A visit from the ghosts of seasons past
Julie Goodwin returns to the MasterChef ktichen.
We are all haunted by ghosts, be they the ghosts of our childhoods, the ghosts of our life failures, or the ghosts of those we've killed. But even reality shows, it turns out, can have ghosts – the ghosts of those who have previously walked away triumphantly from these ketchup-stained benches, successfully re-integrating into normal human society. Tonight it is those ghosts who float menacingly about the amateurs' heads, moaning, "Ooooooooh! We're better cooks than youuuuuuuuuu!"
We open early in the morning in the MasterChef house, where the ladies are awake far too early, having been roused by the sound of the camera crew setting up in their bedroom on the off-chance that they're about to have a completely spontaneous conversation about which challenges they find the most difficult.
Quickly we are off to the kitchen, where today's mystery box is … the absence of a mystery box. There's nothing on the benches, meaning the contestants will have to catch and kill their own meals. "It's a big week, and the big week starts now," says George, making it clear from the outset that this will definitely be the week in which everything stays the same as other weeks.
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Matt has some more hints to impart, telling them that instead of ONE mystery box, they will choose from THREE, each one prepared by "an ordinary Australian – one a lawyer, the others mums, each with three kids … or they were before they walked into this kitchen". Having conveyed the disturbing message that once you enter the MasterChef kitchen, your children are either murdered or abducted, he then introduces the three previous MasterChef winners: Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw and Kate Bracks, in a last-ditch effort to find some way to get the contestants to learn how to cook. Kate begins by advertising her new book and saying she has no regrets.
What we don't see, of course, is the vast majority of previous contestants, who didn't win and whose lives have been completely destroyed.
The mystery boxes contain the past winners' five favourite ingredients. The amateurs must choose the boxes without seeing inside them. Do they want Adam's exotic flavours, Julie's down-to-earth homeliness, or Kate's whatever it is Kate does?
Those who have selected Julie's box will have to cook with ricotta, eggplant, tinned tomatoes, and cheap unappetising beef, so they really won the gourmet jackpot. Those who chose Adam's will have to cook with some weird stuff that I suspect isn't even Australian. Those who chose Kate's will have to cook chocolate, figs and honey, because Kate was on heavy medication when she made her selection. Emma is so excited she begins to cry, her normal reaction at times of immense emotional upheaval or excitement or times when an ant crawls across her shoe.
Speaking of immense emotional upheaval, we are building to the final episode of House MD, and frankly I am getting a touch of the Emmas myself, if you know what I mean.
But for now, all is focused on the kitchen, where the mystery box challenge starts, and Emma immediately runs to the studio to record a quick piece to camera and let us know that today will be a "big challenge". Meanwhile, the past winners watch the frantic amateurs and laugh mockingly at their pain, and Mindy tells us that Adam loves cooking with Asian flavours, which is perfect for her because she is into cultural imperialism.
Audra, the female Adam, is also cooking with Adam's box – so to speak – and gets to work braising her pork belly – if you know what I mean. George gives her some advice on using a pressure cooker, and Audra shows she understands by telling him "It needs to be BLECCH!"
Deb is cooking a sticky caramel fig cake for no reason that is immediately apparent. Gary asks her what could go wrong, and Deb cheerfully admits the answer is "everything", showing canny self-awareness. Kate advises that you should always have a back-up plan. Deb takes this on board and begins digging an escape tunnel to the outside world.
Everything is a blur, as we watch cakes and pastry and Alice's glasses whiz by before the camera, and Emma begins running for her life, but is hunted down by scooter-riding guards and returned to the kitchen.
Meanwhile, Sam is sweating into a bowl of meat. Julie approaches to squeeze his meat a bit and make sure it's juicy. If you get my drift. As the judges convene, Gary expresses his hope that Mindy will do "something sexy with spring onions", as years of the celebrity life has left him jaded and yearning for new thrills. However, Mindy is concentrating on figuring out what "kimchi" is, as like all of us she suspects that Adam has just made it up.
Just as the Australian public suspects that Lara Bingle has just made up her nude photo scandal. Oh no! How will Lara get out of this one? It sure is tough, Being Lara Bingle!
Back in the kitchen, Emma is struggling, but for some reason Gary thinks this is unusual enough to bother mentioning. Mind you, looking at the ice-cream cone she's trying to put together, this is looking like a bizarre cataclysm even by her standards. George is worried by Wade's mad scientist experiments with pork, and by his sinister eyebrows, while Matt has deep reservations over Sam's pastry – he's not sure that it's supposed to have such a high sweat content.
Filippo, though, is going swimmingly, with his cake in the oven, his ice-cream in the ice-cream machine, and his victims bound and gagged beneath the floorboards. On the other hand, "Andrew" has decided to step out of his comfort zone and go for the unknown, because he reasons that since every time he has done exactly that in the past it's been a dismal failure, he's due for a change of luck. Julie is impressed by how cleanly they work. Kate wants Deb to thin out her custard. Sam has gone insane. Wade's evil plan comes to fruition as his well-trained oil leaps hungrily from its pot and hideously burns Audra. The sun passes through the sky and the vultures gather above the kitchen.
Elsewhere, Filippo's pudding has gone wrong, because it probably heard him expressing confidence, and followed its orders from the producers to punish Filippo for any and all public expressions of self-belief.
"If you're not panicking now, now's the time to!" Matt bellows. Don't worry Matt, they're panicking now, it's fine. As Filippo tries to salvage something from the battered corpse of his pudding, "Andrew" drizzles some kind of weird slop over his plate of weird chunks of weird stuff, and Wade sticks pins into an Audra voodoo doll, the judges count down, and the challenge is over!
