Teams stumble on road to Shangri-La

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After the feelgood vibes of last night, when nutrition enthusiast Jamie Oliver excited the amateurs so much the MCG super-soppers were called in to dry out the kitchen floor, tonight it’s back to what MasterChef does best: ferocious competition, intense psychological stress, and multiple nervous breakdowns.

We begin, in what has become a MasterChef trademark, in the morning, with the contestants coming downstairs to discover a gang of home invaders have broken into the house to torment them with Funny Games-style physical and mental abuse. Or to put it another way, the judges are here to take them to their next challenge. George begins by informing Deb that she will need her hand, which only adds to the sense of mystery – what sort of cooking task requires the use of a hand? Hmm.

The suspense doesn't last long, as Preston informs them that they will be running the food service for guests and staff at the Shangri-La Hotel for 24 hours. Moran then informs them that he is still there, pretending to be a real judge. The winning team will win a private master class from Neil Perry on the art of ponytail maintenance, while the losing team will be pelted with rancid fruit in Martin Place.

Because viewers have been complaining that MasterChef episodes are far too short, we then watch the teams get selected via the ancient method of spoon withdrawal. We then watch Alice do a little song-and-dance thing that may get her into trouble with the International Criminal Court. Alice follows this atrocity by claiming she didn't pick Emma on her team due to her immaturity, which seems a bit like the pot calling the kettle ludicrously bespectacled.

And on it goes, the spoons being pulled and names being called and teams being assigned and Andy showing off his biceps and a gradual weary sense of the circular nature of time overwhelming us all. The end result is that all the rubbish cooks are on the red team.

Kylie knows that the challenge is going to be massive because the Shangri-La is one of the tallest buildings in the city, having somehow gotten the impression that their job is to cook an edible scale model of the hotel.

In the actual hotel kitchen, the Shangri-La chef advises the teams to keep it fresh, keep it simple, and keep it "nice and homely" – although that might have been a reference to Mario. In any event, George's advice is "start cooking", which maintains his perfect record of never giving useful advice to anyone in his entire life.

Start cooking they do, Beau immediately hurling random ingredients into a trough, and Ben deciding to make a red green curry. Over on the red team, there is curry and salad and pasta and things and it's all intensely boring. Has anyone ever noticed how much of this show is just shots of people chopping carrots? It's seriously a lot. But it's OK because it's time for an ad break and we're promised that after the break people are going to start screwing up royally.

Speaking of which, what's the deal with that NIB ad where John Paul Young starts singing and then it just stops? Did someone assassinate him? It's really weird. Maybe it's a metaphor for the way that NIB customers could have their lives abruptly snuffed out at any moment.

As indeed could MasterChef contestants, and this is looking more and more likely at the Shangri-La, which was named after a legendary mountain paradise, but seems to have been designed more to replicate Dante's Inferno. "You're in 5-star hotel cooking for 5-star employees!" yells George, dishonestly – we know that probably a lot of their employees are crap. Ben has made a curry, but has not made enough, believing that the Shangri-La is staffed exclusively by midgets on a diet.

George discovers that Kylie, on the red team, is making cold pasta, and takes great delight in publicly mocking her, because he is one of nature's bullies. "I'm coming over to your house for dinner," he says, and Kylie almost faints with relief on realising he's just posing a hypothetical, and not making a threat. Meanwhile, the rest of the red team is either burning their food, or failing to make their food hot, in a splendid continuance of the tradition of total and utter incompetence we've come to associate with the red team. Apart from the poorly cooked food and failure to finish it in time, though, they're doing OK.

The blue team is doing a little better though, getting their food ready in advance of noon, which is when the ravening hordes of the Shangri-La descend upon the staff mess hall. Andy is out the back, "pumping up the Greek salad", which is probably as disgusting as it sounds.

The red team rallies, as ten minutes late Julia presents her vegetarian curry and fails to notice Kylie's awkward attempts to flirt with her. Conversely, the blue team is struggling slightly, with drying bolognaise and the sudden disappearance of their team members. Early signs indicate that Beau has killed them and hidden their bodies in his bolognaise sauce. Ben thinks the blue team is ahead in the competition, but where he is when saying this, nobody knows.

With lunch over, the next task is what George calls "a canopy function", in which the teams must cook an interweaving network of jungle treetops in which tropical birds and monkeys will dwell. Strangely enough, despite George's instructions to make a canopy, the teams set to work on making delicate little hors d'oeuvres for some reason.

As is traditional in canapé preparation, the amateurs on both sides are making some fairly revolting things, such as "zucchini flowers", which is a foodstuff that pops up a lot on MasterChef despite having originated as a prophet's fever dream in the Book of Revelation. George meets with the hotel chef, who expresses his doubts about these amateurs' ability to do his job perfectly without any experience – losers. He then emits a massive ball of fire in George's face.

