My eyes were glazing over as the prizes were being listed. Again. Sure, companies provide the prizes and they have to get something out of it, but couldn't they mix it up a bit? Change the order?
But somewhere between the grocery vouchers and the book deal I clicked. That awful music from the first two episodes would be no more. The new old awful music would be on its way - and that could only mean one thing. The contestant titles!
It's the moment I look forward to most in these early episodes. A mix of the usual slightly awkward smiles (Corinna, Kelly, Kris, Paula), the OMFG WTF am I doing here? (Aaron), and of course the staged kitchen moves (Serena, David, Raheel, Vanessa, Ella, Eliott, Dana, Michael, Suzanne, Sushil and Jennis). Ok so Jennis was closing a book, but I still classify that under kitchen moves. At least no one kissed a bloody fish.
I always thought it was funny that The Hallowed MasterChef Mansion, in a previous life, was more likely to be the home of parties where "eating's cheating". But that's of no concern to the contestants. Serena: "Oh my god look at that ship".
As for the fake animals, where the hell did they come from? Did real estate agent to the stars Michael Boulgaris put those in for an open home? Is it still on the market? Actually, does Michael Boulgaris still sell real estate? Also, who the hell is Michael Boulgaris anyway?
Time to learn more about the contestants. Ella studies the breaking point of Grain Waves, Paula is going to miss her family, Kelly wants to win to prove to herself that she can do it. Oh, and Eliott is actually going to win.
"My ultimate dream after I win MasterChef is to run a little local produce deli." After he wins? Ahh the confidence. As Tom Cruise's character in Magnolia once said "RESPECT THE COOK!" (Sic).
Corinna though, seems more civic-minded. "My dream is to open a community kitchen where people can come together and share food and get to know each other." So a restaurant then.
After Eliott gives a toast to the group - again dropping in that he's going to win - the three past winners arrive. "Our jaws just dropped," said Jennis.
Brett proceeds to spin some claptrap about cooking from the heart. What bloody useless advice. Does it mean anything? It's the culinary version of game of two halves.
It reminded me of earlier in the week when I heard a couple of guys doing "a funny bit" on the radio about management jargon and PR speak. The kind of radio bit that is usually cringe-inducing, but in this particular case was really quite funny.
They were talking about passing the time in conferences by playing Bingo when people said clichés like "for the team", "going forward" or "tax return". You know where this is going...
Yes, a MasterChef Bingo drinking game. Cross off a square every time the voiceover guy says the words "for the chop", or Serena looks like she's going to cry, or Ray gets "an overwhelming feeling of disappointment."
It wouldn't be too hard to Photoshop one up and make it downloadable from this blog. I thought it could be my task for this week. I wouldn't hold out too much hope though, last week's task was filleting a fish and I didn't get around to that either.
Meanwhile Nadia was giving some pretty robust advice: after the challenges, get drunk and learn things from each other. Brilliant. Now that is actually something tangible and useful. Chelsea brings the mood back down. "The heat is definitely on... tomorrow brings a new challenge." Bingo!
Eliott's confidence takes a dent on learning it's hangi time. "I was a bit gob smacked actually," but then he's picked to be leader for the welcome so things are looking up.
"I've never been in that situation before but I've seen Richie McCaw do it."
After a long pun-filled intro to the challenge (everything's going to be ka pai, dreams well and truly buried, etc), we endure an even longer, even more pun-filled account of the fire troubles. "Straight up we're put into a bit of a hot burning pit." I'm so bored.
After the break we're still watching the fires. I'm still bored. I don't care about the fire. What are they cooking?
Not a moment too soon we see some food prep underway. Raheel looks to be doing something with coconut cream. Kelly's sauce looks interesting too, what's that local ingredient she's using? No one is telling me. But I'm interested in the cooking. Can someone tell me what they are cooking? CAN SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT THEY ARE COOKING? Cut back to the fire.
It's almost halfway through the episode and my interest in food is not being satiated. I'm about to start carving I Hate Group Challenges into my arm before Aaron, who seems to be the voice of reason and logic, gets the whole thing back on track with his steamed pudding in a tin.
"An hour and a quarter has gone everybody," says Simon Gault. Is that all?
I keep hearing about horopito and kawakawa but I'm still no closer to knowing what they taste like. A pacey well-cut montage of food going into the pit does give a pretty good overview of how the hangi is assembled and how it works. I could almost give it a try myself based on that few seconds alone. Probably won't though, obvs.
I'd never even heard of Koura before, let alone know how to cook them. Gault asks Rex Morgan's opinion about using hot pools to cook the Koura. If he also asked him whether he would kill the Koura first then we didn't get to see it.
After all it was only two years ago that we heard Gault ask contestant Karyn Fisk, "so how would you feel about it if I put a big pot of boiling water on and threw you in there?"
The whole episode turned into Cray-gate.
"So you're the team of Crayfish assassins?" McVinnie asked later in the same episode. "I saw you put those innocent Crayfish, those live innocent Crayfish straight into boiling water.
"Apart from the fact that you always respect your ingredients, you especially respect ingredients that are alive."
It caused such a fuss that Fisk even appeared on Close Up the following night to apologise to Mark Sainsbury and through him, The Nation.
So given all that it was odd they didn't make a point of reassuring us that the Koura were knocked out off-camera, or given bath salts, or that a gentler death via warm water is more humane, or whatever the case may be.
