Top Chef

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Back at Chez Chef, everyone's gussying up for their night on the town (Richard holds up a pink shirt -- nooooo! -- and Dale squeezes himself into a pair of jeans), as Stephanie enthuses about the change-of-pace "to hang out together as, like, friends, just watching a comedy show." Because that's totally what's going to happen. There's a shot of Mark bending over in his skivvies, as he explains that the boys "don't want to clash," which means matching outfits for Mark and Spike (light brown shirts, dark blazers, jeans) and, of course, pink for Richard.

As the cheftestants watch the show with forced laughter, and I wonder if these aren't actually the same folks from the ship, Antonia appreciates the chance "to relax for just a second and just be entertained." After some jokes about dancing with a monkey and beating a pig, the cast (well, one bald dude in a red shirt who sounds disconcertingly like Ted Allen), asks for "a whole bunch of suggestions in some different categories" from the audience. First category is color, as Nikki, wearing the Captain Obvious cape, explains that improv often includes audience participation. Next category is an emotion, as Richard extols the genius of improv. Next up is "an ingredient that you would put into something you are cooking," and, as shouts ring out from the audience, the light bulbs begin to go off over the cheftestant's heads -- there's lots of nervous smiling and laughter. Nikki knows "right away that that's how we're going to get our challenge."

Sure enough, one of the Second City women rips a piece from the large pad on which the shouted suggestions have been scribbled and announces the presence of the Top Chef gang. "What they don't know is that they're going to be improvising for us." By "us," it turns out she means "them," as in the Second City cast (as well as the judges), and not the entire audience, which is both a relief and a disappointment -- while I'd sort of like to see them all scramble to feed another huge group, I'm glad it's a smaller affair. So, uh, thanks. Tomorrow night, five course dinner, consisting of: "Yellow Love Vanilla; Depressed Purple Bacon; Magenta Drunk Polish Sausage; Green Perplexed Tofu; and Orange Turned-On Asparagus." I didn't know drunk was an emotion, but whatever.

"We are fucked," says Lisa. I hope she has to make a pastry.

Back at Chez Chef, there's a powwow in the living room as the gang gets to bypass knife-drawing to choose their own teams -- five of two (based, Nikki explains, on "everyone just kind of looking around and going, okay, who have I worked with, who haven't I worked with?"). When I first watched this, I thought they put both the "inspiration" and the course into the hat and drew for each, but it seems that the "inspiration" got assigned separately, so they just draw for course. Spike, wanting to steer clear of Richard and his immunity, ends up with Andrew and yellow/love/vanilla. Antonia and Lisa have magenta/drunken/Polish sausage, Mark and Nikki are purple/depressed/bacon, Stephanie and Jen are orange (which is a huge gimme since the color is also a fruit that goes quite well with asparagus)/turned-on/asparagus, and Richard and Dale (who are "on the same page" when it comes to flavors and techniques, according to Richard) are green/perplexed/tofu. "There's definitely no room for error," says Stephanie, being not at all obvious.

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Top Chef

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