Welcome To March

Daffodil.Photo by Bertil Videt, 2005

Daffodil.Photo by Bertil Videt, 2005

March comes from Latin Martius, the first month of the early Roman calendar. It is named for Mars, the Roman god of war and agriculture. And Romans believed he was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus. March would remain the first month of the new year for many until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in 1582 although Great Britain did not change till 1752. Greece was the last European country to switch over in 1923.

March has two birthstones, aquamarine and bloodstone. The birth flower is the daffodil.

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MasterChef Junior Season 3 Wrap Up

Photo:Fox

Photo:Fox

Masterchef Junior season three has come to an end with Nathan taking the prize over Andrew. It was a well matched finale as both exhibited tremendous skills that excited the judges. It was likely Andrew not trusting his pressure cooker that made the difference. He opened it up too soon resulting in his meat being slightly underdone. As Gordon said aptly watching it happen, he did not trust the pressure cooker. So with this season now at an end, how did this season stack up with seasons one and two?

Well we had the same batch of adorable kids in the kitchen. None of them were nasty, mean, or rude refreshing since on the normal Masterchef you get some interesting personalities. The challenges were more or less like the full show with some kid twists thrown in. The problem this season is that it came too soon on the heels of the last one. We had just gotten over season two when the new season started up. Jarring and it made this season a little hard to get into. And it was on Tuesday night meaning it went up against NCIS, the dominant show in the 8pm time slot. So while the show got decent numbers it did not hurt the king in any way.

The show though is becoming predictable. You see the same fresh batch of wide-eyed kids wanting to cook for the judges. And some of the same types of challenges as well. We know that when they have the kids line up to do a challenge that will result in the judges being pied, dunked, or having liquid dumped on them that all the judges will get splattered. Relying on gimmicks like having a banana lowered by an extraterrestrial hurts as well. Masterchef Junior needs to think about what they are trying to do: are they having kids compete with kids or having kids cooking as adults to impress the judges. My concern is that wobbly line between them being kids and being treated as adults has been crossed once too often. We have to remember they are kids many of whom have not yet finished eighth grade!

Some suggestions for the shows producers:

1. Do Not Show Seasons So Close To Each Other
There is a reason a series will have a break, to allow the new season some distance. This is especially important for reality shows because if you show seasons back-to-back people may be less inclined to watch so quickly. Also you run the risk of running the clock out-literally. People like reality shows but if you compact the seasons they may get tired, bored, or exasperated. Not a good thing. Having season three start so soon after season two was a mistake. I am sure the programmers had a strategy but the middle part of the season saw a drop off of viewers. It came back at the end but the viewers seem to be between 4.8-5.5 million.

2. Move To Another Night
Tuesday night is not a good fit for Masterchef (either version) unless summer and reruns are all that is on. CBS dominates the 8pm hour with NCIS. ABC usually comes in second. In third place is Fox with Masterchef. Not bad but you are not going to be taking away significant viewers from CBS. Fox only dominates that hour when the other networks are running re-runs. NBC has not been doing well in that hour (usually fourth)but do not expect that to last. They are seething that a bunch of precocious kids are beating them.

3. Stop The Slapstick
Okay we get it, you want to make fun of yourselves. Do it once in a while but not every season. It gets old and predictable. How many times will we see the judges get dunked, pied, or have syrup dumped on them? You know this is heading to a very funny skit on Saturday Night Live.

4. Make the Challenges More Kid Friendly
I think the problem in a nutshell is that they see the kids are young adults in chef’s aprons. Wrong. They are still kids so do not blur that line as Gordon seems to do. Treat them as kids always and craft challenges more kid friendly. It may please the judges to see the kids prepare sushi boats but really how many times are kids doing that at home? Focus on learning essentials, testing them on it, and seeing who really understands what cooking can be.

Farewell, Joe
This season ends with the departure of Joe Bastianich. He is moving on to other things and another show (a restaurant show if I heard correctly). He may be tough and at times scolding (when you serve up a dogs dinner he is not happy about that!)but shows a lot of soul at the same time. I remember what he said to Christine Ha when she perfectly recreated Graham Elliot’s masterful dish. He said that like him, she visualizes what she eats (in his case drinks when it is wine). It was a wonderful moment and astonishing what she pulled off considering her limitation. Farewell Joe, you will be missed. Hopefully your mother will still stop by the kitchen as a guest judge.

