"Life in the house has been getting tougher and tougher for me, just constantly being around people is doing my head in," Raheel reveals at the top of the show. Immediately I was excited.
We see Raheel holding a mug as she looks out to sea while the housemates look all passive-aggressive. Yes I get the feeling shit's going down, folks.
There are shots of Vanessa and Eliott as Raheel says "there's been a couple of people who've been grinding my gears." I suspect it's Vanessa and Eliott who have been doing the grinding. Vanessa is a surprise. Eliott not so much.
We learn someone has been hogging the kitchen. There is a shot of the Aaronator. But Aaron does no wrong. I don't understand.
Now I'm depressed. I don't like confrontation. I'm thinking there is some gang mentality going on in the mansion, and not in a good way. I do hope there's no bullying. Having said that, I want to throw something at Eliott's face. But enough of the politics.
If I was a MasterChef contestant and I walked through the doors to see a mystery box I'd poop my pants a little. It's like the daily ritual of opening the pantry and seeing nothing you want to make, except it's on TV and someone gets kicked out at the end.
This time the box is rather large. After the standard intro crap from the judges ("today's challenge is one out of the box, the mystery box") we learn the contents are found all over the world and used in a variety of cuisines. Kelly (who with Serena gone takes the place of contestant who always looks moments from tears) thinks it's a cow. Almost, it's a box of ducks.
"I came up with a swear word that rhymed with duck," Dana offered. Raheel was even more offended. Apparently she's a vegetarian, I hadn't noticed that.
Ray McVinnie lists the 15 ingredients in the mystery box. But only one of those ingredients gets its brand name mentioned. How strange.
One of my top five meals ever was Peking duck. I was on my way to Mongolia for a work thing, spending a night in Beijing on the way. My colleagues - having done the trip before - took me through the hutongs to the most unassuming looking restaurant. It was more like someone's rundown flat with tables in every room including the hallway. But the food! The table was filled with all sorts of heaven with Peking duck being the main event. Plus a dish that seemed to be potato shredded so fine that it looked like deep-fried hair. Reading that last line back it doesn't sound as appetising as it was.
Point is, I love duck, a bird I have never cooked. I do know that you have to render the fat and that pink is ok. Michael, who often points out that he is Asian, doesn't know much more than that either. "I've never cooked the duck, usually it's mum's job." But he does know ice-cream, so puts a mango version on the boil.
Josh Emett reacts to this news as though ice-cream were an infectious disease. And what do you know, it's spreading down the bench and Jennis has caught it too.
"It's just mango ice-cream with a bit of crispy duck skin." Good lord. The closest I've ever come to such madness was dipping my hamburger and fries into a milkshake. Actually maybe she's on to something?
Elsewhere, Raheel manages to off the duck's head with help from some novelty music, Sushil is playing it safe by making the first thing that comes into everyone's head - crispy skin pan-fried duck breast with Chinese five spice, and Eliott is making a risotto.
I could be mixing up the Australian and New Zealand series here, but I always thought risotto was the dish of hell that no one ever pulled off. I always remember an Australian Masterclass episode where George Calombaris said you should never stir a risotto. Apparently it damages the rice. I've tried his way - shaking the pan instead - but I can't really see what he means. Thoughts? Leave a comment.
After last week's peculiar judge run-in, David is on his best behaviour and being very polite to Justice McVinnie as he enquires about his duck-skin sausage. McVinnie seems impressed. But not as impressed as I am with the Aaronator's concoction.
"These are little duck thigh croquettes with rice and orange and chilli, cooked in delicious duck fat." With a pea puree. The guy is amazing. It's not just his skill at flavour, he always seems to come up with something different and seemingly simple. It makes you feel like a fool for not thinking of it too, especially when we're at home and not under the same pressure.
Raheel meanwhile is struggling to work out what flavours go with duck. It wasn't very clear, was she even tasting the duck? By now I can't tell if she is a vegetarian or just one of those lipstick vegetarians. Either way you can see her will to live draining away.
"I'm here for a good time not a long time," she tells Simon Gault.
It's the kind of comment MasterChef always jumps on and turns into a farce. Sure enough the look on Gault's face is one of tempered disgust. The music is dramatic. But as we all know, later it will get worse. Much worse. Much, much worse.
Kelly's ducks were looking pretty grand. There were three pieces of duck all cooked different ways. She called it Duck Three Ways. Her concern was the salty sauce. "I seem to have a really bad palate for salt." Also known as a bad palate.
It reminded me of a sauce I made a few months ago to go with some chicken. You know how sometimes you just whip up a sauce, and on other occasions you really take your time while drinking half a bottle of wine? It was the latter.
I was using one of those cheap salt jars with the built in grinder and the lid came off. Half the jar fell in before I realised what was happening. I tried more stock but couldn't bring it back to life. It was heartbreaking. My wife gives me grief if I serve chicken without some sort of sauce so I started from scratch. From scratch! I felt like I was on MasterChef and I may have said so. Out loud.
Anyway when it came to judging, Kelly's presentation was outstanding (I suppose that was Eliott's idea), but sure enough the salt let her down.
"I think it's inedible, it's that salty," Gault said. Kelly fought the tears but the tears won.
When the Aaronator reveals his finished plate those wonderful sounding croquettes have been joined by a mango/breast salad and mushrooms wrapped in silverbeet. #foodswoon. Or as Gault says, "it's a taste and texture sensation."
Eliott's risotto was no disaster but Emett pulls him up for playing it safe.
