COMMENT: Any reality TV show worth its salt needs a villain.
If producers are lucky, that villain will propel their series forward with a regular dose of water-cooler-worthy drama. And if they're really lucky, that villain will also bring something else to the table, a sharp wit, a cheeky bit of sass, something – anything – that makes them enjoyable to watch while they're being terrible humans.
But if you're unlucky, as is the case with this year's My Kitchen Rules New Zealand, you'll wind up with a villain whose nasty streak only sours the entire exercise.
It all started sweetly enough, almost sickeningly so, during the show's season four premiere on Sunday night. We met the first of the six teams to host their instant restaurant, Papamoa couple Sindy and Roger, and it became immediately apparent that they like to cook and to smooch. Usually at the same time.
And as they prepared their menu of "Afro-Kiwi cuisine" (an entree of ceviche, a main of grilled ostrich and a dessert of rooibos-infused creme caramel), their fellow competitors arrived, ready to eat and critique.
Opotiki cousins Pat and Wilz quickly established themselves as the stars of the show with their banter, their easy manner, and their polite enthusiasm for what their hosts were serving.
Father-and-daughter duo Liam and Eden also promised a bit of instant restaurant fun with their hunter-gatherer cooking philosophy, their enthusiasm for a "danger swig" at the dinner table and their frank chat. "[Eden] is my youngest daughter, so I'm not the dirty old man you all think I am," Liam said by way of introduction to the group.
Meanwhile, married dentists Jacqui and Nic shaped up as the season's insufferable cooking know-it-alls, while first generation Kiwis May and Enna masterfully managed the cringe-inducing questions about where they came from in between courses.
But then along came Dunedin mates Jess and Cindy, dubbed this season's 'Formidable Foodies', who uttered that immortal reality TV line: "We're not here to make friends."
And they were not kidding.
Straight out of the gate, Jess savaged the ceviche entree presented by Sindy and Roger. The other teams and series judges, celebrity chefs Pete Evans and Manu Feildel, were a mixture of bemusement and incredulousness, as she cruelly listed everything she felt was wrong with the dish.
Pat summed up the thoughts of the nation when he later remarked, "Girl, ease your way in."
Cooks Sindy and Roger, meanwhile, were none the wiser to the criticism being meted out in their dining room, and were busy stealing smooches over their main dish. (Because there is nothing more romantic than preparing slabs of dead ostrich for a dozen strangers.)
But the kissing came to an abrupt halt as their creme caramel dessert was plated up. With the couple choosing not to make any extras of this famously finicky dessert, they paid the price when one of them was an outright flop.
They, of course, gave this complete disaster of a dessert to their biggest critic, Jess, who handled the situation with grace and impeccable manners.
After she sneered at the dessert's appearance, Jess took a bite and said through giggles, "It feels like the egg's snotty eggs," thus confirming my suspicions that she might be bringing all of this season's nastiness, but nothing even remotely witty along with it. Honestly, my four-year-old has come up with better burns about the food I've put in front of her.
There truly is an art to being a great reality TV villain and it's safe to say Jess has not mastered it.
Her brand of relentless, dour criticism is really quite boring and threatens to overshadow that which is good about the show - in other words, the sheer joy that is Pat and Wilz, and getting to watch Manu Feildel eat.
Here's hoping our Formidable Foodies up their villain game soon - or somebody gets a chance to put them in their place for just a little while – otherwise my enthusiasm for this latest round of My Kitchen Rules NZ will sink faster than Roger and Sindy's creme caramels.
• My Kitchen Rules New Zealand airs Sundays 7.30pm on TVNZ 2.