Vanessa Juarez
May 01, 2008 AT 11:58 AM EDT

In the spirit of this episode of Top Chef, titled ”Common Threads,” we’ve outlined nine common threads below.

Common Thread #1: A helping hand In both the quickfire and the elimination challenges, the nine remaining cheftestants got an assist, either from Uncle Ben or from one of a group of sous-chefs — though the latter, who aren’t even old enough to drive, prompted a bit of a squabble in my apartment over whether having kids help served any kind of purpose (aside from the fact there was a charity tie-in). One roommate thought the experiment — in the grand spectrum of challenges on this show — was unrealistic and silly. (He obviously never saw Aaron Eckhart and Abigail Breslin cooking it up in No Reservations. No feat of cinematic brilliance, to be sure, but it does make you hungry for some pasta.) Meanwhile, his point prompted another roomie to shrug off the entire show as being unrealistic fluff. I respectfully disagree with both of them. Whether or not the cheftestants could work with kids revealed a number of things: for starters, their patience in a stressful situation and their ability to teach others.

And just for the record, I thought the kids were adorable. I hearted Manuel, who, when asked what he likes about cooking, replied, ”Eating,” and Alex, who doesn’t have a girlfriend — ”not yet” anyway. Ditto for Richard’s girl, Abigail, who had never tried a beet before, enjoyed it, and then sat down with her table of comrades, who asked what was in their salad. ”Beets,” she declared, as if she’d been roasting them in her Easy-Bake Oven her entire life. (Also, if Spike doesn’t win Top Chef, think twice about hiring him as your nanny.)

Common Thread #2: A helping of are you kidding me? Fifteen minutes to cook up a quickfire challenge. That was followed by a $10 budget for the elimination challenge, in which they had to cook up a healthy meal for a family of four. And they had to shop at Whole Foods, where, in New York City at least, that’ll barely get you a deli-made sandwich and an iced tea. Um, paging Wal-Mart Superstore.

Common Thread #3: Chock-full of new personal details Antonia chatted on the phone with her squishy-sounding sweetie of a daughter; they shared a knock-knock joke that ends with the punch line ”Smell my poo.” Also, Mark has a ”my lady” for whom he cooks veggie curry when he’s ”strapped for cash.” Lisa has a girlfriend who has a child. And Andrew weighed over 200 pounds in high school. It’s nice to have some insight into who these people are — and the factors that may be driving them in this competition.

Common Thread # 4: Stephanie is losing her culinary mojo It seems like she psyched herself out before she could break into her bag of Uncle Ben’s rice. ”So I wake up this morning,” she said. ”Jen’s not here. I’m starting to realize that there are a lot of people gone. It’s been a long haul so far, and we’re only like halfway through to get to the finals. I’ve been at the top a bunch of times, and now I know what it’s like to be on the edge of getting cut. I’m lucky to still be here. So I need to prove that I’m actually supposed to be here.” But she blew it. Last week it was orange turned on by asparagus that got her into trouble; this week, her brown-rice pancakes flopped and her tomato and peanut butter combination turned everybody off. Padma said she ”detested” it and called it ”disgusting.”

NEXT: Mama’s cooking

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