Last night on Bravo’s “Top Chef: Las Vegas,” the remaining 12 contestants were asked to rough it, literally. But first, a unique quickfire challenge that would be judged by special guest Tim Love, who was a contestant on “Top Chef Masters” and owns Lonesome Dove Western Bistro and The Love Shack in Fort Worth, Texas. The challenge, as voted on by TV viewers, was to cook something using a unique ingredient–cactus. Thankfully this beat out the other two possibilities–rattlesnake and kangaroo. (ewwwww).

Now apparently the most difficult part of working with cactus (well, besides the obvious part of not getting stabbed) is the fact that they are slimy and you have to counter that or release the slime altogether. Again, ewwwww…though admittedly I’ve had cactus soup and it was quite tasty. Anyway, Tim’s least favorite dishes were by Ash, Michael, and Ron….Ash made some sort of grilled chicken, Michael made some sort of weird “train” concoction and Ron chipotle fish with cactus. It was odd to see Michael in the bottom but this competition is going to heat up fast, so we should get used to things like that.

Meanwhile, Tim’s favorites were Laurine (steak), Mike Isabella (cactus and tuna tartare) and Mattin (something with tequila). Mike I. won the challenge and the $15K.

Then for the elimination challenge, the chefs were bused to the desert where they would be sleeping in teepees and having to cook for a group of cowboys and cowgirls using makeshift barbecue pits. Yikes.
It didn’t help that they would once again be working in direct sunlight, and it was over 100 degrees. Anyway, the cowboys and cowgirls arrived, and so did judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons.

They presented their dishes in groups of three but here is what each contestant made (though my descriptions are brief and not as elaborate as what they actually made):

Mike I.: pork gyro
Eli: sun dried tomato and tuna sandwich
Laurine: Arctic char with tomatillo salsa

Ash: grilled chicken with corn succotash
Mattin: 3-way ceviche (which Colicchio actually spit out..yikes)
Robin: grilled romaine with drunken prawns and Italian sausage

Brian:pork loin with corn polenta and dandelion greens
Jen: snapper with duck confit
Ben Folds (Ashley): halibut with avocado cream

Ron: coconut lime mango ceviche with some kind of coconut drink
Kris Kringle (Kevin): duck breast with mole sauce
Mike V: dashi with miso and mirin (I had no idea what dashi was, so you can thank Wikipedia for the link)

Anyway, the favorite dishes were by Laurine, Ben Folds, Michael V and Brian. No surprise about the brothers, but Laurine and Ben were both on the chopping block recently, and Laurine especially had a huge comeback last night.

The least favorites were Robin, Ron and Mattin. Robin’s prawns were not very good, and some of the judges thought the shrimp may have been spoiled. Ron’s drink was awful, and the judges said if he had just made the ceviche, he would not be up for elimination. And Mattin’s ceviche, though he thought it was good, was described by Love as “like sucking on a piece of flooring.” Wow. He even added that he didn’t feel good after eating it. Wow again.

So you know where we’re going with this, don’t you? Mattin was booted off, not just because his dish literally made the judges sick, but because he didn’t realize the dish was not good himself. Robin, meanwhile, definitely knew it and showed remorse.

Okay, so we’re down to the final 11, and once we get rid of some more of the pretenders, this season is going to get real interesting real fast….because there are at least five or six chefs who could win.

See you next week and thanks for reading….