It was clear who had won the challenge and who had lost. And that's when things started to get interesting. When the Black team was called to the Judges' table, Cliff blamed the team's loss on Mia "bitching and moaning" during planning and prep. Mia insisted she had only been asserting her opinion. And yet I couldn't help but feel if Mia had managed to express herself as forcefully during the planning stage as she did at the judges' table, her teammates would have had no choice but to listen. Cliff tried to frame the Black team's loss as a failure to work together as a team, but frankly, I saw it as the result of a poor conceptualizing from the top down. As the team leader, Elia set the course for all of them, and the responsibility for the team's loss fell on her shoulders. We were ready to send Elia packing, when a funny thing happened: In one of the first acts of genuine selflessness I've witnessed on the show to date, Mia asked to go home instead of Elia.
I guess Mia looked around at the other chefs and realized that it was unlikely she was going to be the ultimate winner. Not that she lacked the heart or hard work. But she was seeing people like Sam and Ilan and Elia, who have had the benefit of training and the tutelage of notable chefs, cooking at a level of sophistication and skill that eluded her. Mia felt herself out of her league and truly believed, but for tonight's error in judgment, Elia had a shot at going all the way. So she volunteered to go home so that Elia could stay. We were all incredibly moved. During the taping of the show I hadn't formed any personal connections or preferences among the chefs. I had very little interaction with them beyond my brief jaunts into the kitchen and at the judge's table. I definitely grew frustrated with them at times -- but always as competitors, never as individuals. I hadn't even seen the audition tapes the Producers used during casting, so I went in with only the most rudimentary knowledge of the chefs' backgrounds. Nonetheless, over the weeks of competition, bits of information filtered through. I learned that Ilan had worked for me very briefly years before at Craft (embarrassingly, I didn't recognize his face).