Having earlier suffered NIB's warning that we may be murdered at any time, the next round of health insurance bullying features iSelect's promise that if we don't buy insurance this very second they will bend us over and make us carry a fish tank on our backs. When did the insurance industry get so sadistic?

No time to ponder this question, because quickly we are back to the old-fashioned type of sadism on MasterChef. The cocktail party has begun, and the teams must redouble their efforts to make their canopies – but they're still making the finger-food and confusion reigns supreme. Beau is candying his radicchio, which seems an unwise thing to do in what is supposed to be a hygienic workplace. Cut to Andy, who regales us with tales of body-horror from his basketball career, and then back to George and the angry Canadian chef, who reflect once more on just how awful the red team is.

It's possible the red team's struggles are due to the fact Kylie seems to have to do everything – AND pop out every thirty seconds to record a piece to camera. "They're getting peckish," calls George, but these pathetic little baubles of mouse-food aren't going to solve that problem.

Sweaty Sam steps out of the kitchen and immediately begins dripping his bodily fluids all over the international jet set, while Kylie, who only sweats via her personality, is last out and begins thrusting some enormous scallop-slabs at a bunch of fashion models. “The canapé challenge couldn’t have gone better.” asserts Sam, the camera cutting away before he can add, "unless I'd have worn some Lynx or something".

Anyway that unpleasantness is over and we’re moving into the second shift, which unfortunately for the guests at the Shangri-La means Filippo prowling around the hotel in the middle of the night. He begins by setting the hotel on fire.

If YOU have to work through the night in a 500-room hotel, you should try slamming down a Red Bull – the energy drink that gives zebras the ability to slaughter crocodiles.

Back at the hotel, Tregan seems nervous about doing room service, possibly because of the difficulties of moving between floors on roller skates. But the red team begins with a sense of energy and purpose, as their night shift has replaced the day shift’s sweat and panic with the strong, decisive leadership of Skipper Amina.

Almost immediately, orders begin coming in to the kitchen, which comes as quite a surprise to the amateurs. "We don't serve crap here," says head chef Steve to Filippo, forcing the red team to rethink its strategy. He then calls, "It doesn't matter what team you're on". forcing the entire MasterChef production crew to rethink its strategy. Steve, in fact, is becoming quite resentful of the entire exercise and looks about five seconds away from slapping Gary's face and demanding his real staff back.

This part of the show involves a lot of steam and shouting things like "Prawns up!" and "Dumplings two minutes!" and other weird phrases that don't really mean anything. Meanwhile Jules is roaming the corridors, infiltrating strangers' rooms and snooping through their personal effects. Tregan is trying to do the same, but the trolley is too heavy and she begins to bitch about not being trained to do the job, a common occupational hazard for those who skip the training process and attempt to take reality TV shortcuts to their chosen career.

It's 11pm and a roomful of women are drinking heavily and squawking like cockatoos in their hotel room, which inexplicably contains several television cameras. Downstairs, Steve relays their order to the amateurs, and Tregan realises she’s not trained to remember things that people say to her either.

One of the hazards of watching a show like MasterChef is that the delicious food on display can really stoke the appetite, causing the viewer to overeat. So it's lucky they include commercials in which the words "light bladder leakage" are used, to ensure that appetite is stopped in its tracks.

Back at the hotel, the oddly subdued hens' night, in which nobody is wearing anything inappropriate on their head, continues, while Tregan burns her burger buns and tries to cover them with mayonnaise. "How much do you like getting yelled at?" asks Steve upon seeing this, and the answer is apparently "quite a lot", judging by her demented giggling immediately thereafter.

It is time for both teams to deliver their room service to the hens, and for Filippo to quietly hide under a table so he can watch the ladies eat. For their part, the hens quite like the food, but apparently the portions are a bit too big. This is the second time tonight that someone has complained about getting too much food, which makes one wonder if the Shangri-La is a special hotel catering exclusively to the mentally disadvantaged. This impression is reinforced by Steve, who declares, "Our guests don't sleep" – this sounds a bit unlikely.

Mindy is disturbed by a huge midnight room service order which she clearly suspects is the work of a secret torture club, and she rebels by cracking an egg on a filthy stovetop, for which Steve berates her, at which she laughs. What is it with these people? How about they show a bit of contrition for their horrible crimes against cookery?

Anyway the room service order was for Matt Preston surprise surprise, who is staying in the Presidential Suite in the company of some truly incandescent pyjamas and the remains of the original guests.

The long dark night of the soul over, the night shift stagger deliriously out, and the morning shift shuffles in to boil eggs and toast muffins and in Deb's case probably cut her finger clean off this time. Deb is working with "Andrew" on the blue team, so it's fairly clear just how high a priority breakfast is in this challenge.

