Gutted, gutted, gutted. One of my favourites for the top three in MasterChef was eliminated last night, by a bunch of 11-year-olds. Didn't see that coming, and even the judges seemed heartbroken.

I've adored marketer Fiona Read since the auditions, loving how her red lipstick matched her coat and her balls in coming back for a second try in series two.

I loved her cool, meticulous approach to cooking, loved her magic mix of Spanish modern flavours in last week's challenge and always thought she had taste, intelligence and no illusions about what real chefs go through 16 hours a day in a hot kitchen. And then she was undone by a dopey selection of mummy party food and a bunch of small critics.

The weekend had started out so promising, with a really helpful Master Class to iron out some good basic skills.

Ray McVinnie and Simon Gault come into their own as educators, never missing the chance to sharpen a technique to professional level or deepen the contestants' understanding of the importance of the "civilised shared table ... [that] makes life worth living", as Ray so poetically puts it.

Which was somewhat mocked by the challenge last night which saw hordes of 11-year-olds descending like locusts on the tables of party food prepared by the Red and Blue Teams.

Team challenges can often be the undoing of a promising finalist, but this time the in-kitchen chemistry of the guys' Blue Team versus the girls' Red Team really worked.

The teams had to produce four items of birthday party food for twins Jimi and Ted and 80 guests, each team also gunning for an added 10 points for a novelty birthday cake. It felt like a slight reality show time-space shift to that Other Baking Show as Michael and Fiona headed to a bakery to produce fondant covered creations - will Michael's boy-popular film creatures of Ice Age beat a clever Eden Park sports theme from Fiona?

As it happened on the night, the kids couldn't decide, so the cake was not the tie-breaker.

Apart from Anthony yet again working to his own rules (adding the hated vege to his pizza, delaying everyone's access to the oven when he had to remake the dough after he lost his bandaid in the first batch), the guys worked well under the gung-ho coach style of schoolteacher Stu. The women produced good food under a calm and confident Tracey Lee, but Stu's "ask not tell" teacher skills had extracted a better brief from the client. And the guys gleefully knew they had the distinct advantage of all having been 11-year-old boys themselves (Michael cheerfully admitting he still was, just trapped in an adult body).

The women had the disadvantage of two members who didn't have kids and even confessed to being a bit frightened of them. Their menu of spring rolls, two types of chicken nibbles, mini pavlovas and oddly complicated biscuit truffle "sports balls" (no, the kids didn't get them either) would no doubt have appealed to the mums and dads in the 107-strong guest list.

But much as the mums and nutritionists of the Red team sneered at the guys' menu of beige, tan and brown, it sure nailed their target market. The women had lovingly hand-made every pav and sauce, the men brought in ready-made.

The winning dish was deep-fried and on a stick, what more can you say? Perfect boy food, as the trouncing of Red team by Blue in the points showed.

The judges tried their darnedest to pretend they were critiquing real food - singling out Tracey Lee's spring rolls, Cameron's darling mini-burgers and Stu's chicken rippers - but the harshest critics were not those with developed taste buds or an eye to some hopeful's future career in food.

The shock of Fiona going home has certainly shifted the competition in the homeward stretch for the remaining seven. Simon Gault is true to his word.

He swore Fiona's hapuka with stinging nettles was good enough to serve in his restaurants, and this week she begins a three-week tour around his Auckland, Taupo and Wellington restaurants doing just that. With no 11-year-olds in sight.

Just don't ask me to pick the Rugby World Cup finalists, it will only jinx them.

Catherine Smith is deputy editor of Weekend Life and a member of the Food Writers' Guild.