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All at sea over fish and chips

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It's MasterChef time again, and the episode opens with sweeping panoramas of a strange new city, with a strange new voice over and a strange new theme song. In fact, if it wasn't for an overwhelming sense that somebody was going to burst into tears soon, I'd question whether I was watching MasterChef at all.

A determined group of professional chefs wander down an fairly unconvincing alleyway and into an even less convincing locker room, the design of both illustrating unnerving similarities between big-budget reality television and low-budget erotica.

A montage of the preceding week follows, and we are reminded of Matt, the guy with the unsanitary hat who encouraged everyone to follow their dreams, and Anthony, the guy with the undignified exit who encouraged everyone to shut the hell up.

Cassie tells us that when she puts on her chef whites she becomes a different person, and that's who she really is. In light of this identity crisis, we are all slightly confused as to who is speaking to us right now – is it Cassie the talented young chef, or is it Cassie the person in ordinary clothes who cannot cook at all?

The irrepressible force that is Marco Pierre White welcomes everyone to the kitchen in a syrupy baritone. Poetry flows from his mouth and a dangerous charisma radiates from his very core. The women of Australia wonder whether it's really all that healthy to be so attracted to someone who is almost certain at some stage to murder them horribly.

A brand new challenge awaits our chef-hopefuls – the "Reinvention Test". Each week the contestants must take a classic dish that is perfectly fine the way it is and artfully mould it into something that contains far more adjectives.


As the winner of the previous challenge, Akuc must pull a knife from a block to decide which dish all the contestants will tackle. A swift draw of steel later and we find out that it's that most classic of classics – fish and chips.

Marco describes his adolescent experiences by the seaside as “dreamy”, “magical” and “special” and it takes us all a moment to realise with horror that he is not actually talking about fish and chips AT ALL.

Akuc is despondent. Being from Sudan, she has never eaten fish and chips, let alone cooked them. In fact, she's never even seen a fish or been in the same room as a potato.

Cassie is in much higher spirits. She has the unique experience of growing up around fish and chips, so this challenge is one that plays right to her particular strength of having eaten ordinary foods.

Cooking commences, and after a false start and a stern word from Matt Preston, Rhett is struggling to come up with an inventive dish. This is surprising to everyone but most of all to Rhett, who by his own frank admission is so amazing that he should be finding this challenge a walk in the park.

Coop is crafting some ingeniously crispy parsnip chips into a collar, which will be filled with an aerated fish mousse. He's struggling with his mousse, but that difficulty is nothing compared to his struggles as a young father with a heart of gold, trying hard to get the best medical care for his sick daughter. As we are shown scenes of Coop playing with his young girl, we discover that Marco isn't the only one that's good at making people cry.

Akuc again reminds us that she's never eaten fish and chips before, and Rhett again reminds us that he is awesome; and for some reason, I don't think it's the last time we've heard either of these two pieces of information.

Chrissie tells us that she has to get her dish on the plate or she's going home. With this revelation it's reassuring to know that after nine separate series of MasterChef over the past five years, the importance of actually serving food to the judges is something we've been intuitive enough to correctly pick up on.

She's cooking her fish en papillote, which is French for “incorrectly”, and Marco strolls over to advise her that she's doing pretty much everything wrong.

Rhys, having learned almost nothing from the five-course seafood tasting plate that sent Anthony home last week, is making five separate elements for his reinvented fish and chips. The major difference of course being that Rhys' dish involves beer and coconuts, so I have to confess that I'm a little excited.

Akuc now tells us that she's never made batter before, because that's another thing they don't have in Sudan. It would seem appropriate at this time to point out to Akuc that, rather than just the experiences of her early childhood in the Sudan, in this challenge she is also allowed to draw inspiration from her many years of training as a professional chef in some of Australia's best kitchens.

Marco approaches Akuc and tells her that her idea of frying fish in batter and serving it with fried potatoes sounds very original. Akuc thanks him, because apparently they don't have sarcasm in Sudan either.

Ninety minutes is almost up and Marco paces back and forth through the kitchen, repeatedly shouting the number “15”. We assume is the amount of time remaining, but before we can clarify he knocks 246 toothpicks onto the ground, reminds everyone that he is an excellent driver, and informs us that “Qantas never crashes.”

A few frantic moments later and the challenge is over. Rhett summons every ounce of modesty he has in his body to tell us that his dish is amazing and that it should be on the menu at his restaurant. And with that it's on to the tasting.

Coop is first up and his food is cooked impeccably, but Matt's seen it all before. He's disappointed that Coop hasn't used his time in this challenge to invent an entirely new method of cooking. In the interests of full-disclosure I should mention that I have worked with Coop before, and that this may be influencing my opinion that this criticism of Coop has exposed Matt as a heartless monster.

Akuc comes forward with a plate of battered fish and deep-fried potatoes, bringing the list of things we now know that are not present in Sudan to: fish, chips, batter, sarcasm, and the concept of “reinvention” itself.

Cameron has not actually cooked any food, but his impressively architectural diorama of a castle and a lighthouse wins him a gold star from the judges.

Rhett's crispy fried coral trout wings with taro chips and a chilli-ginger sauce is a winner, exciting both judges; and Rhys' five-element dish has succeeded where the now-eliminated chef-to-the-stars Anthony had failed. We can only imagine what colour Anthony is turning at home as he watches this.

Chrissie has not fared so well and the judges are not impressed with her fish and chips that she has reinvented to, well, fish and chips. She bursts into tears and Marco puts his arm around her, whispering into her ear.

After months of advertisements espousing Marco's prowess at forcing people to cry, we are now expected to believe he is equally good at making them stop. Right now, I would not be at all surprised if back at home he had a large room just full of tiny vials of tears – all neatly labelled and catalogued by name, date and reason for issue. He just comes across like that kind of guy.

Cassie's de-constructed English classic is a hit with the judges, drawing praise for the little mound of malt vinaigrette foam that identifies this dish as “modern” and distinct from all the years that the human race stupidly ate food that hadn't been turned into gels or foams.

The top three dishes in this challenge belong to Rhett, Cassie and Rhys, and today Rhett has emerged victorious, despite his crippling lack of self-belief.

Akuc and Chrissie are the bottom two, and Marco tells us that in this competition a dish that is “good is not good enough”. Neither, apparently, is dish that is “not good” and Chrissie is told she's going home.

Chrissie cries. Bonny cries. Akuc cries. Some other people probably cried too but I couldn't see them because I think I was crying.

We've often been told of Marco Pierre White's past success in making Gordon Ramsay cry, but what we weren't told is that, in fairness to Gordon, it would appear that Marco just makes everyone cry. Whether it is the intimidating projection of his iron will or an overwhelming personal odour of onions, we cannot know through the medium of traditional television.

Chrissie exits the MasterChef kitchen for the last time, disappointed with the fortunes of the day, but with her head held high in the knowledge that just last week she won praise from one of the world's best chefs and one of the world's best food critics for her berry and almond tart.

But that's the way it is in the world of MasterChef: sometimes you're riding high on the crest of a wave, and sometimes you're dumped hard and fast into a cruel sea of tears.