The judges are unimpressed by this filleting job.
We begin with a reminder of what happened last night, when Dalinda was paid the compliment of hearing her curry was the best curry ever eaten by a man who hates curries. We are then pitched headfirst into tonight's episode, as the remaining blank-aproned contestants enter the kitchen to be gloated over by the seven successful ones and have Gary waggle an apron at them.
Gary promises an "epic challenge", and "epic" is quickly revealed, in culinary terms, to mean "involving an enormous fish", as Matt Moran enters with a salmon slung over his shoulder, apparently here to send an important message to a rival family. He proceeds to demonstrate how to fillet and pin-bone the fish, proving once and for all that fish really isn’t worth the effort.
The stakes in the salmon challenge are high – ten will compete, and five will go home. Preston asks who's feeling courageous today, and all the contestants lie. Beau confesses that he doesn't give up when it gets tough, for some reason thinking this will be helpful in some way. George asks Ben if he has an advantage, since both he and the salmon are from Tasmania, and the most important thing in cooking fish is understanding the fish's background and upbringing.
Those who wish to take the salmon challenge step forward, and must draw numbered knives to decide who gets to do it, because apparently this episode was running short and needed padding. Mario draws a blank, causing a sigh of relief among the salmon. Filippo also draws an un-numbered knife, which he will now take home to finger and mutter darkly to himself while staring at his housemates. We then cut to an ad for the Army Reserve as a subtle hint to those who fail tonight’s challenge, and learn a great tip from George Calombaris: why not use "butter" in your food?
Back to Melbourne, and we see a tram and some people at a café, which is basically all the city has to offer. In the kitchen the amateurs are going hammer and tongs at their salmon, and the audience is caught up in the tension and drama of trying to remember their names. Athena lovingly runs her fingers along the inside of the salmon, whispering that she loves it and ordering it to rub the lotion on its skin. Preston steps up to remind her of the baby she's left at home, as the best thing you can have while cooking to a deadline is a sense of crippling guilt. Gary arrives to further undermine her by asking "why on earth" she would put herself forward for the challenge, as MasterChef lives up to its promise that in Season 4, we would be going back to the basics – bullying.
Sam the farm boy, who has wide experience in slaughtering animals and drifters, has filleted his fish perfectly, and is rewarded by having Matt Moran rub his dirty hands all over it. Meanwhile Gary is telling George and Matt how much he loves this challenge, news which they receive in gentle good humour. They share a touching salmon-related moment and Gary says "clean" a few times, before we move on to Alice, who loves smoked salmon cream cheese bagels so much that she has decided not to make one today. Instead she is making salmon consommé, which Matt Moran makes fairly clear is an incredibly stupid decision. However, as a teacher Alice always tells her students to attempt to do things they are obviously incapable of, and so she is fairly confident that her insane over-confidence will pay off. We also learn she has quit her job and hasn't told her parents yet, and then she pulls a face suggesting she has suffered a major stroke.
Cut to some kid from McDonald's who wants the judges to eat some scales. And then whats-her-name, who is trying to remove her fish's scales but succeeds only in earning Gary's savage mockery. Then Sean, who admits that being told he's destroyed his fillet is "alarming".
Gary advises that it's time to think about what will make the fish delicious, though to be honest it might have been a good idea to think about that before now. Wade admits that he's never smoked anything before, meaning those eyebrows are a complete mystery. George tells Moran that Wade has taken a risk. Moran thanks George for the tip. It is agreed that Sam is excellent at filleting fish, and that Alice is out of her freaking mind. Meanwhile whats-her-name has lit a fire to attract help.
Why not spoil your mum this Mother's Day with some overpriced Pandora jewellery? Or some Dulcolax constipation tablets?
Back to the kitchen, and as the judges yell the countdown, the contestants make their last-second efforts to cover up their hideously botched dishes. Alice, concerned, confides that "the only thing is … so many things that could go wrong", causing all to worry about the maths skills of her students.
It's time to taste the dishes, and the first one to present her dish on the unnecessarily-far-away table is Alice. "Are you glad you backed yourself?" asks George, giving Alice yet another opportunity to lie on national TV. George is worried about the idea of a salmon consommé, but believes the proof is in the pudding, demonstrating his utter confusion as to what's going on around him.
Alice has cooked it beautifully! George loves her idea of a bagel (ie, a dish that does not contain a bagel), and all is well.
Up steps Athena with her pan-fried salmon, to face the wrath of well-known plate-hurler Matt Preston. Matt takes his time with the fish, and pronounces it well-cooked to a lilting guitar soundtrack. Gary has a taste, and questions Athena's scale-intensive approach to serving salmon, while also admitting he "doesn't get" the saffron aioli, cruelling Athena's hopes of a career as an aioli comic.