"I'm quite happy being thirteenth, as long as I'm not fourteenth," Eliott tells us. Wow what passion.
Both Gault and Emett are converts to Jennis' ice-cream with duck skin (Emett: "it IS banging!"). I wonder if they used to dip their chippies in their milkshakes too?
Vanessa achieved her goal of showing the judges a lot of things. "Vanessa you've shown us a lot of things today," Gault confirms. To be fair her dishes all look great, so it's a shame her efforts are sullied by her behaviour later on.
It turns out Sushil has woken up and has brought his "a-game". Yes, last week I did call him an also-ran. Add to that I had Raheel in my current favourites, and you'd be forgiven for thinking I don't have a bloody clue what I'm talking about. Fair enough, but I do think Sushil won't be around at the bidness end.
Ella will be though. There is always the chance she could be unjustifiably eliminated based on those stupid team challenges, but in the MasterChef kitchen she seems to go from strength to strength. The judges - who don't forget have been watching these people cook unedited - clearly seem to rate her highly. Earlier Emett and Gault were fawning for no apparent reason.
Raheel's dish looked pretty bad. A mound of fried rice with some fatty looking slices of duck fallen by the wayside. "Are you happy with how you rendered the fat?" McVinnie asks.
"I tasted it and it tasted good to me." Well at least the tasting question has been solved. But if Raheel is feeling bad now, it's only getting worse as Gault points out that while he always looks for the good in a dish, there isn't much to be found.
"I think you've had a very bad day." Cripes. A bad time in the house, now this. Any more pressure and she's going to snap.
More pressure comes in the form of a Challenge Three Ways. Raheel, Kris and David all have to cook a piece of salmon, make a pesto and French trim a lamb rack. Of all the Hollywoods MasterChef throws for drama, this isn't a bad one. It's a second chance for three people who it seems were pretty even in coming last. Plus it's a test of skill any foodie should be able to make a good go at (I'm confident in only one of the three).
And so it begins. Gault - clearly knowing something we at home don't - pointedly asks Kris and Raheel if they want to be in this competition. Raheel shrugs her shoulders. "Dunno," she says.
I don't know about you, but when I'm having a bad day I say much worse. In fact when I'm having a good day I say much worse. But this is MasterChef. There is drama to be had, and contestants to beat.
The earth moves a little on its axis. Vanessa's jaw drops and stays there so long it's like she's one of those clown-head sideshow games you waste two bucks on at the Easter show. Jennis puts her hands out as if to say "WTF?" Michael is outraged "it just makes me feel a little bit angry I suppose."
"A lot of people left their wives, left their jobs, left their kids, and to pipe up like that it's a bloody embarrassment to the show and an insult to people on the show," Eliott lectures.
Gault: "So you're telling me, out of all the people in this competition, you don't know whether you want to be here? That's what you're telling the whole of New Zealand right now? Who are looking saying 'this girl's taken my spot and she doesn't know if she wants to be here', is that what you're telling me?"
Well thank God no one is going over the top.
Gault looks personally offended. Vanessa sees a chance to further her own cause. "I feel incredibly disappointed to see her shrug her shoulders. Two wonderful women went home, I think she lost everybody at that point." Ohhhhh, I get it now.
If you don't like someone, fine. But to hijack the situation in some faux-selfless "you took someone's place" rubbish is a bigger crime than Raheel losing her confidence and simply letting the pressure show.
"Two wonderful women" went home because they came last in a cooking competition. Raheel didn't take someone's place in the competition, because if it was someone elses place - well, they would have made it in, wouldn't they? And why are you so offended that there is one less person to compete against, given how much you've stated you want to win? Get a grip.
It's quite clear there is a personality clash in the house. How shocking. Reality shows have been putting contestants together in houses for years to create that very scenario. So what if Raheel is questioning herself? Have any of the others got back to the house after a shitty challenge and asked themselves if it was worth it?
But the bullying continues. The contestants are already vocal about who they're supporting in the three-way battle of skills, but Gault has to spell it out. "I want to know who you want to stay in the competition," he incites.
"I'm going with the boys, actually," Eliott pronounces, in a voice loud enough for his old mate Raheel to hear. I can't believe what I'm watching. I can forgive a little bit of reality TV hamming-it-up for drama (just a little mind you) but this has turned into schoolyard bullying and I've stopped getting any enjoyment out of watching.
Corinna, Sushil and McVinnie show themselves to be human and throw some support Raheel's way but as we now know it was a losing battle. But a much closer battle than people expected.
The final judgement is pretty tense. Raheel wins the French-trimming component and we see Vanessa, Kelly and Jennis make faces like they're in a remake of Mean Girls. At this point I'm so disappointed with Vanessa that I unfollow her on Twitter.
Gault - despite knowing who they are sending home at this point - gets them all to verbally pledge their allegiance to the MasterChef Gods one last time before sending Raheel home. I feel relief for her. The Mean Girls nod their heads in agreement, as though the UN just passed the right resolution about something that's actually important.
I just think about what Ray McVinnie once said.
"I feel an overwhelming sense of disappointment."
Best line: "Dunno." Raheel gets the party started.
Worst line: "A lot of people left their wives, left their jobs, left their kids, and to pipe up like that it's a bloody embarrassment to the show and an insult to people on the show." Eliott keeps his cool.
Current favourites: Aaron, Ella
-nzherald.co.nzBy Hugh Sundae @Hugh_Sundae Email Hugh