We've had the summer romance with MKR. We've had our heads turned by that glamorous newcomer The Voice. We've even flirted with that old kid on the block, The Block. Now old faithful is back to rekindle the romance. But is the magic still there? Will we still love MasterChef tomorrow? Or is this the beginning of the end?
The first embrace is a little awkward, as we get a brief recap of how the show went from nothing to international superstar. For some reason the Human League's Don't You Want Me springs to mind. "I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, when I met you..."
Mostly they remain nameless at this stage, which is just as well as the rejection is being thrown around like confetti at a MasterChef grand finale.
They've promised to take the show back to basics this year, and first signs are they mean it. Last year they opened with an army chopper dropping a huge crate of food onto Cockatoo Island, a mere taster of how OTT things would get; this year starts with some grainy audition tape footage. Er, maybe the sweet spot is somewhere in between, guys.
Back to basics ... MasterChef has returned to our screens. Photo: Channel Ten
Ah, that's more like it. Glossy aerial shots of Melbourne make it look like the kind of city I'd like to live in. Oh wait, I already do. Well, that was a waste of one millionth of Tourism Victoria's big spend, now, wasn't it?
Soon we're whisked inside the Convention Centre, but they've set it up so it looks like they're in a classroom, with the contestants in school chairs and the three professors up front asking why they're here. Gary grills one girl – "If you want to cook so much why haven't you done anything about it before now?" – which would be fair enough except the same could be asked of everyone and then where would we be? At TAFE, not on telly, that's where.
Anyway, she's got the perfect answer: she's only just finished school, so there.
Ben is nervous ... MasterChef 2012
Hey teacher, leave that kid alone.
Soon it becomes clear that these aren't the chosen ones, the 50 who will become the 24 who will become the two and finally the one. These are merely the pre-chosen ones, the people who have been chosen to have a chance at being chosen as the chosen ones.
Contenders come and go so quickly it's like mass speed dating. George falls in love with some misshapen balls of ricotta and we have the first of our 50. She's called Bianca, but mostly they remain nameless at this stage, which is just as well as the rejection is being thrown around like confetti at a MasterChef grand finale. No. No. No-no-no. No. Our hearts bleed for you, whoever you were.
Tastes very familiar ... one of the contestants through to the MasterChef top 50.
Eighteen-year-old Rick from the Gold Coast rocks up with his dream of bypassing his property studies and heading straight to culinary superstardom. "Why don't you just get an apprenticeship," asks George, and given that the Calombaris lad bailed on kindy aged three when he realised no amount of block stacking was going to help him rule the world, it's a reasonable query. Sadly Rick succeeds only in serving a raw pork dish that prompts another tough-but-fair question, this time from Gary: Why didn't you just cook the meat before you served it?
Never mind, Rick. There's always Selling Houses Australia.
A Muslim woman called Amina – hijab on, parentage Egyptian and Korean – says she can cook pork but won't be able to taste it. "Can't eat pork. Can you go all the way in the competition," asks Gary. "Of course you can."
Treagan goes Maltese ... MasterChef 2012
Clearly he's forgotten what happened to that vegetarian chick in season one, but never mind. They can afford to indulge a bit of that multi-culti feel-good factor at this stage; the nose-to-tail pig challenge is weeks away yet.
We're only two ad breaks in and already those interstitial teasers – MasterChef Extra indeed – are wearing mighty thin. And speaking of ads, no matter how family friendly this show is I'm not letting the kids stay up for The Bikie Wars. Nor to see Lara Bingle's boobs. Not on a school night anyway.
Meanwhile back at the ranch, Tasmanian teacher Ben is telling us he's ready to ditch the kiddies for his shot at fame – whoops, he meant "for a lifetime of poorly paid hard work interspersed with periods of being bullied in the kitchen". George says yes – well, the kindy-ditching self-made man would, wouldn't he? – but Matt says no. It's up to Gary.
A happy contestant ... MasterChef 2012
But Ben's fate is left hanging as that damned ball of flame reminds us what we hated so much about the show last year. After a break that takes almost as long as it would to swim naked from Port Melbourne to Devonport, Gary gives Ben the thumbs up.
Hey, teacher's leaving them kids alone.
Social worker Treagan goes through with a dish of Maltese ravioli and a dream of teaching juvenile drug offenders how to cook ... something other than crystal meth. Yukio the sook-i-o goes through on a tidal wave of tears and what sounds very much like a plea for a father figure. No chance of a meltdown under pressure there, then.
Happy judges ... MasterChef 2012
Queensland copper Ben has brought his bride of 15 minutes to the Melbourne audition for their honeymoon. He sure knows how to treat a girl. But not, it seems, how to treat a chick: his poultry dish looks like it has accidentally walked into a door while helping police with their inquiries.
It should be three nos, but it seems even a MasterChef judge can never have too many friends in blue, so Ben gets a lifeline, and George's help in fixing his raw chook. But it's still not good enough, and Ben knows it. Fair cop, guv. You caught me bang to rights. Just The Bill, then, and I'll be on my way.
Next up is automotive detailer Mario from Melbourne, with his dream of opening a little restaurant (woah; hold the front page!). "A nice quaint romantic little place, with a baby grand piano in the back, tinkling away," he elaborates, though you kind of wish he wouldn't.
Jumping for joy ... MasterChef 2012
"The name of this place," asks Matt.
Mario is probably a super guy, but his cliched choices and over-eagerness to please have him marked as an early contender for most annoying contestant. But once more we have to wait to discover how long he'll get to rub us up the wrong way, as his fate is left dangling over the fiery chasm that is yet another ad break.
When we come back, Gary gives him a yes. Matt and George huddle. They both think his food sucks but they like his commitment to the customer, so they send him through.
A travesty? Nah. Personally I can't wait to visit Rendezvous, where customers can send their food back to the kitchen safe in the knowledge that they're always right, any rogue pangs of conscience soothed by the gentle tinkling of a baby grand.
And with that, it's over. I've no idea how many have made it through this first cut but let's take a stab and say half of the final 50.
"Some of you will fail," says George. "And some of you will shine."
And lo and behold, the next second a title card pops up to tell us this has been a production of Shine Australia.
Oh MasterChef. It's as if you never went away.