"I need to crack SIXTY DOZEN EGGS!" cries Alice, sprinkling invisible pixie dust in the air to emphasise just what an outrage this is. Meanwhile Mario, who has thus far defied all known laws of physics by still being on the show, is on bacon detail, lugging about the mortal remains of several generations of unhappy pigs.

Steve notes that the breakfast detail seems a little nervous, which is probably a result of them representing the most inept people in the competition. Speaking of which, Alice is drowning a wok in soy sauce as she explains the intricacies of Asian culture for the audience. Meanwhile, Deb is crying for help. "There’s a lot going on!" she yelps as, in the grip of terror-flushed dementia, she begins slopping dobs of yellow mush on a stove to no obvious useful purpose.

"Is this bacon acceptable?" Mario asks, as if he doesn't know the answer. So far from being acceptable, it is ground zero at a piggery bombing, and Steve is visibly restraining himself from strangling him. But this is as nothing compared to the story of "Andrew" and the hash browns …

Not sure anything on this show looks as delicious as a bag of Jelly Joiners, to be honest.

A quick and much-appreciated "MasterChef Extra Taste" pokes its head around the door to show us Alice unnerving breakfasters in the hotel dining room …

And we're back to Sydney, the city where cars run freakishly fast over the Harbour Bridge, and amateur chefs disgrace themselves with soggy hash browns. It's "Andrew's" turn to feel the sharp sting of Degrassi refugee Steve's vicious tongue, as his soggy browns are hurled into the bin, because the Shangri-La is nothing if not dedicated to wasting food. "I feel like jumping in the deep fryer," says "Andrew", finally achieving a point of exquisite empathy with the viewers at home.

The contest is neck-and-neck, though, as Mario sees "Andrew's" revolting hash browns, and raises him a plate of hideously mishandled omelette. The stakes just keep getting higher in these two men's fiercely-fought battle of incompetence.

In the kitchen, Preston speaks to the head of PR for the Shangri-La about the hotel’s generous offer to allow some plucky aspiring chefs to gain experience in their kitchen purely out of the goodness of its kind corporate heart. While they do so, Alice serves up eggs to customers, making sure nobody gets anything to eat without engaging in an intensely unwanted conversation that will cause them to develop a lifelong phobia of enormous glasses. Back in the kitchen, "Andrew" is still struggling to master the intricate mysteries of the hash brown, stack after stack being hurled into the rubbish and Steve continuing his Full Metal Jacket act in the amateur hash brownist’s ear.

Emma is also there, apparently, but she doesn’t have her beanie on, so it’s a bit hard to take her seriously. Anyway she’s overcooked some scrambled eggs, because that’s just how this challenge is going.

Time is up! The challenge is finished, and Alice says everything went "eggsactly to plan", because she literally does not care what anyone on earth thinks of her.

And of course it is time for the most important part of any challenge – the random shots of Sydney landmarks. Once that's out of the way we can get to the judging. Gary asks the amateurs how they went, and Ben enthuses about how great it is to look at ladies. For her part, Emma says that Steve asked her if she still wanted to be a chef, but she has seemingly not taken the hint.

George takes over proceedings, and tells the contestants what they did last night, in case they hit their heads on something in the elevator. The first red shift did well in the kitchen, while the blue team made good food but forgot the crucial step of being present to give it to the diners – rookie mistake. Everyone has a bit more of a chuckle about how attractive young men find young women to be. On the night shift, the blue team fell down by forgetting to make their food hot – rookie mistake.

And finally, we move on to the breakfast shift, and to everyone’s lasting sorrow, Matt Moran is going to talk. He runs through a list of the horrible mistakes everyone made in the morning, reminding Mario of his terrible bacon and “Andrew” of his terrible hash browns and Mario of his terrible omelettes and "Andrew" of some more terrible hash browns. Yet, despite those hash browns, the blue team won breakfast, proving that Mario really does go the extra mile when it comes to stuffing up.

But then, the red team won the dinner shift! Meaning that it's 1-1! And the final shift will be the decider! Nobody saw that coming! It’s amazing!

So the lunch shift is the crucial one, and the winner of that crucial shift was…

The BLUE team! So "Andrew" once more dodges a metaphorical bullet, and is well on his way to dodging some literal ones, and yet again red goes down, sparking suspicions that the judges are at this stage just awarding points based on their favourite colour.

And so, with 24 hours of passionate toil reduced to hollow judgment, the amateurs learn a valuable lesson about the pettiness of modern pop culture and the ephemeral nature of their chosen profession, and we move on, to tomorrow, when the blue team will feast and laugh at the pathetic losers slaving away in elimination. It is a cruel world, and MasterChef continues to emphasise that every night.

For there is blood in the water, and we can all appreciate its bouquet.

Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.