, as it's the most "exciting." He's struggling a bit to peel his hard-boiled eggs, and the judges leave him be. Oh no! Williams' eggs are falling apart. Ramsay breathlessly notes not one egg is done, and he needs four. We see a shattered egg in the drink, but Williams soldiers on. Everyone furiously finishes their dishes, and it's time to present to the judges.
8:42 Mudd goes first. Apricot is apparently pronounced with a hard "A" in the South. Ramsay and Boulud converse in French, debating about the combination of butternut squash and parsnips. Ramsay loves the pork belly but dumps all over the apricot puree. Williams says the egg must be absolutely perfect, or his goose is cooked. Ramsay agrees, as he says if the yolks aren't running when they cut in, it's "game over."
8:48 The judges cut in, and they look suitably gooey from here. Ramsay gives it nearly a rave review, with the only weakness being the filo dough. Everyone seems to agree Williams gambled hard with a risky dish, fitting for a poker player.
8:50 O'Neale's halibut cheek has all kinds of wacky ingredients, like special carrots and pickled morel mushrooms. Ramsay says pickling morels is something you "never, ever" do. Boulud agrees. Tosi gives it the best review. Overall, the reception for O'Neale's seems to be the weakest.
8:53 The judges discuss the appetizers. Best guess is the current pecking order is Mudd a hair ahead of Williams, with O'Neale lagging behind.
9:03 It's entree time. The cooks rattle off their dishes, which are way too complicated to snap off on here. O'Neale is making some sort of venison, while Mudd drops what look like green chunks into a fryer — hush puppies. She's making duck. Williams is making...guinea hen? Sounds like all three meats are difficult to get right. Williams is falling behind! Some of his cabbage-wrapped meat is falling apart. He nearly drops his plate, and cabbage rolls all over.
9:11 Williams shakes his head after barely plating in time. O'Neale's spice-rubbed venison with smoked plums is first. Ramsay loves it, he's "blown away." Rave reviews all around, pretty much, with great presentation on what looks like cross-sections of tree trunks.
Cast-iron seared duck breast from Mudd with hush puppies. Tosi isn't a fan of the plating. Overall, the consensus seems solid but a cut below O'Neale's.
Williams says he's disappointed and thinks his hen may not be properly cooked. Uh oh. He admits to the judges it's not his best work. Ramsay is ready to rake Williams over the coals, demanding he look at a specific part of his dish, and we cut to commercial.
9:19 Williams diplomatically offers that the meat is "pinker than intended." An irritated Ramsay corrects him, saying "it's rare." The seasoning and the sauce get great reviews, but Williams dropped the ball with the meat. Sounds like Williams is going to need the greatest dessert in human history to have a prayer here.
The judges discuss the main courses. O'Neale might have pulled ahead with his knockout dish.
9:21 For dessert, Mudd is firing something with ton of bourbon. Glazed and stuffed fresh cherries from Williams with a bunch of toppings. O'Neale will be going salted caramel chocolate tart.
9:30 O'Neale seems to be playing it a bit conservative with a dish that isn't too tough to execute, possibly feeling he has a lead. Whatever a madeleine is, that's what Mudd is making. It'll come with carmelized peaches. Williams' sounds the most complex, with pitted cherries and a ton of other ingredients. Reigning in my hunger is getting tougher by the minute looking at these desserts.
9:43 The cornmeal madeleines seem to have backfired a bit on Mudd. They were supposed to be light, but they're too heavy, according to Ramsay.
Williams says he put his heart and soul into his plate, focusing like never before. One of his ingredients was...gold popping candy? Is that like pop rocks? In any case, he seems to get overall strong reviews.
9:50 O'Neale's tart is "f****** delicious" according to Ramsay. I'd tab him as the favorite for sure at this point.
9:55 The judges agree nobody nailed all three dishes. So, it's going to come down to who had the best two dishes... after these messages.
The $250,000 and a cookbook deal is about to be handed out. It goes to... O'Neale. Just like in 2004, Williams had a great run but fell at the very end. He just couldn't overcome his poor execution on the guinea hen.
"I gave it everything I had, it just wasn't enough to win," Williams says. "I'm happy for my Vegas brother."
That's a wrap. Time to go eat.
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