TV By The Numbers
The numbers for Tuesday are quite telling. Only in the world of television can a show with less total viewers win a slot if it gets the highest share of the target audience. NBC’s The Voice had 14 million viewers (less than NCIS at 17 million)but had a 11 point share of the 18-49 target audience. So they get first place. CBS came in second since NCIS got 8 points in the target audience. Coming in third is ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat with a 6 point share and 5.75 million viewers. Masterchef Junior dropped to fourth place with a 5 point share and 4.83 million viewers. It lost viewers (last week 5.5 million) but at least came ahead of CW’s TV’s Hottest Commercials with 1 point share and 1.25 million viewers. When Masterchef (regular and junior)is up against tough competition like this, it almost always comes behind the big three. It does show that by the time the finale aired, the target audience was looking elsewhere.

Till the next season of Masterchef Junior: arrivederci!

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Monday Titanic News

1. Update on Tinian Casino:Radio New Zealand is reporting that approval has been granted to the building of a Titanic replica that will be a casino and hotel. No date of construction has been announced.
Source: Green Light For Titanic-Themed Casino On Tinian(23 Feb 2015,Radio New Zealand)

2. $4.75 million will get you a six-bedroom home that was once owned by Titanic survivors in Wayzata, Minnesota. According to the news report:

The two-story, stucco home now has six bathrooms, four fireplaces, two powder rooms on the main floor, two staircases, a library, a wine cellar, a billiard room and a recreation room. The 12,939-square-foot property is on 2.16 acres. Out back there’s a New York bluestone terrace, a tennis court and nearly 100 feet of shoreline on the north side of Lake Minnetonka with a dock.

You can read the listing here.
Source:Dream Homes: Mansion Built By Titanic Survivors On Lake Minnetonka Listed For $4.75M (23 Feb 2015,Bizjournals.com)

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Retro Sunday:Battlestar Galactica Theme (1978)

Today is the theme from the original Battlestar Galactica which ran for one season in 1978. I have commented on the original series and its re-imagined version. The theme is from the two-part episode Lost Planet of the Gods where they find Kobol. It is one of the best episodes of the old series and shows the promise of the series (later to be dashed by poor script writing and cliché shows). The theme is upbeat and hopeful unlike the one from the re-imagined series.


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Titanic News:Historic Drawing Offices A Future Hotel and Captain Smith Statue Controversy

Former Harland and Wolff Headquarters Building and Drawing Offices Photo:Ross(Wikimedia Commons)

Former Harland and Wolff Headquarters Building and Drawing Offices
Photo:Ross(Wikimedia Commons)

1. The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that the former Harland & Wolff drawing offices (closed since 1989)have a new lease on life. There is now a plan for a 84-room boutique hotel and using the space to “tell the story of Belfast’s industrial heritage, focusing on the Board Room, Telephony Room and Entrance Lobby.”
Source:Luxury Hotel Has Designs On Derelict Titanic Offices In Belfast(18 Feb 2015,Belfast Telegraph)

Captain Edward J. Smith Statue, Beacon Park, Lichfield UK Photo: Bs0u10e01(Wikipedia)

Captain Edward J. Smith Statue, Beacon Park, Lichfield UK
Photo: Bs0u10e01(Wikipedia)

2.A statue to Titanic captain Edward J. Smith stands in Lichfield but how it came to be there is an interesting story. Locals did not pay for it but wealthy Americans and Britons. And its placement in Beacon Park was not without disagreement. Locals did not like a statue being paid for by wealthy Americans who sailed on a British ship. The statue was put up anyway but omitted any reference to Titanic until much later. Today of course it is a popular stop for tourists.
Source:The Way We Were: Controversy surrounding the statue of Titanic captain Edward Smith(The Sentinel,18 Feb 2015)

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Masterchef Junior, Season 3, Episode 7: Raspberry Dessert

MasterChef-Junior-LogoThe final four–Andrew, Nathan, Jimmy, and Jenna–enter the kitchen stadium to do culinary battle for a place in the finale. Two will enter and move on; two will depart. Tonight there is no mystery box as Gordon presents what they will cook: crème brulee. A wonderful dish but tricky to pull off. Jenna tells us she goes to a French restaurant on her birthday and has one for dessert. Nathan has never made one before nor been to a fancy restaurant. Fortunately Gordon demonstrates how to caramelize one. It looks so easy when he does it but then he has had many years of experience (and some Michelin stars as he likes to remind us). Andrew is not much of a desert guy but likes being able to use a blow torch.

