The blue team hit Chinatown for ingredients.
Having last night endured the emotional exhaustion of seeing the valiant Mindy defeated by the Three Blue Ducks crew and their winning way with a small pile of random crumbs, tonight we are to get out of the kitchen and get some fresh air.
But first, of course, we must get through the opening credits, which feature, inexplicably, a man called "Andrew". This must be some kind of editing error – I am one hundred percent certain that nobody called "Andrew" is involved in this show. Surely we would have noticed? Also, Audra's reaction to the smell of her pie is inappropriate for this timeslot.
Anyway, now it's time to see the contestants in the house. TK doesn’t know how she's going to cope today: she couldn't sleep last night due to her hatred of the concept of teamwork. TK dislikes the fact that she will have to pay for her team’s mistakes in today’s challenge, as she prefers an atmosphere in which she is encouraged to cut herself off from her fellow human beings and pick them off one by one.
After a brief dream sequence in which the contestants fantasise about a visit from a strange Chinese man, they are off Sydney's Chinese gardens, where Matt Preston makes the mistake of telling them they need to bring fire to the kitchen – there is sure to be at least one who interprets this far too literally. The challenge today is yum cha (Chinese for "tiny food-scrotums"), and they will not be judged by the judges, but rather, by the patrons of the Chinese gardens. What the hell are these judges being paid for anyway?
The players will be divided into teams by means of fortune cookies, in accordance with MasterChef's long-standing commitment to reinforcing racial stereotypes. The selection process is fairly boring, but it is worth noting that Emma apparently has more than one beanie, or possibly just the one that changes colours with her moods. The captain of the blue team is Beau, who will bring his earthy Aussie blokiness to the yum cha challenge, and the red captain is Deb, who will bring her hyperventilating panic. The mystery of who "Andrew" is remains unsolved.
And now it's off to a waterfall, where we meet again the Chinese dream-chef, and George inspires the two teams with a series of veiled threats. There is also a surprise: "this is a captain cook-off!" exclaims Matt in a tone of voice that strongly suggests he expects people to know what the hell this means. Whatever it means it's bad, and Deb's head immediately explodes from the stress.
While the ad break is on, I'd like to take a moment to address the suspicions of some recap commenters that these recaps are in some way paid advertisements. I totally reject this allegation – to suggest we recappers are acting as paid shills is as absurd as suggesting that you can get a better-value family dinner than Nando's delicious flame-grilled peri-peri chicken – mmm, Nando's!
Back at the Chinese gardens, and it is revealed that Beau and Deb are either going to have to make prawn dumplings, or fight to the death with rolling pins. Winning the captain cook-off will enable them to swap a team member for another, meaning this mini-challenge is one of the most crucial pieces of padding of the series so far.
Deb and Beau launch with vigour into their tasks, and tension is high as we wait to see whether Beau's dumpling will defeat Deb's enormous mutant dough-cuttlefish. Amazingly, Beau's is the best, and his team celebrates mightily, because they haven't understood that this means one of them will have to go join old fumble-fingers' team. He selects Audra, who after seeing Deb's attempts at making a dumpling says a silent prayer of thanks, and kicks Matt onto the red team, which could backfire on him, as Matt's years of experience at Hungry Jack's could well come in handy making yum cha (Chinese for "whopper").
And so the challenge begins! The teams must source their ingredients, either from local merchants or from the gardens' goldfish ponds, then make their yum cha, and finally wander around the area yelling at tourists until they break down and agree to eat their food.
"I really need to know what I'm doing," says Deb, immediately putting her finger on her team's main weakness. However, she may be selling herself short, as she quickly shows herself extremely adept at telling Alice to shut up, a valuable skill for any MasterChef.
While Deb interrogates her teammates as to what, exactly, "Chinese food" is, Dalvinder and Audra are already romping happily through Chinatown. The red team is already behind as Deb delegates responsibility for ingredients to Mindy, who once ate some prawn crackers at a party.
The suspense is near-unbearable, but we'll probably get through, as long as we have our Ski Activ to promote the production of good bacteria and reduce bloating. Digestive systems back in balance? Good, then we'll continue.
