Plate expectations ... nothing gets past the eagle eye of Shannon Bennett. Photo: Supplied
No one is going home this episode. No one is going through to the final, either.
Yet here we are atop the Rialto Towers in Melbourne for MasterChef. Three young cooks gather to prove their mettle to the blue-eyed, wild-haired, three-hatted Shannon Bennett, head chef at Vue de Monde.
Brent, Emelia and Jamie are battling for an advantage heading in to the final. They are to preside over one course each, working alongside a Vue De Monde counterpart.
The dish is selected by a knife draw, Gary announces, smiling as if remembering the knife draws of his youth.
Emelia chooses the number one knife and opts for the deceptively difficult eggs on toast, which is not really eggs on toast at all but something that involves pear and truffle purée.
Shannon has warned her that this is the most difficult dish but Emelia has a pathological craving for personal development through adversity.
"We really need to be pushed for finals week," she says.
She is still high on her crazy-brave soft-shell crab coup.
Brent gets the second knife and goes for the wagyu beef skewers main. He seems happy.
Jamie, left with dessert, must make a soufflé with chocolate ice cream and grated tonka bean. The last time Jamie made soufflé was when he was 11. His faint moustache twinges with displeasure but he holds himself together.
"Follow the recipe, knock out a good soufflé, how hard can it be?" Jamie asks.
So hard, Jamie, so hard.
Then they're off, prepping their hearts out before the masses arrive, hungry for the most expensive eggs on toast they could ever dream of.
Shannon has his doubts about Emelia. "I think she underestimated the duck egg entree," he says.
Meanwhile, Jamie has already come undone with his soufflé.
"It's lumpy," Jamie says, staring desolately into the mixture. It's because of the size of the grate of the tonka bean, of course.
Brent is under pressure with his wagyu beef too, wondering "how am I supposed to catch up?"
"I've got a lot of elements to do and not a great deal of time to do them," he says, characteristically concise.
Emelia is approaching her eggs with the calm of a cyborg, cooking them at 63 degrees for 35 minutes before warming them for another 15.
Sixty-three, 35, 15: you can imagine red numerals scrolling down in front of her vision, aiding her assessment of the tasks and environment.
Shannon, looking like a cherub with a five o'clock shadow, is not happy. The MasterChef trio are at least 20 minutes behind.
Jamie has no time to spare having exploded his bag of anglaise everywhere. It's as if he hadn't cooked a soufflé since he was, like, 11.
Shannon muses how Jamie's extra prep time is going to go "like lightning".
"Course it is," says judge Gary, slightly too quickly, like someone discussing a sport they don't really follow.
Emelia, too, is dragging the chain, struggling with the bread slicer.
"It's like I can't even slice bread properly," she says, panicked, knowing no amount of truffle or pear can diminish the importance of the toast part of eggs on toast.
"Sorry. Sorry, sorry, sorry," goes the flurry of apologies.
The clock stops for no one, even Brent.
"I'm still prepping, time's against me," he says. "I need to roll up the beef, skewer it, brush it with onion jam and chargrill it."
Yet somehow he seems in control. The haggard look of previous episodes is gone. He's sweating, but it's a healthy sweat, the perspiration of achievement.
Guests are filtering in, exuding relaxed schadenfreude.
Emelia cannot keep up with the demand for egg yolks sitting in circles of truffle purée.
"I'm spiralling out of control," she says, having just likened herself to a sinking ship. Spiralling, sinking, either way it's not good.
She lags behind, having to redo eggs yolks that have since gone cold. Then there's a fingerprint on one of the plates that almost went out. There's no need for forensics to determine whose it is.
For the mains, Brent steps up. Shannon obviously has an affection for fellow men with unorthodox hair in the kitchen.
"I want you leading, I want you talking," Shannon tells him.
And Brett obeys, taking charge, directing his troops like a beloved general.
"This is my dish and it's not going out unless I am happy with it," he says. What a luxury.
Now comes Jamie's turn, and after the anglaise explosions, his soufflés are travelling well, rising as they should.
He makes a bad joke about his spirits lifting with the dessert. Pride before a fall? All of a sudden a fierce-eyed Shannon wants 37 soufflés. Jamie can't maintain the pace. He needs back-up. And who steps unto the breach but Emelia, then Brent himself.
"This is a team game," says Jamie, completely rewriting the format of the show to suit himself and nullify the altruism of the others.
Jamie has done well. "Everything is just bang on," Matt says as he savours the dessert
Brent before him has done well too. "I couldn't find fault really," Gary says.
But all three judges agree Emelia overdid the salt on her eggs. "It's hidden behind the pear," says Matt, not one to be ambushed.
Back in the giant garage where they normally cook, Shannon tells the three contestants each one would survive in his kitchen but you don't quite believe him.
George sets about the nasty work.
"It was quite obvious one of you stumbled, and it was you, Emily," he says, giving it straight.
So it's between Jamie and Brent. Shannon can see talent in Jamie but can't go past Brent's energy.
"It was like, 'crack on, let's go'," Shannon says, making it the 15th gratuitous time the phrase 'crack on' has been used this episode (largely thanks to Jamie).
Matt hands Brent "an innocuous white envelope" containing the recipe he will have to make in tomorrow's finals cook-off. Brent has also won special accommodation, with a kitchen in which to practise.
Brent opens the envelope and reads the recipe while Matt laughs evilly, as though the page is dusted with anthrax.
"Oh god, looking at this recipe it's looking like it's going to be a long night for me," Brent says.
One can only picture Brent, top-knot still in place, toiling at a ziggurat made of marzipan, sweating, as dawn light filters into his hotel room.