Worst Cooks in America review: Crowning a champion


After ten long weeks and fourteen eliminated recruits, we have finally reached the Worst Cooks in America finale. Today, Leo and Shannon will face their biggest challenge yet and someone will go home with $25,000.

As Worst Cooks in America finale opens, we begin with a mini-prize for both cooks- a private cooking lesson to learn how to make anything they want. Leo, the man with a closetful of Hawaiian shirts, asks to make a Hawaiian-style fish dish. He has taken his daughters to Hawaii for vacation so he wants to know how to make a dish to remind them of that time. Alton suggests a mahi mahi with macadamia nut crust, sauce and rice.

Shannon, who loves Caribbean flavors, requests a Caribbean fish taco dish. She would love to make the dish for her mom. Anne recommends they also create a mango and tomatillo salsa, pickled cabbage slaw and pickled onion.

As they cook, Shannon and Anne are clearly having fun. They are relaxed and enjoying the process. Meanwhile, Leo and Alton are discussing Leo’s works in plastics. Being scientifically minded, I guess they are having fun too but it doesn’t necessarily seem to be food-related fun.

Given they both stated they wanted to make this dish for someone special, I am fully anticipating those family members to surprise them and taste their dish. They plate up and go to a fairly large table and I’m sure that is where we are going but, to my surprise, Alton, Anne, Leo and Shannon simply sit down and eat together.

Over the meal, Shannon tells us she wants to use the money as a down payment on a house for her mom. Leo wants to use the money to restock food pantries, but he would save out enough for two large meat lovers pizzas for himself.

Relaxation over, it is time to practice their menus for the big day. Alton has decided Leo will make roasted shrimp cocktail with tomato horseradish sauce, ribeye steak with creamed spinach, and chocolate chip cookies with hazelnut malted milk. I am surprised that he is going with what seems like a fairly simply steakhouse menu.

Anne has chosen asparagus and ramp ravioli, red snapper acqua pazza (crazy water), and a coconut rice pudding tart with a tropical fruit salad and spiced rum caramel sauce. This all sounds light, modern and complex and it requires a lot of technique, so this sounds to me like the winning menu from the start.

The practice cook goes very differently for the two sides. Leo has never cleaned shrimp before and he tries to be very meticulous and careful, but Alton is trying to get the cook done in the same time as they will have tomorrow so he constantly urges Leo to hurry. Not only that, but Alton persists in reminding Leo that he isn’t very confident they can win. “It’s a miracle you’re here, Leo,” he tells him.

Meanwhile, Anne is keeping things relaxed and making sure Shannon feels comfortable with her rather complex recipes. She teaches her to make homemade fresh pasta and they enjoy the process while wondering what Alton and Leo are yelling about. After practice, everyone goes home to try to rest up before the big day.

The finale consists of the two recruits cooking in a professional kitchen for three judges. The judging is blind with one team labelled X and one Y. They will serve their appetizers, entrees and desserts head-to-head. Alton and Anne can stand on the sidelines and offer advice but they are not allowed to touch the food. The judges today are Jet Tila, accomplished chef and culinary ambassador for Thailand, Brian Mazza, restauranteur and fitness guru, and Kelly Choi, TV host and producer.

Right before they start their first cook, Alton and Anne have time for a pep talk. Shannon has worn golden cat ears for the whole competition, and Anne presents her with new, red, sparkly ears. Even cuter, Anne dons Shannon’s golden ears and wears them all day. She tells Shannon, “all you have to do is do it just the way you did yesterday.”

Alton tells Leo, “I mean really, you shouldn’t have even made it this far. Let’s be honest. My money was always on Monica. But we’re going to get it done.” With that vote of confidence, the clock starts with ninety minutes.

Shannon begins with her dessert as she has to get some things done early. Perhaps Alton’s style of freaking out on Leo yesterday was the way to go because he already taught him to deal with the pressure and the time crunch. Shannon is feeling the stress today. She starts to make mistakes.