In a deviation from regular Masterchef, the kids do not have to make it from scratch. They each have 20 unfinished brulees at their station. They only have to add the sugar and caramelize it properly. And they have ten minutes to properly prepare as many as they can. So it will be both quantity and quality that will decide who wins. Jenna’s mouth opens wide in surprise in learning the time limitation. And they are off to make the perfect finishing touch to the crème brulee.

The judges look at the results to determine who got the most done correctly. Nathan finished 13 but only 1 was correct. Ouch. You have to watch that blowtorch! Jenna completed 15 but total perfect was 4. Graham said she was too timid in using the flame which is why most of them were pretty pale. Jimmy delivered 8 perfect ones. Andrew used two blowtorches and did all 20 but only 4 were done right. So usually at this point Jimmy would head back to the pantry and make a decision. But once again the comedy jester decides to use a gimmick again. Instead of revealing the fruit that will be part of the next upscale desert they will prepare, a whole lot of raspberries are dumped on them. You can just hear that circus music playing and a barker crying:

“Ladies and gentleman! Inside this tent are kids that will cook the most amazing dishes. They will astound and delight you by cooking dishes only found in the highest class places that princes, kings, and captains of industry attend. For only a mere 50¢ you will see dishes rarely seen out of those places. But we have tricks for these kids to pass through! Step inside now to see what will fall out of the sky or the cupboard or even the oven as they attempt the most difficult of dishes!”

Petr Kratochvil(publicdomainpictures.net)

Petr Kratochvil(publicdomainpictures.net)

The judges laugh, Jimmy cleans his glasses, Andrew is not thrilled with having raspberries dumped on him and Jenna has raspberries in her hair. And you have a whole lot of wasted fruit on the floor that are going to have to tossed out that could have gone to a food bank or homeless shelter. Four dishes will have this fruit as its main ingredient and Jimmy gets to decide who makes what. He has to choose from a Raspberry Napoleon, Raspberry Trifle, Raspberry Mousse, and the most difficult of all–Raspberry Tarte. Yikes! Jimmy hands the tarte to Nathan. A smart move. The mousse goes to Andrew and another smart decision. Jenna gets the napoleon because Jimmy thinks it is the easiest and can defeat her in the finale.

As time winds down, Jenna is way behind time wise. Her plating has not even been done at the 2 minute mark. She is racing about to get everything on her plate while the others do finishing touches. Sadly Jenna’s dish looks like a mess. Jimmy’s trifle looks a little uneven and taste wise it is rustic but too acidic and not enough sweetness. But overall okay. Andrew has a lot of raspberry on his apron. And he had to redo his mousse when the first one failed (too sweet). He may be a mess but the dish turns out perfectly. And Gordon is quite pleased with the result though it could have used more time to set. Overall, a good dessert.

Ah Jenna. The dish looks like it was plated in a hurry but actually tastes pretty good says Gordon. Joe refused to say anything about his tasting of the dish. They are all disappointed that she did not plate it well though tastes good. Nathan had the hardest of all, the tarte. Graham liked the visual and loved its flavor. Nathan really pulled it off on this dessert. Jimmy gave him the hardest dish of all and he aced it. This kid really has earned a place in the finale against Andrew. Which means sadly Jimmy and Jenna end up going home. It will be quite a battle royal in the final because Andrew and Nathan are well matched.

It was sad to see Jimmy and Jenna go. Both are very talented young chefs with a bright future in professional cooking if they go that route. They came very far beating out a lot of people to get into the top four. And now it is between Andrew and Nathan. While I like Andrew, I think Nathan has the edge needed to win.

