So tonight in the Stew Room, Nikki says to Dale, "You can't point fingers [at] the Judges' Table. You become that guy. They are not going to look at you any better when you do that."
Was she right? Well ... no.
Let me explain: It is true that, while Tom described Nikki's performance tonight as a disappointment, it was Dale's that disappointed me more. Not so much for his food, which mostly sounded fine (if chewy). And not because he punched a storage locker after the Quickfire or went after Spike at Judges' Table. That stuff always makes me wince, but the judges want the chefs to tell it like it is. The producers, of course, are never happier than when the chefs go ballistic. We all know that drama = good telly, and good telly is our business. Really, the only reason I would hold an outburst against someone is if they were lying, making excuses for something inexcusable, or otherwise behaving unethically (or pathetically). I don't think Dale was guilty of any of that.
He was just frustrated, and apparently he doesn't handle frustration well. (D'ya think?) He is a chef with some chops and ideas, and here, once again, he was stuck with another team challenge with chefs who he believes (mostly rightly) are not cooking at his level. He was also out of his mind from sleep deprivation. So his strategy was at least understandable: to hunker down and tune out and bury himself in labor.
It's a pretty safe way to hug the soft, mushy middle. But the prize isn't going to a Middle Chef.
You know what would have been more impressive -- not to mention a helluva lot more inspiring? If he had kept his temper under control, assessed his team thoughtfully, and decided that, because he believes he is the stronger chef, he should take the lead, not just hide behind a pan full of tenderloins and hope that Nikki sinks the ship and herself along with it. (Think, Dale: What Would Richard Do?) If Dale is strongest, he also should be best at taking control, figuring out his colleagues' strong points and weak spots, and encouraging them to bring those strengths to bear.
I'm not saying it wouldn't have been risky -- it would have. As TC Exec Producer Shauna Minoprio recently said to me, these challenges give you a thousand ways to fail, and very few ways to succeed. She also said, when I proposed that the chefs must really hate her English guts after this all-night wedding cookoff, "It's very much a love-hate relationship." On her face was a grin of pure evil; her eyes burned with malice, and her tiny, black heart beat steadily, pitilessly on ...
But it might have worked!