Back on MasterChef, we now have the opportunity to watch that most riveting of activities: shopping. Is there anything more calculated to make compelling TV? Anyway, Audra and Dalvinder go around and buy some things … um … they're surprised by how few sheets of won-ton wrappers are in a packet … Audra knows a better place … they go there …
Now we see Mindy, who is being directed around Chinatown by … oh maybe that's "Andrew"? Some guy, anyway. He's good with maps. Maybe he's not a contestant at all, he's just a navigator. Back at the kitchen, Filippo explains that he knows dough. Amina explains that he has no frigging idea what he's talking about. Filippo says it'll be all right on the night. Amina says that he must be trippin'. Filippo gestures significantly to the hunting knife in his boot to keep her quiet. Meanwhile their teammates are wandering aimlessly through a series of shops, considering it a victory if they can avoid walking into telephone poles.
On the blue team, Wade is co-ordinating the "rolling things into enormous balls" part of the operation, when the groceries get back. Some of them anyway – Audra and Dalvinder aren't back yet because Audra has led them out of Chinatown and into Thailandtown in her wild, Captain Ahab-esque quest for the perfect won-ton. This would be a problem if the red team wasn't still bouncing pinball-style around the streets shouting random directions at each other. At this point Andy's determination to prove his enormous upper-body strength backfires as his shopping bag breaks and ingredients crash to the ground and burst into flames.
At this point both teams are quickly transported to the old west to fight over laptops. Or maybe it's an ad break. Well now Tim Allen is on, so yeah, probably an ad break.
But it's not an ad break anymore! Now it's time to delve into Andy's shattered psyche as he realises the punishments Deb will rain down upon him for his wasting of the fish sauce. "Don't cut yourself," says TK, combining advice on picking up broken bottles and a mental health community service announcement.
Back to the blue team, where Beau is being interrogated by George. George asks what the menu is – don't you wish someone would, just once, say "None of your business, baldy"? Just me? The blue team is running like clockwork, as Sam drops things into the fryer and Beau tastes them in what must be the most ocker yum cha preparation session in history. Tregan, meanwhile, is dispensing prawns to the masses Jesus-style, and demanding their votes.
Cut to the judges. Gary asks George what he loves about yum cha. George loves a dumpling, probably because he has a few in his family tree. Gary tests out a bit of developing stand-up act by saying the two teams are "fairly evenly matched", the dramatic irony emphasised by cutting immediately the red team, which is concentrating mainly on the blackboard-hanging part of the process. Deb calls on her team to stop for a minute, because everyone is so busy cooking they are completely ignoring her. She gathers the team together to demand they listen to Mindy, and once she has made it clear that they should in no way pay any attention to her, allows them to get back to the job. There is a brief interlude in which Alice mocks Deb's demented leadership style, which is pretty bold from a woman who gets her glasses from showbags.
On the blue team, Ben is roaming the gardens with his prawn tray, terrorising dozens of people who honestly just wanted a nice quiet stroll. Meanwhile, spring rolls are on the bubble, and the producers persist in their maddening delusion that anyone really cares how food is cooked. We want DRAMA, dammit!
On the red team, meanwhile, no food has yet been served, possibly because every fifteen minutes Deb makes everyone stop so she can yell at them to stop listening to her. Gary has arrived to pass on some of his expertise, advising Deb that, as a professional chef, his advice would be to start serving some food to people. Deb absorbs this advice, and proceeds to yell hysterically at Mindy and TK. Cut to the blue team, which pauses in their machine-like yum cha production to gloat for a bit.
Some more shots of food in woks and things, whatever, yawn. Apparently to make pork buns you have to do … something or other. I don’t know, who cares, right?
However, drama returns, as Audra makes the shocking realisation that she NEVER BOUGHT THOSE WON-TON WRAPPERS! Seriously – she made that big deal over "oh I don't want these won-ton wrappers, let's go to this great Thai place where they have good won-ton wrappers" and then she DIDN’T GET ANY WON-TON WRAPPERS! That was a great choice you made at the start, Captain Beau, wasn't it? Dammit, the fool woman is going to bring this whole damn ship down! How could she forget to buy the won-ton wrappers? What is a won-ton wrapper anyway? Maybe they could use old newspapers instead? It's a dilemma! They could be disqualified! The blue team's earlier gloating seems hollow and laughable now, as they find themselves won-tonless. And we haven't even got to the bit we saw before where Gary is going to tell Tregan she's disgusting. What are they going to dooooooooo?
Fortunately, we have time to catch our breath and cheer up as triple Brownlow medallist Bob Skilton reminds us all of our impending death. And in related news, Being Lara Bingle is coming soon.
