If you want to see what true exhaustion looks like, go have another peek at Jonathan Waxman’s face at the very end of this latest episode. If ever there was a guy disappointed not to have lost, not to be going home, it was him. He was running on empty, and dreaming of New York. Last week, I referred to my own grumpiness as a result of the hours I had been pulling, but it really was as nothing compared to what we were putting our chefs through.
So here was the irony: we were asking them to cook for the gods of heaven, when really we were sending them to hell. Waxman was exhausted, Marcus had put his back out, Susur was becoming increasingly baffled by what was going on around him, and Rick had moved into that phase familiar to any parent of toddlers, the mad, manic yah-boo one before catatonia sets in. Only Susan seemed to sail on regardless with her "why should I give a f---" grin on her face.
And in a way, that’s what it came down to. At this point in the competition it was no longer about winning. Sure the money for charity was always going to be important. And each win that the competitors notched up allowed them to work a bit of the old psychology on their colleagues. But really this was all about who lost and, as Waxman proved, losing at this level was quite a tricky business. Because to be honest, I genuinely don’t think he was trying to impress us. "If you play to the critics," he said, "you’re an idiot." The problem is he’s a very, very good chef and even when he’s not trying, he’s still going to do something good. And his romesco sauce really was very good indeed.
By the same token Marcus’ dish of non-cooked stuff may not necessarily have been the prettiest plateful, but it had punch and heart and drama. I’m a sucker for a good narrative, and the way he looked unself-consciously to his Ethiopian roots enthralled me. It spoke of his extraordinary journey and that I found compelling.
And then there was Susan, dear wonderful den mother Susan. Do I think she had given up? No, not at all, though in the befuddlement of her tiredness, retreating to a star dish from her restaurant’s menu must have made an awful lot of sense. I’m sure, that on a Saturday night out in L.A., eating the coconut butter sandwich feels like a very cool thing to do. But, as I say, we were looking for serious cooks, and forgive the failure of imagination, but I can’t really think of a sandwich that would do it at this point in the competition.
But hey, she was having fun. She enjoyed playing her role. She adored serving her dish. And a competition like this which is all misery and torment, is surely not one worth entering. Losing her was exactly the right result; she hadn’t done enough. Still I was deeply sorry to see her go. Susan, brought a genuine jollity to the proceedings. She trotted off with her usual grin, back to the heaven of her restaurant and real life. She left the boys back in the curious artificial life of television cook offs. She left them in their own personal hell.
Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World: In search of the perfect dinner, published by Henry Holt. Follow him on twitter @jayrayner1