Anyhoo, we're close to deadline now so it's time to dig up dinner. It never really occurred to me that they'd need to go all fancy with the plating. I don't think I've ever seen a pretty looking hangi.
We've clearly been led to believe some sort of shizzle is going to go down over the green team's plating and it doesn't take long to see that it's MasterChef winner Eliott who has got the pip.
"Kelly laid out the entrée, how we'd discussed it together. She went with... mine and Mike's suggestion."
Then: "it's a pretty ugly plate, I'm not happy with the presentation." It's not clear what the problem is but it's clear he's becoming annoying team member guy.
Eliott's stressed now. He's doing that thing where he walks away with his hands in his hair. Luckily the camera notices. He says something along the lines of being worried about seeing his wife and daughter soon. We cut to the ads. Drama!
At the judging table we finally find out what got Eliott in a tizzy. Kelly plated up the entrée and said so when asked by Gault. Big deal. Eliott: "I was gob smacked." Twice now.
"Chucked under the bridge. Team challenge. Really?" Oh stop it you big baby.
I always thought it was unfair to natural justice when teachers told kids not to tell tales but I get it now.
My take: Eliott, stressed that he's ruined the meat by under-seasoning, thinks his get out of jail card is his plating-up-intellectual-property, and goes rogue when Kelly quite rightfully takes credit for what she did.
Suggestion, suggsmestion. If I suggest to Neil Finn how to write a good song, and then he writes a good song, who wrote the bloody song? If Kelly had made a hash of plating up, would Eliott have been so quick to try and highjack credit?
On a less bullying note, the judges are looking relieved. REALLY relieved. It seems salt-crime aside - they may actually see some cookin' this season.
There is more to come. The yellow team's food looks outstanding. No offence to hangis but it looked like it had been created in a kitchen.
Gault agrees: "At the start of this series I wondered if you guys were as good as what they were last year, but when I look at this food I can tell you for sure you guys are every bit as good."
Really? Only a week ago he said "from what we've seen so far you're an incredibly talented bunch, so we are convinced the competition this year is going to be really tough."
The red team's plate looked ok, aside from Suzanne's depressed looking silverbeet concoction. "People go crazy about stuffing." The judges didn't need to dig very deep to find fault, with strings attached. But not tasting the food? Kris! You're killing me.
So to the courtroom-drama of the blue team. Things proceed pretty normally until Josh Emett makes the casual throwaway line "so if you lose we send you all home?"
Emett was probably expecting a laugh or - at worst - an uncomfortable giggle. But the team froze until David offered "if it was us as the losing team I'd be happy with us all going home." Bloody hell David, he's not being serious. Is this some misguided attempt at demonstrating loyalty for the benefit of the judges?
"Really?" Says Emett, not believing his luck. "The producers want drama and I delivered!" He thought to himself. Possibly.
But that farce is put on the backburner while the food is tasted, and that's not going well either. "Makes my hairs stand up in all sorts of places," offers Morgan.
The next day everyone is back at the MasterChef kitchen for the execution. The drive back from Rotorua must have been fun if the look on Kelly's face is anything to go by. "It's very hard to go up there as a team when you know that other team members didn't think that I was a team player."
She looks broken and I'm wondering what sort of nastiness went on off-camera.
But it's the green team who are first to be put out of their misery. Emett breaks the news and now it's Eliott's turn to look teary. He walks away and puts his hands in his hair again. In the celebratory team cuddle, Kelly observes he "reached out to grab my hand which was kind of a gesture of well done." More like damage control. But the damage has been done now and we'll all be keeping a close on eye that one.
Thank goodness they've got Dana in the team to cheer things up. She looks like a good night out.
Yellow team, flying colours, no surprises there. Aaron's going to go far I reckon.
Then an overwhelming sense of foreboding came over me as I realised they were going to make a mountain out of this "one goes, we all go" molehill.
"Are you still all happy about falling on your swords if you're the bottom team?" Gault asks. Here we go...
David is quick to stick to the company line - perhaps only to avoid appearing to flip flop - and a couple of team members follow suit. Jennes observes from the sidelines "David had spoken for his team, it's kind of like a bully tactic, if you don't follow then you break that alliance."
Oh rubbish. Sure, David was silly to offer up the team's heads in the heat of the moment, but if anyone is bullying it's the judges. There is as much chance of them kicking out the whole team as there is of Brian Tamaki becoming the new Pope, but they continue to flog the dead horse. "You gave up a lot to be here," Gault tells a frightened Serena.
Of course we don't get to see if they'd put their money where their mouth is, as the green team are finally off the hook. David looks like he needs a drink.
It's Suzanne who is outski. "I'm really surprised that you made such a bad job of what was essentially a traditional Austrian dish," McVinnie says. Ouch.
Serena can't take it anymore and starts to let it all out. Mind you, Nadia Lim was always quick with the tears and that worked out ok.
So we're finally into the season proper. We're witnessing some actual creativity and reassessing our picks for winner. Yes they tried to blow on the drama flame a bit much, but to borrow a phrase from Suzanne:
"That's the game, if definitely doesn't put me off cooking lets put it that way."
Best line: "Keep blowin', brother" Rex Morgan cements his place as coolest cook ever.
Worst line: "Chucked under the bridge. Team challenge. Really?" Eliott adds a little ham to the hangi.
Current favourites: Aaron, Raheel, Corinna
-NZ Herald OnlineBy Hugh Sundae @Hugh_Sundae Email Hugh