The top six home cooks enter the MasterChef kitchen, as judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich warn them that everything they know about the competition is about to change forever. They learn that none of them will be cooking today. Instead, they are sent to the gallery to observe that the last eight people who were eliminated are being welcomed back. Stacey, Josh, Tali, Tanya, Cowboy Mike, Anna, and Scott enter to the applause of the remaining competitors, although the returning Ryan does not receive as warm a reception.
The eight former contestants will compete in a Second Chance Mystery Box Challenge. The two with the best dishes will then compete head-to-head, and the winner will have cooked their way back into contention for the top prize. The returning competitors must assemble their own Mystery Box - one ingredient at a time. Each cook will go into the pantry on his or her own and select an ingredient. The components they choose, along with a few staples, will be what they can use to cook a stunning dish.
First up is Ryan, who chooses portobello mushrooms. Scott selects a pork chop. Anna, Mike, and Tanya pick celery, condensed milk, and white wine vinegar respectively. But Tali really decides to challenge his competitors and selects chocolate buttons. Josh comes back to the judges' table with a pomegranate, which causes Joe to chime in, "This isn't a Mystery Box, this is a freak show!" Stacey makes the final choice, as she returns with heavy cream.
The cooks now have 60 minutes to prepare their dish from the random assortment of ingredients. Ryan is on a self-admitted feeding frenzy to get back in the game. Josh is hoping to make the most of the opportunity. Becky is concerned because she sees Josh as her biggest competition, so his return would be a major wrench in her plans.
Mike hopes to impress the judges by making an unexpected dish: chocolate flan. Meanwhile, Stacey is making an ambitious entrée of ravioli from fresh pasta dough, handmade ricotta, and roasted portobello mushrooms.
When time is up, the judges call Josh forward. He serves a chocolate mousse with pomegranate reduction sauce and candied lemon peels. Although his presentation is lacking, Graham and Gordon commend the taste of the dish.
Anna submits a pan-seared pork chop with shaved celery and a pomegranate salad. While her dish looks beautiful, it's a little bit overcooked, according to the judges.
Tali brings his chocolate pot de crème with pomegranate syrup and celery foam to the judges' table. Joe tells him, "If Josh's mousse was like a chocolate dream, this is like chocolate mortar."
Scott's stuffed pork chop with pickled celery and pomegranate sauce is slightly undercooked, although Chef Ramsay compliments him on the flavor.
Tanya makes a grilled pork chop with crispy celery and mushroom ragu. Graham gives her good marks for the cooking of her meat but tells her that he doesn't get the concept of fried celery.
Next, Stacey serves her mushroom ravioli with celery cream and roasted pork chop. Chef Ramsay tells her that she is "back with a vengeance."
Graham calls Cowboy Mike's chocolate flan with lemon zest and sugar glass a "testament to how far he's come."
Last up is Ryan, who presents a pan-seared pork chop with mushroom ragu and pomegranate gastrique. Both Gordon and Joe tell him the dish is delicious.
The judges choose Ryan and Josh to go head-to-head for the chance to return to the competition. For their one-on-one battle, they must each prepare a fruit tart. While Josh seems happy with the task at hand, Ryan seems less than pleased.
They learn that there will be special guest judges for the challenge: Monti, Christine, Becky, Felix, Frank, and David. The good news for Ryan is that it will be a blind taste test, so his personality won't be a factor.
As the top six competitors leave the kitchen, Graham welcomes Josh and Ryan to "Culinary Thunderdome." Everything they need to make a basic fruit tart is already waiting at their stations. More ingredients are available to them in the limited pantry. They can incorporate any components they want and finish it with any type of fruit.
With 60 minutes on the clock, both home cooks start to prepare their crusts so that they have time to chill the dough. Josh explains that he plans to use a lot of exotic ingredients for his tart. Ryan has decided to do a fresh berry tart with blood-orange pastry cream. He vows that he won't let Josh beat him a second time in a dessert challenge.
While Ryan gets his shell in the oven in plenty of time, Josh has fallen behind. With 15 minutes to go, his crust is still in the oven, and he might not have time to cool it properly.
As the two cooks begin to assemble their desserts, Gordon, Graham, and Joe believe that Ryan has an advantage over Josh in terms of fruit selection alone. But once the tarts are plated, they feel that both offerings look delicious.
Each chef has to slice his dessert into six servings for the waiting judges, and then they are told to sit and await their fate. The top six must base their decisions on presentation and taste alone. When the votes are tallied, Josh wins with a score of six to zero. He has earned an apron and the chance to get back in the race for the coveted title of MasterChef.
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