Shannon struggles to open her cans of coconut milk, first breaking off the top of the can and then splashing it everywhere. Then her pastry dough comes out dry and sandy. As she continues to work, she starts to forget her recipes. Anne, who has stayed calm until now, suddenly loses it for a brief moment. “You don’t have time to do it more than once! Just go!!”

Unfortunately, time ticks down and Shannon is still working on dessert. She uses more than half the allotted time before finally working on her appetizer. This too causes trouble as her pasta dough shreds when she runs it through the roller. She finally gets her dough rolled out and needs space to lay it flat. Anne yanks the mixer out of the way and Alton yells at Anne. Anne tells him she didn’t touch the food and to mind his own business. Alton teases her that she can’t wait to get Tyler Florence back as co-host.

Meanwhile, Leo is moving faster today. He motors through his shrimp preparation. Honestly, he seems to be doing fine but Alton continues with his brand of mentoring. “I’m going to be going home soon. Gonna work on my resume. Going to sell my entire cookbook collection and start looking for a job.” Later, he does one of his signature drawings of himself with a word bubble saying “help me.”

As time winds down, Alton realizes he is yelling too much and puts himself in time out. Leo spends time carefully removing seeds from his lemons for the shrimp appetizer while Shannon is in frantic mode, trying to plate on time.

The judges are presented the first dish. They need to consider taste, presentation, cooking technique and technical difficulty. Their first critique of Leo’s shrimp cocktail is that it is simple. However, it is plated impeccably and perfectly cooked. They like the cocktail sauce but wish for more heat. The judges love the bright green of Shannon’s asparagus and ramp ravioli but there is too much sauce. They think it is also a bit overcooked and a little too salty.

Round two begins and they have sixty minutes until entrée service. Leo is excited to serve his steaks. “Who doesn’t like big chunks of meat,” he wonders. The show helpfully tells us that vegans, babies and smaller chunks of meat don’t. Again, Leo seems to be doing fine but Alton dramatically pours himself a big glass of wine and tells him, “Leo, I drink because you cook.”

All the drama is again reserved for Shannon’s side. Her technique with the snapper is to place a smaller pan on top of the fish to press it flat and crisp the skin. She does this, but a piece sticks and rips the skin off the fish. Luckily she has one extra piece but she has to do that extra piece perfectly as it is her last one.

The judges find Shannon’s dish very pretty. Her vegetable cuts are precise and the fish is cooked perfectly, including the crispy skin. Jet feels it needs more seasoning but the other judges find it a little too salty. They appreciate the simplicity of Leo’s steak and find it to be cooked and seasoned well. However, his creamed spinach is quite soupy.

Time for the final cooking round. They have thirty minutes to present dessert. We see little of this round. Leo has pre-made his cookie dough and it has basically frozen so he struggles to scoop it.  Other than that, we see nothing of the cook other than Leo and Alton drinking boozy malted milk together at the end.

The judges enjoy Leo’s warm, melty cookies and milk. Their only comment is that it could use more salt. They are impressed with Shannon’s tart but her caramel sauce is too thick and Brian and Kelly don’t like the micro-cilantro on top of their fruit salad.

Alton and Anne bring out the recruits and introduce them to the judges. The judges run through a recap of their critiques for each dish for the sake of Leo and Shannon. They tell them the judging was close and not always unanimous, but in the end, Shannon wins! Shannon is thrilled. As a consolation prize, Alton gives Leo some cash for those meat lovers pizzas and he also tells us he will make donations to food shelters in honor of Leo’s efforts.

Alton gets the final words. “I learned a lot during the show that I probably shouldn’t be teaching people how to cook. I may actually stop cooking. I don’t know. I’m gonna think about it.” As a long-time Alton fan who learned a lot from his first show, I am sad to say, maybe I agree. His current sarcastic, almost bitter personality may be better served somewhere else.

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In any case, congrats to both Shannon and Leo for becoming accomplished cooks and surviving Worst Cooks in America bootcamp!