We will break briefly though, for a public service announcement by Al Pacino, on the horrific consequences of coffee overdoses. Poor, poor man.
Back on the kitchen floor, and George tells the contestants what the challenge is, though it's a bit late because it's over. If only they'd known beforehand.
Up steps Sam to show off his savoury strudel, which is his attempt to cook like Julie Goodwin, but with more bodily fluids. "It strangely works," says Gary, unable to restrain his mirth at Sam's hamfisted attempts to act like a proper grown-up person. Everyone applauds, none the wiser as to what just happened.
Next up, Audra, who's combined pork and eggs to make a dish you might call "pork and eggs". Gary loves the presentation, as if that means a damn thing, and it's true that Audra's egg does ooze beautifully – wink wink. Gary loves the dish because it looks simple, but also a little bit sophisticated, like Zooey Deschanel. "There's not much to say," says Adam, before going on to prove himself wrong.
It's Debra, who has made a cake that looks lovely, but she has made a basic error and cooked it upside down. An upside down cake? Absurd! Matt shows his disdain, barking, "Eat me!" at the hapless Deb. However, once the judges have joined together to dribble their custard all over Deb's sticky cake – you see where I'm going with this – everything turns out fine, and Debra's wickedness continues to go unpunished.
And now we move on to Filippo's what-the-hell pudding, which, he informs us in technical chef jargon, he cut out "with a cutter". Those words have chilled the heart of many a lone drifter in the past.
These days, we use our credit cards for almost everything. Shouldn't YOU take advantage of ANZ Frequent Flyer to go deeper into debt, the fun way?
But anyway, the moment of truth has arrived for Filippo, who fingers the bone saw behind his back as he waits for Gary's judgment. His pudding is heavy, but at least his ice-cream doesn't taste of fig, so it's not a total loss. George, for his part, doesn't see much honesty on the plate. When will the lies stop, Filippo? Why can't your pudding just tell the damn truth? George tells him to stop trying to make things "restauranty", which is a bit rich coming from the creator of the deconstructed Greek salad.
We then rush through Andy, Jules and Kylie with loud rock music to make it clear that their dishes are too uninteresting to have a chance at winning. And then it's on to Mindy, who has aroused Gary's baser passions with her spring onion pancakes, and impressed Matt with meat that "cracks like a rifle shot" in his mouth – the gunpowder-stuffed pork is a success.
Wade steps up, and the heavy bass on the soundtrack does not augur well for him. George is disgusted by his meat and his revolting fish sauce and his roti bread, which is so disappointing George can't even bring himself to pronounce it properly. Adam reminds Wade that he's here to make tasty food, because it's becoming clear Wade thinks he's there to do something very different.
Emma steps up, on the verge of tears already because she knows what she's made – some ice-cream cone thingy. Gary attacks her mercilessly for not making enough for everyone, and then viciously dissects the cone with a knife, gutting it like a fish. Gary liked the ice-cream, but thinks Emma should have done more in 90 minutes, which is a bit unfair – everyone else just has to cook, but Emma has to cook AND cry AND run around in circles, and there just is not time to fit everything in.
Now it's "Andrew's" turn, and Matt wonders if today is the day he will finally live up to his promise and poison everyone. It turns out that, in defiance of known natural laws, "Andrew" has cooked something quite good, and the kitchen erupts in applause, the other amateurs being smart enough to know their chances of winning are vastly increased while he remains one of their competitors.
Anyway, everyone's dishes have been tasted and so it is time to be consumed by flames. A quick reminder of how livingsocial.com.au can help you meet coloured limbless blobs just like you, and –
Wait, what about Alice? Did they taste Alice's dish? What happened? Did I miss that? Have they finally got fed up with those glasses? Or did she get out while she could and flee across the open plains? And what about Amina? What did she make? I don't even know. Racism?
Tregan and Beau got left out too I think, but I don't really care about that.
Anyway, back in what has turned out to be a very bigoted kitchen, and judging is being done. Mindy is one of the best cooks, and frankly is getting a bit too big for her britches – though that may just be all the rich food she's been eating. Audra has also done well, and says "I didn't expect that", because she is a liar. They also loved Deb's dish, and she cackles with delight before disappearing in a puff of smoke. "Andrew" has also done well, and goes prancing about like some kind of man who anyone likes. The actual WINNER, though, is…
No, actually it's Audra, and she buries her face in her hands, overwhelmed by the honour and muttering to herself "I will make them all kneel".
George now announces there will be some sad news, and a pall descends over the kitchen. But then it turns out it's just that three contestants will be up for elimination. That's not sad – that happens every week. Filippo has failed, his hubris laying him low again. Wade has also failed, his attempt to burn Audra to death backfiring. And the final contestant to go through to elimination…
Emma, who didn't make enough ice-creams for the judges, who are greedy and crave ever-more food to cram into their overstuffed gullets. Emma bursts into tears, because it's been three minutes since she last burst into tears, and says, "I heard a great saying, turn a setback into a comeback, and that's what I'm gonna do". Emma is likely to do well in the pressure test, which is actually an inspirational sayings-off. She goes on to inform us that she is terrified of the pressure test, but "I just have to keep myself safe", which is wise, given she's up against Wade the Hot Oil Assassin and Filippo, whose bloodlust grows daily.
Tune in next time to see just who will go on to keep making up the numbers a few days more!
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.