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Hell’s Kitchen had a secret contestant that got cut from the show

The cooking show’s biggest mystery just keeps popping up

Gordon Ramsay yelling on the set of Hell’s Kitchen Photo: Patrick Wymore/Fox
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

More than almost any other reality show from the mid-2000s, Hell’s Kitchen is regularly in the zeitgeist. Gordon Ramsay’s particularly entertaining brand of British yelling made the show a hit when it debuted in 2005, and continues to make it popular to this day. But, now that it’s been on for nearly two decades, there’s also a treasure trove of lore behind the series, including a mystery that gets rediscovered every once in a while about a secret contestant.

Hell’s Kitchen’s third season, which aired in 2007, pitted six men and six women against each other on teams during the main competition. Or at least, that’s how it appeared when the season aired. As it turns out, there was a secret 13th contestant who started the season with the rest of the group, but was quietly removed early on in the proceedings and cut from the broadcast.

One of the earliest discussions of the mystery seemed to pop up about five years ago with a post from Only1ScrappyDoo on Reddit, but people have attempted to solve it several times since then, in places like the Hell’s Kitchen Fandom forum, the LostMedia Wiki, YouTube, and X. The latest reignition of interest in the controversy came on Wednesday, when the official Hell’s Kitchen YouTube channel uploaded season 3 episode 1, causing fans to notice the issue all over again.

The missing contestant, J.R., shows up during certain parts of the season’s opening episode.

Gordan Ramsay has his back to the screen while a chef stands in front of him presenting a dish Image: Fox via Polygon

While it seems like J.R. could be glimpsed in bits and pieces of the original broadcast of season 3 episode 1, the mystery picked up particular steam after Fox released a widescreen (16:9 aspect ratio) version of the episode following its initial run. The show was originally broadcast in the narrower 4:3 ratio, which left out areas at the sides of the frame, making it easy for the show to cut J.R. out of most of the show. In the 16:9 release, we can see J.R. clearly in the background of a few shots in episode 1, and again later during one elimination segment where we see his name plate (which is how fans learned in the first place that his name was J.R.).

One of the things that makes this mystery so compelling, and one of the reasons it keeps popping up, is how little we know about it — despite the season taking place nearly 17 years ago. It seems J.R. may have been removed from the show because he spread rumors about his fellow contestant Joanna (based apparently on her deleted Facebook posts), and possibly for releasing spoilers about the show. But how either of those things would have gotten him kicked off the show before the second half of episode 1 isn’t clear.

We may never know the full truth behind Hell’s Kitchen’s J.R. mystery. But the good news is, as long as Hell’s Kitchen is popular, people are going to keep rediscovering his disappearance and renewing the hunt for answers.

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