It's verging on ridiculous how much drama the participants in MasterChef, TV One last night, managed to cram into the cooking of a few dishes in downtown Singapore.
Even before the heart-string-twanging elimination of lovely Brenton - oh, those sad brown eyes - the fear and loathing quotient was sinew-straining.
Poker-player Tony became incandescent - though his facial muscles barely moved - because Ana and Chelsea swapped ingredients during the Singapore street food challenge. The enormity of this would be hard for a non-MasterChef watcher to grasp. In the real world, and certainly in a real marketplace, the Kiwi ethos would be that if you forgot to get fish sauce, as Ana did, and your neighbour forgot to get lemon grass, as Chelsea did, you would help each other out. Rude not to. Besides, the concept of Asian market food without either fish sauce or lemon grass is not terribly viable.
But in the terms of the contest, this could be construed as cheating. And it was, according to the chef judges. Half the challenge is the efficiency with which our would-be professional foodies assemble the ingredients, given a tight time-limit. Poor Ana struck a smilingly passive-aggressive squid vendor who for mysterious reasons simply would not sell her a squid, so she was extra-sandbagged in the half-hour dash around the mad, busy, unfamiliar market.
As Chelsea said, neither of them thought much about the implications when they swapped. It just seemed a natural thing to do. Unknown to them, Tony clocked the swap, and had an on-camera seethe in which he contemplated whether to fink on them for cheating.
It took him about 10 seconds to decide that he would thus fulfilling the unwritten rule of all reality television shows that someone has to emerge as the one we all love to hate. He assumed the mantle with a vengeance, hoping out loud that they'd both be eliminated, bringing him closer to the prize.
The judges agreed it was a major breach of the rules, because the rules made no provision for swapping ingredients. But as thousands of viewers would have been shouting at the television, neither did the rules specify you couldn't swap ingredients.
The women were penalised, including having their dishes assessed as if the borrowed ingredients weren't there. But the esprit de corps was by now in tatters.
The women were embarrassed and ashamed, but also furious with Tony for not talking to them before talking to the judges. Tony was grimly reconciled to being thought a complete jerk, and poor Brenton was just "keeping [his] head down".
The following day's challenge was to cook a pigeon, a la haute cuisine, which led to more barely contained hysteria and some fairly gory butchering and boning scenes.
Tony realised he didn't have any aubergine, and in a minor blast of Kismet, realised he absolutely could not ask one of the others for a lend of some.
And someone turned up Brenton's oven so his aubergine chips burnt, leaving an open question as to sabotage.
But in the end, the plate ruled. As per the knife-sharpening sound the programme uses as punctuation, someone would be flying home early.
However, in a seriously clever heart-warming swifty, judge Simon Gault announced to the dejected and unemployed Brenton that he would henceforth be offered the position of official apprentice chef for a year, and get his start in the business right away in Gault's foodie empire. Naturally, he accepted. What a crowd-pleaser.
One To Watch
Bikie Wars - Brothers in Arms, TV3, 8.30 tonight.
More Aussies behaving badly from the Underbelly stable - this time a dramatised account of the goings-on between the Comancheros and Bandidos motorcycle gangs, which led up to the 1984 Milperra massacre
- © Fairfax NZ News
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