Back to the blind panic of the blues. Beau will have to send someone out to get the wrappers, but who has the sheer strength of will to both FIND a shop, and BUY a thing from it? He sends Wade, and makes a "Big trouble in little Chinatown" joke, for which he might also be disqualified.
Back at the red team, food is being served to a captive audience of children who have been hypnotised into obedience by Alice's magic spectacles. In fact, the red team is doing an excellent job of getting their dishes out, even in the face of their team captain’s tireless efforts to give everybody aneurysms.
The tables have turned – suddenly it's the blue team in the depths of despair, their mood not improved by the sad band that has taken up residence in their kitchen. Out on the streets, it's wacky Oriental instruments all the way as Wade proves himself utterly incapable of finding a Chinese food shop in Chinatown, the relevant part of the map obscured by his eyebrows.
In the red kitchen, Filippo confides that everyone's feeling good, and Deb is looking confused, which is an excellent development – as long as they can keep her off-balance she'll be unable to do anything.
Back on the streets of Chinatown, Wade has finally found his won-ton wrappers, and begins his epic journey back to the gardens, where banana fritters are on the boil and Tregan is shouting at Gary. "They look soggy and horrible!" Gary snaps at Tregan, and he is probably talking about the food. I think. Tregan goes on a quest for frying oil. Beau tells her to get out and buy some. "I'm not from Sydney!" she protests. "Neither is Wade!" he replies – and look how well that turned out.
Perhaps people who eat Tregan's soggy fritters could benefit by visiting frankhealthinsurance.com? Just sayin'.
Oh good, it's a MasterChef Extra Taste, the segment that is rapidly becoming everybody’s favourite part of the show!
Back in the gardens there is only 45 minutes to go, yet it seems that the episode began only fifteen months ago. Matt is expressing his reservations about Deb's disappearance, though actually the red team's main problem is that Deb hasn't disappeared enough. They all share a good laugh about the blue team's won-tonlessness and Tregan's awful banana fritters.
And on that subject, Tregan tells us "there's nothing worse than a soggy banana fritter", which seems like a distasteful diminishing of the horrors of the two world wars. Suddenly Tregan has a brainwave – she can fry the fritters in olive oil! That's the sort of inspiration that surely could only be dreamt up by someone with an innate knack for thinking of really obvious solutions.
Meanwhile Alice is hurling abuse at schoolchildren to get them to vote, while the judges stuff their faces. In a startling reversal, Filippo's dough isn't doing the trick. Muslims 1, Italians 0, methinks.
Ben wanders into the horrific maw of the crowd to distribute banana fritters, they're goin' fast. The judges continue to stuff their faces, and the full horror of the fritters hit home. However, as Gary admits, "If you're a kid, you'll love that", illustrating the vast emptiness at the heart of these judges' pretentious wankery.
There's only three minutes to go! Punter after punter casts their vote, sobbing and begging to be allowed to go home. And finally it's done. "Relief washes over me like a wave, I can't describe it any other way," says Alice, lying through her teeth – there are lots of other ways she could have described it.
And now for the moment of truth. "We split you into two teams," Gary informs the contestants, who finally understand what's been going on for the last four hours. Matt looks at the vote tally and makes a weird noise with his mouth. The score? 148-97, a humiliating defeat for …
KA-BOOM! A gas leak causes a sudden explosion, and we shall never know who won. We will know that we can take home Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked on Blu-Ray and DVD, however.
And now back to the aforementioned moment of truth. Having reconstructed the fireball-devastated Chinese gardens, the winner is …
BLUE! All Deb's efforts to get the best out of her team by letting someone else do everything and occasionally yelling have come to naught, and Sam's prawns have emerged triumphant. Audra is quite happy to have ended up on the blue team, and delivers a gracious speech in which she fails to mention how she almost ruined everything through utter stupidity.
But the real story is how crap the red team was, and Gary wastes no time in bitch-slapping Filippo over his rubbish bread. Likewise, Deb wastes no time in shrugging off the blame for her utter inability to figure out what the hell was going on, and blaming Mindy for failing to support her and selfishly getting on with doing the job rather than sitting in rapt attention and listening to Deb's panicked squawks.
And so, with this heart-warming display of ingratitude and backstabbing, tonight's team challenge is finally, mercifully, over, and I'm spent. Now we can move on to the night's really important issue: will Nina and Patrick break up?
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.