By The Numbers
One of the reasons I wait a few days to do the write-up is for the final adjusted ratings. The fast ratings sometimes can be off. Masterchef saw a spike this week that pushed it up quite a bit but still came in third place for the 8pm hour. The final numbers are NCIS (CBS)at 2.6 rating in the 18-49 age group and 18 million viewers. ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat came in second with 1.9/6 million viewers. Masterchef came in a respectable third place with 1.8 and just under 5.5 million viewers. Th uptick is not surprising as it usually happens at the primiere and the two end shows of the season.

Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship
Thanks to Sling TV, I got a chance to take a look at this show that started this year on Food and Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes) and Valerie Bertinelli (actress and cookbook author) are the hosts with kids aged 10-13. It is actually a very pleasant show to watch. They start out with eight kids (the season for this is just a few episodes) and as the title indicates everything they do is baking. I really loved the Desert Imposter episode where the kids had to come up with deserts that looked like regular main courses but were deserts. Duff Goldman and Valerie Bertinelli make a good team for this show and I hope they bring it back. Like Masterchef, it lacks the high drama and sometimes bracing personalities as the kids are delightful to watch. Goldman is particularly good at giving the kids helpful suggestions as they cook. Goldman really enjoys what he is doing and while they will put some twists into the challenges (like telling them after they have started one batch of sweet baked goods they must now do a batch of savory as well)it lacks the gimmicks of Masterchef Junior. And it has its tough moments too when it sends kids home at then end.

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Sling TV:Not For Everyone

RCA Victor (National Broadcasting Company)advertisement for the beginning of regular experimental television broadcasting from the NBC studios to the New York metropolitan area on April 30, 1939 for "an hour at a time, twice a week." Public Domain

RCA Victor (National Broadcasting Company)advertisement for the beginning of regular experimental television broadcasting from the NBC studios to the New York metropolitan area on April 30, 1939 for “an hour at a time, twice a week.”
Public Domain

It is hard to recall but at one time cable television was a radical change in viewing television. When I was very young, rabbit ears on top of our old television set brought television into the living room. There were not many channels to watch back then. There were the three big networks (ABC,CBS & NBC) plus taxpayer supported PBS, and a very small number of independent channels. It was about six or seven channels that you could watch. We said goodbye to the antenna when cable finally arrived and hello to the cable box. It brought clearer signals and unless something was wrong with the cable service, reliable quality. Cable television spurred the growth of cable only channels and of course movie channels.

Cable companies became de facto monopolies in most cities and without competition, the rates began to soar. Changes in technology and how information was delivered changed all that. Not just the obvious one (the Internet) but smaller steps that changed how media was delivered. It began with the humble video cassette recorder. Yes the humble vcr allowed you to record movies off live television but opened up a market for renting and selling movies to customers. There were grumbles from the big movie companies but eventually they all lined up.Then came the compact disc and later the dvd. Cable boxes became a thing of the past with a cable tuner inside a standard television or vcr. Then came the digital video recorder allowing the pausing of live television as well as record shows. The Internet begat streaming and services like Netflix took advantage of it to stream media right into people’s homes. Satellite technology had advanced enough to have small antennas and compete directly with cable companies as well (and offer channels at less cost than cable).

The Internet though is the game changer. With more people wanting to view movies online or streamed to their favorite media device, people began cord cutting. Most downgraded their services, like me, to just local broadcast channels and used services like Netflix or Hulu to fill in the gaps. Suddenly the cable companies had a serious threat. People are fed up with paying bundles for a whole bunch of channels they do not watch. Cable companies have to pay a fee to every cable channel based on subscribers. Some channels have small fees and others like ESPN command high fees that in turn cause rate hikes and spats. This inefficient system means cable channels are being subsidized by every cable subscriber in the country. Which explains why very low rated cable only channels can stay afloat as long as they are picked up by cable systems.

Which brings us to Sling TV. By no means is this the end of the cable companies but it marks a shift in how people are going to get cable channel programming. Sling TV is offering a limited number of packages that have some popular cable channels. The basic package is $20 and comes with ESPN, ESPN2, TNT, TBS, Food Network, HGTV, Travel Channel, Cartoon Network/Adult Swim, Disney Channel, ABC Family, CNN, El Rey Network, Maker, and Galavision. AMC is coming soon. Other packages add some extra sports, kids programming, and news. Sling is owned by Dish TV, a satellite television provider. Sling is available on most mobile, computer, and streaming services. I have a Roku box and a computer so I can watch on either one (but not at the same time). The video quality is good but there are caveats. There is limited dvr like abilities. ESPN does not allow you to pause live television but others do. There is limited archive of shows you missed. Schedules shown may not be accurate (I use TVGuide app on my iPhone to see what is upcoming-I just have to remember to add three hours for Eastern time).

