Eleanor Robertson delivers her final Masterchef NZ power rankings, wherein Tim is crowned King of the Masterchef court. Disclaimer: the author’s views of Nadia Lim – and Nadia Lim alone – do not represent those of The Spinoff family.
Episodes 15 and 16
I’m late to the party on last week’s episodes, having only just recovered from the sort of cold/flu illness that you can only properly describe by holding your hands apart to represent the size of the mucus globs that came out of your face. Like a fisherman telling a tall tale about his latest catch, except the only person who wants to hear the story is your doctor – and only because they’re the ones being paid.
So last week the top four contestants – Tim, Hayley, Glenda and Leo – flew over to Dubai, for some reason. Overseas excursions are generally some of the best Masterchef episodes, because the production team structures the visit to show off the local cuisine. The contestants, a bunch of overexcited suburban food idiots much like you and me, run around the noodle markets, cafes, butchers, etc. The overall effect is of watching someone else’s vacation slideshow – except it’s not shithouse.
But not Masterchef NZ. The whole of episode 15 is set in and around a luxury desert resort, and the first ten minutes is devoted to the contestants describing how nice the resort is.
“This is so five star, I’m in my happy place,” says Tim. You’re not supposed to be in your happy place, you spoiled rube. This isn’t bloody Getaway, it’s serious.
A short camel ride later we’re introduced to Greg Malouf, an Australian chef widely acknowledged as one of the most important figures in modern Middle Eastern cooking. He feeds the contestants a standard-looking lunch – stuffed marrows, hummus, tabouli, flat bread, some brains for a twist – and tells them to replicate it, which they do in teams. Tim and Leo win over Glenda and Hayley. None of the food looks particularly exciting, nobody goes home. It’s like a regular episode of Masterchef NZ but there’s more sand.
Episode 16 is much the same, except instead of Malouf it’s Gary Rhodes, and they’re replicating his recipes in his restaurant and feeding them to real people. Glenda gets sent home. Yawn.
The interesting part of the Dubai episodes is Malouf, who is like the anti-Marco Pierre White. He’s consistently kind and helpful, giving the struggling contestants hints and tips. Near the end of the challenge in episode 15 he babysits Tim’s deep fried dough balls so Tim can run over and help Leo plate their food.
“Thanks chef,” says Malouf, rolling his eyes slightly while turning over the doughnuts to ensure even browning. The dude has a really understated, wry sense of humour – he’s the only person onscreen with an ounce of charisma. If the producers weren’t complete incompetents, they would’ve told the regular judges to take a hike. Al, Mark and Josh were even more superfluous than usual in these episodes, and at this stage of the season I’ve taken to speaking over the top of them with what I believe they should be saying.
Al: Come on guys, it’s time to pick up the pace, get mov– Me: HEY GUYS IT’S ME, I’M ALBNERT BROWB, THE HAT MAN FROM THIS SHOW, COME TO BOTHER THE CONTESTANTS WHILE THEY’RE BUSY, BECAUSE I LIKE TO ANNOY AND BERATE. STUFF TREATS INTO MY MOUTHY TALK HOLE IF YOU WANT A MOMENT’S REPRIEVE FROM THIS POINTLESS TORMENT.
Even though Glenda got sent home, she’s the real winner here. Mostly because if Al tries to do any of this to her when she’s in her own kitchen – she can call the police.
The contestants have an hour to cook whatever they want, because the show has given up on itself so badly that it’s not even bothering to set challenges any more. At the start Tim, Hayley and Leo are forced to read out letters from their family, which were definitely written by the producers. Anyone whose relative was on Masterchef NZ would be writing them a set of detailed escape instructions with a cyanide capsule taped to the bottom in case the plan fails.
Nadia Lim is back, adding nothing of value whatsoever. She’s like that volleyball Tom Hanks makes friends with in Castaway, in the sense that it’s not clear she has any kind of internal life. If she were revealed as a very convincing Muppet animated by a puppeteer with their hand up her bum, I wouldn’t be surprised.
