Who would have thought? Who saw it coming? Who predicted that the last two standing on the 2015 series of MasterChef NZ - the grand finale screens tonight, at 7.30pm - would be Tim the grinning ape and Leo the giggling duck?
Not me. No way. I've spent the last few weeks bagging Tim and Leo in print, especially Tim - a lovely fellow, obviously, and a brilliant cook, plainly, but for some reason I've just sort of had it in for him and wanted his head on a plate. Cooked just the way he likes it - raw.
He made so many blunders. He walked around the kitchen open-mouthed and slack-jawed. He looked upon the judges - weird Al, seething Josh, terminally boring Mark - with the loving gaze of a simpleton. And yet he hung on in there.
Leo was an even more unlikely candidate to make the final. He sweated. He panicked. He was as round as a duck and his penchant for mistakes made you suspect he was a bit quacked in the head. But he saw it through.
There's a kind of purity that Tim and Leo are the finalists. Ultimately they got there on their talent and dedication, not their looks, gender, age, ethnicity or appeal.
A cynic might look at previous winners Chelsea Winter and Nadia Lim, and assume that the 2015 winner would also have to be a healthy, attractive, kind of dim woman with a Kiwi accent as thick as two short steaks.
I didn't think that for a minute. I thought it for the entire season, right up to the shocking moment last night when the judges kicked Hayley off the show.
Poor old Hayley! Mind you, I got sick of her tears. Her family crest must be a wet handkerchief, because she sobbed at every reference to her mum, dad, nana, and grandpa. "He's got a sweet tooth," she said through tears about the widowed gent, "and a stomach to match." He must be fat. But also deeply loved.
Hayley wore her heart on her sleeve and her hair in a bun, and that worked for her; but last night she let her hair down, jetblack and stiff, and she looked like a goth. She became a goth: she didn't smile, cooked in a sulk, and in act of rebellion, perhaps, she put the lamb chops in the oven on a cold plate. They didn't cook. Mark gave her the red card, boringly.
I thought she'd win the show. Either her, or Glenda, the nice lady from Christchurch who made the last four. Or Gemma, who roamed the kitchen like a mad scientist - at home, she probably makes a cup of tea in test tubes. Or Lily, who had the surest touch of anyone in the series, and threatened the judges with her skill and inventiveness. You could see in Al's eyes and Josh's cheekbones that she freaked them out. You couldn't tell anything about Mark. He was as wooden as a stirring spoon.
Everyone who I thought would win got thrown out.
Ben, amazingly, threw himself out. As a gesture of anti-establishment contempt, it was close to anarchy. I called him an "existential hero" in print. He wrote to me and said thanks. It was thrilling to hear from him, although I'd already been touched by fame - Lily got in touch with me, too. I'd written that she talked like a robot. She was quite good about it.
There was also an opportunity to interview seething Josh at some ungodly hour - 10am, I think - in Takapuna. I passed. I can only handle neuroses after midday. I never thought to pursue an interview with weird Al. Five years ago I described his cookbook Go Fish as "garish and ugly", which was understating matters. He replied, "Thanks for the kind words of encouragement. Working on another garish and ugly cookbook as we speak." The result - Get Fresh - lived up to his promise.
The judges were the show's weakest link. Their banter when they judged was idiotic. The fascination was with the contestants. We met so many terrific people and stellar cooks. We saw them under pressure, suffering epic fails, serving the kind of food that made you want to reach for a bucket - and that was just Tim.
It's been a great ride. I kept falling off. Week after week, I got it wrong. I kept expecting Tim to be thrown out. I kept anticipating Leo's exit. Never mind. I'm happy for both of them. They're stars. They're awesome in the kitchen and they seem like a hell of a lot of fun. But only one of them can win.
I'm calling it one last time. I'm picking Tim to win. I've got it wrong the entire season and I'm hoping I've got it wrong one last time because I want Leo to win. He's cool, with his Filipino style and his works of art on a plate. Tim serves fish, and calls it fush. I can't work out what Leo's muttering half the time but I don't mind. He's a bit of a genius.
Go, Leo! Seize the day. Clothe thyself in the 2015 MasterChef NZ golden apron.