Aside from the problems I mentioned, another issue for many is that Sling simply replicates cable tv in a different format. You still get bundled television and not al la carte programming where you create a bundle of channels you want to watch. Thus you are still paying for channels you do not want to watch. Out of the basic bundle only ESPN, Food and Travel are of interest to me. The other channels are of little interest so I am paying again (but with a smaller fee)for channels I do not want or watch. ESPN is the big draw and one reason many will want to try it out. I probably will drop Sling for now but sign back up again when baseball season gets going because some games are only played on ESPN.Then again without that dvr function I would be hard pressed to do that.

Will Sling TV work? The cable companies do not want the competition and channel owners will put restrictions on how their channels are shown (like preventing people from fast forwarding through commercials when viewing the archive). Without the dvr ability, I see a lot of people checking it out then saying meh and moving on. Perhaps Tivo and Sling ought to work together for an app that will allow OTA/limited cable users the ability to record shows. It is a step in the right direction but only just a step.


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Retro Sunday: The Prisoner Theme

Last week we had Johnny River’s song for the show Secret Agent. Today is the theme from The Prisoner (1967-1968,UK)which many believe is the sequel to Secret Agent. Both starred Patrick McGoohan as the main character. The Prisoner dealt with a McGoohan’s character apparently resigning from his top secret job and then being abducted. He finds himself in an Orwellian village where everyone has a number, is under constant surveillance,and ruled over by Number 2. They try various methods to break him, chiefly to reveal why he resigned although other reasons emerge as well. The series dealt with some heady things such as liberty and privacy and a nearly omniscient government. Such themes are still topical considering how technology allows not only government to monitor us but data mining of just about everything we do for commercial and government use. Collectivism vs. individualism is the bigger theme and today we can see it being debated when a collective decides certain disquieting voices must be silenced through a variety of means without a regard to individual liberty

The opening theme is from episode two, The Chimes of Big Ben. This is considered one of the best episodes though very early on. Part of it is due the actor who plays Number 2, Leo McKern. His Number 2 is remembered because of his wit in sparring with McGoohan’s Number 6. Was Number 6 John Drake of Secret Agent? McGhoohan said he was not but others who worked closely in developing the show worked on Secret Agent as well. In fact the earliest conceptions before McGoohan was involved were of Drake actually the person who thought up such a place for retired agents and that he resigns to see if it lived up to what it should be. Certainly that makes a lot of sense rather than it being a long nightmare (which in the end seems like it). What makes us a prisoner though is not just being forcibly locked up against our will but sometimes the circumstances of our lives. Drake (lets just assume it here)was in a role that he could never ever really leave. No matter how much he wanted to go on vacation, he would always be the secret agent.


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St. Valentine’s Day

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland
Photo: Blackfish (Wikimedia Commons)

Valentine’s Day is used by many to show their affection or love for someone they care about. It has spawned an industry for greeting card makers, candies, and of course flowers. However there is a real religious component as many Christian denominations celebrate it as feast day, commemoration, or optional for the local diocese (such as the Catholic Church). Valentine was the name of many Christian martyrs in the early Church resulting in them all being remembered for their acts of sacrifice for the faith. Some denominations, such as Eastern Orthodox Church, celebrate a particular St. Valentine on two different days.

The association with romantic love could be linked to an ancient Roman festival has been made but there is no evidence of any link. Most seem to believe the link began with Chaucer’s Parlemont of Foules where he indicates birds choose their mates on St. Valentine’s Day although 14 Feb might not be the day Chaucer was referring to. Other poems made the association of love and St. Valentine’s Day in the medieval period and English Renaissance. For those who needed love verses but lacked the ability to compose them, publishers starting offering them. Then putting them on paper and sending them became possible. Paper valentines became very popular in 19th century England resulting in their industrial production. They became popular in the United States as well. With such cards being popular, you needed other things to accompany a card. Roses and chocolates became popular, likely due to skillful marketing to associate them with the day. And so Valentine’s Day became a very major day for greeting card companies, chocolate makers, and sellers of flowers (roses being the most popular flower for the day).