Now it's time for another contestant and frankly these tastings are seriously starting to drag, but proceedings are livened up by Preston's heavily eroticised description of salmon-flesh. He loves her dish, but that doesn't help me remember her name. Then there's Sean, who has displeased George, and Lucy, who displeases Matt. Then comes dude I've never seen before, who therefore will almost certainly be eliminated.
Next is, apparently, Josh Thomas, who is blatantly sucking up to the judges by cooking his salmon "en papillote". Despite this toadying, Gary finds his dish so good that it is worthy of emotional piano music, and it's just possible that Josh won't have to go back to flipping burgers.
And now Wade, who has quit his job on Sesame Street to pursue his food dream, and has taken a big risk by cooking something really stupid. Matt Moran is disappointed that his dish isn't dirty Cajun rice, though honestly that seems like a point in its favour, even more so when he explains that there should be a liver in there. Basically Wade's mistake seems to be that he hasn't made his dish disgusting enough. Nevertheless it is now time for the world to explode, and relax by considering the benefits of convenient sachets of Uncle Toby's oats, as recommended by Charlie Bucket.
No time to dwell on oats when there is judging to be done. Moran, toying with his prey, says he likes Wade's dish, but who knows if it can overcome the handicap of not being filled with repulsive offal?
Now it is what's-her-name, who drops a bombshell by revealing her name is actually Fiona. Gary starts off by criticising her pathologically violent approach to salmon, but follows up by calling her dish tasty, and finishes by turning his back and stalking off in a huff.
Now it’s Sam's turn, who must undergo the brutal Mafiosi glare of Moran. Moran likes Sam's dish, but still manages to give the impression he wants to cave his skull in with an axe.
It is time – FINALLY – for judgement to be delivered. Five contestants will see their dream stay alive for another day, while five will be rendered worthless husks of humanity. The first apron goes to someone called Tregan – really, that's her name, seriously. The next apron goes to Alice and her enormous spectacles. The third apron goes to Wade, or as his friends call him, "Daddy Warbucks". The fourth apron goes to Matthew, who is so excited he begins puberty. Matthew wasn't confident, saying he was ready to walk out the doors – although that might have just been exasperation with how long the judges were taking to get to the point. And the final apron goes to an enormous ball of fire, meaning that before we learn who's going through we have to watch that idiot girl who bullies her father into eating chips he doesn't want.
And we're back – oh wait, no we're not, it's a "MasterChef extra taste", isn't that nice. What the HELL is that about, Channel Ten? Seriously, WHAT THE HELL? What perverted focus group led you to the conclusion, "Know what viewers LOVE? Thinking an ad break is over but then finding out it's not. That'll really hook 'em!" I mean, Jesus Christ, when did TV networks start allowing drunken work experience kids to make programming decisions?
Anyway soon we'll get to know the real Lara Bingle, so that's something.
Oh, and the final apron goes to Sam, which is nice for him, but not so nice for Athena, who now has to go home, breaking all our hearts. Gary announces that this is a once in a lifetime experience, just rubbing in the fact they'll never get the chance again.
And so we say goodbye to MasterChef again as – wait, what? There's another challenge? An hour in and we start a whole new challenge? What drug-addled madness is this?
The new challenge is to turn cream into butter, a vital skill for any chef to know in case they ever travel through the Cave of Time and have to find work in the 17th century. And so the remaining amateurs set to madly whisking their cream in a veritable frenzy of suggestive visual metaphors. Amazingly, some of the contestants have never made butter before, causing us to wonder just why they would enter a competition like MasterChef without first ensuring they were capable of doing completely pointless tasks. Of course, what the judges aren't saying is that the real way to win the challenge is to run out and buy a stick of Western Star.
"We don’t want wet butter!" bellows Gary with rather too much enthusiasm. Andy, though, is told, "it's nice and firm, there's no liquid coming out of it", which frankly makes my job far too easy. We then have a brief interlude to find out how choosing the right car insurance can result in having creepy island women rub your feet.
But back in Melbourne there is no time for disturbing foot-rubs – there's butter to be made. And … washed? Whatever. We find that Andy's firm, dry butter is insufficient. Anastasia's butter is even less adequate, but Beau's … Beau's is 146g, and so the celebrations are unrestrained – 146 grams of butter that is not wet, and he will be receiving a mysterious advantage. OOH! What could it be?
Like all contestants in this situation, Beau hopes his advantage in tomorrow's challenge will be the chance to sprinkle anthrax over his competitors' dishes, but unfortunately it's just the chance to see what the ingredient will be for the pressure test. George reveals the ingredient. Beau doesn't know what it is. The butter challenge is exposed as meaningless in every way. However, Shannon Bennett will be the guest chef on tomorrow's episode, so the mystery ingredient is probably greasy hair.
And so we leave the contestants and move on to MasterChef – Where Are They Now? The answer to which is mostly, at home crying because they didn't get far enough in the competition to be asked to appear on MasterChef – Where Are They Now?
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.