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On last night’s Around the World in 80 Plates, the chefs head to Chiang Mai Thailand.  While I am still not the biggest fan of the Suvivor-esque format (more food, less strategy!), at least the challenges are getting a bit more interesting.

Jenna Johansen is wary about heading some place where she isn’t as knowledgeable about the cuisine (or the language for that matter), and Nicole Lou is convinced that she would have been sent home had she not had immunity.  Nookie Postal couldn’t agree more.  He’s livid about having to send Nick Lacasse home, and he plans on getting back at Nicole.  John Vermiglio thinks Thailand is going to put everyone on an even playing field.

The contestants arrive in Thailand and begin the course at the airport.  They must first divide into three teams of two and find the Ton Phayom market where they must purchase two baskets of coconuts.  They learn that the winning team will get the exceptional ingredient and $10,000 while the losing team will be “left out in the cold.”  John and Nookie immediately pair up, followed by Liz Garrett and Nicole.  That leaves poor Avery Pursell with Jenna.  Liz is hoping that Nicole’s experience with Asian style cooking will be helpful.

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All the teams arrive at the market via taxis, and no one can read the signs.  Nookie and John, the black team, quickly find the coconuts and hope to sneak out before the other teams see them.  Too late.  All of the ladies arrive at that point and head straight for the booth they saw the black team leave.  Nookie opens the second clue and it’s written entirely in Thai.  The entire market is laughing at Nookie and John as they keep dropping their coconuts.  The dudes are the first to find someone to read their clue, but the women aren’t too far behind.

At the next stop, each team must grate five pounds of coconut before heading to the Mae Taeng rice paddy.  John is so excited because he actually learned how to do this in culinary school.  Liz and Nicole, the red team, catch up to the guys. They both start grating away, and Nicole realizes that Nookie is watching John do all the work.  Jenna and Avery, the white team, are totally lost.  Once they arrive, Avery is hoping to get as much coconut water in their bowl with the shavings to add more weight.

The black team is on its way to the rice paddy with the red team red four minutes behind.  The white team is right on their heels.  John has immunity, but he and Nookie talk strategy.  The guys deviate from the road that winds through the field and trip and stumble through the rice to get to the paddy.  The next challenge is to plant 20 rows of rice and then find the Wat Baan Den Temple.  Nookie can’t believe how hard this work is, and he vows never to waste rice again.  Nookie and John finish first, but Nookie is moving so slowly.  Liz and Nicole take off running.  Jenna and her bad ankles are still planting.  John and a panting Nookie are the first to meet Cat Cora and Curtis Stone.  The red team arrives right behind them, and Curtis wonders why the white team is slowly meandering up to the temple?  Are they giving up?  Jenna tries to explain about her ankles and Avery’s frustration.

Each team will be taking over a cart in the market to prepare Thai street food.  They will serve the patrons of the night market who will be purchasing the food with their own money.  Whichever team makes the most money is safe, and the other two teams will join together to decide who gets eliminated.  The black team learns that it will be allowed to prepare two dishes instead of one, so Nookie and John could potentially make more money.  They also receive twice the money to shop.  The losing white team is, in fact, left out in the cold.  Avery and Jenna will not be allowed to use heat…no flame, no burner, no gas.  The teams head to the market to soak up the culture and cuisine.  Nookie and John decide to do one dish and one traditional drink, which is actually a really good idea.  Avery and Jenna are invited into a kitchen when they ask about the restaurant’s green papaya salad.  Learning their lesson in Italy about not utilizing a chef due to a language barrier, they take notes and watch like champs–leaving with a complete recipe.

The black and red teams dine together and laugh when they think about how much Avery and Jenna must be grating on one another’s nerves.  Surprisingly, the excitement over their salad has at least slightly bonded the women.  The white team gets 6000 Baht with which to shop, meaning the other two teams have 3000.  Thirty Baht is about a dollar.  I will let y’all do the math.  A hundred dollars for the ladies and two hundred for the men?  I hate math.  So as not to horribly butcher the spelling of these delicious looking Thai dishes, I will tell you that John and Nookie are doing a ground pork lettuce wrap while Nicole hopes she and Liz can master a crispy pork belly.  Liz gets worried then Nicole doesn’t see the need to spend all of their money…she thinks they have plenty of food.  Uh oh.

Avery is much calmer while shopping.  We learn that her father died, and she got a divorce, leading her to “get caught up in addictive things.”  If she can handle all of that, she can handle this competition.  She and Jenna are working well together.  Curtis reveals that a famous Thai chef, Chef McDang, will also be casting his vote, with the team he chooses getting an additional 150 Baht ($50????  This is so sad).  I just saw “larb” on the guy’s sign…I do know I love some larb, whatever that is.  Nookie and John are loudly trying to attract locals to their cart.  Liz and Nicole have so many return customers they decide to raise the price.  Nookie selling a drink with every wrap is pretty ingenious.  Chef McDang may need his own show.  He’s got personality.  Both Chef McDang and Curtis agree the larb (pronounced “lahb” I learn) is bland.

The judges head to Avery and Jenna’s cart.  Yup, it’s settled.  Chef McDang definitely needs his own show.  “Pound it!”  Liz is really worried because she and Nicole are running low on pork.  Nicole is making the portions too large, and, as you recall, she didn’t want to spend all of their money.  Chef McDang touts the red teams’ meal as more Chinese inspired, not traditional Thai.  Liz and Nicole then run out of food, and they are forced to watch as their competitors continue to sell.  Chef McDang had a ball!  He also decides he liked the white team’s papaya salad best.  Liz knows that it’s Nicole’s fault they ran out of food, but she won’t vote for her as she wants to keep the people with whom she works well.  Nookie brags about watering down his beverage so they could sell more, and Jenna is appalled that he would serve something sub par just to make extra money.

The teams meet with the judges, and they learn there will be no immunity going forward.  However, the chef who they believe did the best with the challenge will win $5000.  The judges start with the black team, and they question whose idea it was to do a beverage.  Curtis is confused as to why some early patrons loved it, but others thought it tasted watery.  John admits that the pair watered down the juice to make it last longer.  Cat curtly asks if they would do that with alcohol in their restaurants…burn.  Without any prompting, Nicole admits that the lack of food was her fault.  Curtis says that while it wasn’t a true Thai dish, the diners really liked it.  Cat tells white team how much Chef McDang loved their salad.  It comes down to the white team and black team.  The black team almost made twice as much baht as the white team due to their beverage sales.  This is where I am not so thrilled with this format.  The best team clearly didn’t win.  John wins the challenge for cooking the entire time while Nookie watered down the drinks.

The women convene to talk about elimination.  Jenna is upset about how things have happened.  Nicole announces that since the white team’s dish was the clear favorite (as they did make more money and win McDang’s seal of approval), it should be her or Liz going home.  Liz does a double take.  Um, no!  She’s not on board with that plan, and Nicole reveals that while she isn’t quite willing to fall on her sword and vote for herself.  Jenna and Liz are now facing off with one another.  Avery is quiet…she knows Nicole consistently makes mistakes, but Jenna totally grates on her nerves.  Jenna and Liz both vote for each other.  Nicole then totally switches up the game by voting for Liz.  Instead of taking the easy way out, Avery votes for Jenna to create a tie.  As the winner, John is the tie breaker.  Catch you later, Jenna!

Next stop, Hong Kong!  Nookie’s inability to exert himself in any physical activity is an issue.  The remaining teams deal with angry crabs and mean local chefs.  John gets into it with Nicole.

WHAT DID YOU THINK OF LAST NIGHT’S COMPETITION?  WHO DID YOU WANT TO SEE SENT HOME?

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