Of course we ought to remember that it is based upon Valentine, who became a saint after he was martyred in Rome in 269 and buried on Flaminian Way. He is the patron saint of Love, Young People, Happy Marriages.

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Masterchef Junior, Season 3, Episode 6:Going To The Kitchen

MasterChef-Junior-LogoIt is the pressure test of the series: the restaurant challenge. Contestants man the kitchen of a well known eatery and serve courses that are on the menu. And they must do so at the highest standards possible under the ever watchful eye of the master expediter Gordon Ramsay. Which can be quite terrifying according to one aspiring junior masterchef. Six kids will enter the restaurant but only four will move on. No pressure though. And thankfully no gimmicks in this episode.

They are the well regarded  Comme Ça, a place that tries to transport you to Paris with its food. And this being a lunch service, it means things are going to be quick since a lunch crowd likes to get in and out in a reasonable amount of time. Since Andrew and Jimmy were the winners last week, they become team captains. Andrew (Team Blue) has Nathan and Jenna while Jimmy(Team red) has Ayla and Kayla. As the executive chef demonstrates the high quality dishes they will be replicating, it is pretty obvious that this is a very upscale lunch they will be serving. The guests do not know who is cooking the meal but they do know that it is being filmed. Joe as always is handling front of the house. Gordon does the expediting (terrifying as always) with Graham backing him up. Andrew tells his team what to cook while Jimmy talks to his team members as to what they want to cook.

Gordon says something quite telling about his role as expediter to the kids:

I’m not interested in how old you are. I’ll be treating you like professional chefs in my own kitchen. Got it?

Once again MCJ straddles that wobbly line between a kids reality show and treating them as adults. And points to something I noticed last season. There was a shift in the shows tenor as it went on as the judges stopped seeing them as kids but young adults in chefs aprons. And here it is again but this time but more direct. The only thing missing was the famous Ramsay profanity which is so common on Hell’s Kitchen and shows up now and then on MasterChef. Considering the fact they put kids in a real restaurant kitchen (free publicity for the restaurant)it is no small thing to say that. It meant in his eyes they were young adults in chefs aprons. Goodbye childhood, hello kitchen!

As was expected, the kids went through the usual problems of not cooking dishes right and having Gordon get angry at him. Jenna kept overcooking some cakes in the pan. Andrew lost control at one point and was sent outside to cool down because he became the terrible l’enfant in the kitchen barking out orders and not paying attention. Jimmy did not keep his station clean so plates had ugly stuff on the bottom. They ran out of chickpeas on Team Blue so some dishes (for the executive chefs no less)were not complete dishes. Ayla served raw steak and Kayla raw fish. Reviews were mixed out in the dining room. Some people liked their dishes, some found dishes salty, a little too rare, or underdone (like pasta). Except for Jenna getting burned with a hot pan, no serious incidents in the kitchen. The kids survived the ordeal and then faced the tough decision back in Masterchef kitchen as to who won and lost.

Since this task was in itself a pressure test, there was no final exam. All the judges had to do was declare a winner and send two home. And it was close because both teams did, despite inexperience and intense pressure, okay. Team Andrew won which means they go into the top four leaving Team Red to face the chop. And it was sad to see Ayla and Kayla sent home leaving Jimmy for the last spot on the final four. And the final four are Andrew, Jenna, Nathan, and Jimmy. The semifinals are next to determine who goes into the finals. I think Andrew is probably going to get into the final but I am torn as to the second spot. I think it might come down to Jimmy and Jenna but hey, anything can happen.

By The Numbers
No surprise– CBS won the hour with 2.9 rating in the 18-49 with a total of 18 million viewers for NCIS. ABC’s Fresh Off The Boat was second with 2.9 and 6 million viewers. Third place went to Masterchef Junior with 1.4 and 4.5 million viewers. MCJ beat out CW’s The Flash and NBC’s Parks and Recreation. While MCJ got into third place, its average viewership (not counting the premiere) seems to be around 4.5 million give or take some points here or there.

Next week: the semifinals!

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