“You’ve just got to get into that space,” she says. Thanks for that valuable contribution Nadia, now if you could just sell all your possessions and devote your life to silent charitable works, that would be great.
Even the music is dull. Someone’s clearly forgotten to purchase the High Tension soundreel, so we’re stuck with the exact same set of noises we’ve been listening to since the first episode. There’s no drama at all – it feels like an episode of Great British Bake-Off, where half the contestants are grannies, the other half are young twee fascists, and the challenge is to make an apple teacake.
The food, too, is boring as hell. Hayley makes lamb cutlets with a Thai-inspired sauce, which turns out looking like the most milquetoast meal your mum used to make when she felt too guilty to feed you dry toast for dinner. The lamb is raw inside, which truly captures the essence of the dish. It’s like she stuffed it up as an unconscious act of passive-aggressive resistance.
Tim makes smoked fish. Leo makes a sticky rice and kumera Filipino dessert that looks interesting but, as usual, the judges exoticise both it and him in a way that would be borderline racist if anyone actually listened to them.
“My parents are farmers,” says Leo at one point.
“My God… I just love your story, Leo,” says Josh.
What story, Josh? How is ‘my parents are farmers’ a story? Must you look at Leo as though he’s a foreign curio brought back by a colonial expedition and you’re an amateur British phrenologist?
Hayley’s raw lamb gets her sent home. Boo hoo.
This is the dessert that wins Tim the crown. This is the best effort put up by, allegedly, the best amateur cook in New Zealand.
The final is an utterly joyless affair. Afraid I was being too harsh, I ended up checking out some of the tweets on the #MasterchefNZ hashtag. Most of them more or less agreed with me. Several people pointed out that the food plated up in the final would’ve had its makers eliminated from Masterchef Australia in about week 2 or 3. I’d go further than that: if I plated up Tim’s food to my boyfriend for dinner tonight he’d put me to bed with a couple of fever tablets, scrape the plates into the bin, and go down the road for a kebab.
Presumably to make up for episode 17’s challenge-free format, the final crams five challenges into 45 minutes. First there’s a knife skills circuit, where Tim and Leo have to cut carrots, zucchini and cabbage; break down a whole chicken; fillet a fish; and french a rack of lamb. Leo wins, making him qualified to hold a knife on his own without direct supervision. Inspiring stuff.
Next, they have two hours to make three dishes: one street food, one fine dining, and one comfort food. Tim wins despite plating up what is undoubtedly the most boring dish I’ve ever seen on a cooking show: soggy-looking chicken thighs with mashed potato, gravy and peas. Seriously, that’s it. The last time anyone made anything like that dish, it was World War I and food was being rationed so our boys on the Western Front could be supplied with the protein they needed to get strafed to death by the vicious Hun.
Last up it’s a fancy dessert pressure test, complete with a chocolate sphere that there’s zero chance of either Tim or Leo executing correctly. True to form they both stuff it up, each leaving off three of the elements and plating up random chocolate blobs. It’s exhausting watching them fail so badly.
When the winner is announced, a feeble glitter cannon is too little, too late to save the episode. Tim barely even smiles. The shots of him being hugged by the other contestants are all 2-3 seconds long, I assume because lingering was just too awkward. Leo, by far the better cook, takes being shamelessly robbed pretty well, but I wish he’d unleash some devastating skull kicks on Tim for old time’s sake.
I am ecstatic that this is the last episode of Masterchef NZ I’ll ever have to watch. Christ, what an ordeal. I keep wondering how it was so bad. Did they pay the production team in discount Pizza Hut vouchers? Did someone set the whole thing up as part of a money laundering operation? Was it an elaborate conceptual joke?
Who cares. It’s over now.
PS: If anyone involved in the show wants to chat to me about why it sucked so deeply, get in contact. I can only imagine the untold tales of incompetence. I’ll buy you a beer. You know you want to get it off your chest.
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