Twelve contestants show up at Masterchef HQ wanting nothing more than to crush the hopes and dreams of one of their closest friends. Jess, having won immunity, gets to watch from high above and laugh at the foolish mortals and their pathetic floundering.
“It’s really hard because coming back on Masterchef, you’re putting a lot on the line,” says Khanh, which is a funny way of saying, “I already have a successful career so the stakes are much, much lower this time around”, but Khanh has always been an idiosyncratic fellow.
Jock greets them and gleefully informs them that today he smells the sweet aroma of death in the air. He singles individual cooks out to make sure they realise that if they lose today their decision to come on the show will look incredibly stupid. “Good luck to each and every one of you,” he says with searing sarcasm.
There is a big sheet on a table. Andy and Jock remove the sheet. There is a big load of fish on the table. Their faces betray just how sad they were at the moment they were killed. Andy announces that “a bloody fish legend” is about to walk through the doors. The contestants feel a tingle of anticipation, for they know who the greatest cook of bloody fish is – it’s Josh Niland. We all know who that is, don’t we? Of course we do! In he comes and everyone definitely recognises him
Khanh informs us that Josh has devised a whole new way of preparing fish, which is that he cuts it up in a weird way or something. Josh tells Melissa about his great idea of forcing people to eat fish eyeballs. He is a genuine sadist, and that’s what he brings to the show.
In the first round of the challenge today, contestants must correctly identify various fish for Josh. The first five to get the name of a fish wrong will be hurled into the nightmare of round two.
Simon steps forward and says “flathead”. He is correct. Callum comes up and says “pink snapper” because he is a filthy-mouthed boor who can’t help making everything dirty. He is right though, it is a pink snapper – you can tell because it has Jimmy Page’s fingerprints on it. Brendan walks up and says “garfish”, which is exactly what the creepy thing he’s pointing at is. Sarah steps up and says “John Dory”. She’s right. Emelia, in a blind panic, says “coral trout”. She’s right. Reece, who is terrified of fish, says “Benito”, which I’m pretty sure is the name of his uncle rather than a fish, but Josh takes pity on him and says he’s right. Tessa says “mirror dory” which is a thing apparently. Laura says “flounder” and Tracy says “rainbow trout” and they’re both right.
This whole time Khanh has been bitching in cutaways about how unfair it is that he has to go eleventh, a canny inclusion from the producers who know how much the audience loves hearing Khanh whine about stuff. Poh identifies the barramundi and Khanh squeals at her. It is his turn and he is confused. He sees salmon and cod but maybe he doesn’t so what the hell I guess. He points at the tuna and says “yellowfin tuna” and he is WRONG. Ha! What kind of a moron says yellowfin tuna when it’s not even yellowfin tuna! How humiliating! The nations bursts into laughter at Khanh’s pathetically inadequate knowledge of tuna species.
Moving on, it’s Reynold, who had to wait even longer than Khanh but hasn’t been bitching about it. He says “salmon” and he is quite right. Simon’s turn again. He says “ling” and Josh agrees that yes, he is now accepting random noises as answers. Callum says “whiting”. Josh asks what kind. Callum says “King George”. Josh is impressed by his loyalty. Brendan says “mullet”. Correct. Sarah says “red emperor”. Correct. It’s even funnier when you know that Khanh knew what several of these were but chose to identify one he didn’t know.
Emelia is nearly out of fish savvy. She says “kingfish”. Josh toys with her and we go to a break. When we come back Emelia is woefully incorrect and she’s into the Hell Round. Reece is next. “It’s literally like a trip to the aquarium, but at least at the aquarium you have a plaque to tell you which fish is which,” he says. Yes and also at the aquarium the fish are in a tank and swimming around instead of lying dead on a table. So it’s not “literally” like a trip to the aquarium at all, is it numbnuts? Anyway, Reece says “sand whiting” and is wrong of course.
Next is Tessa who says “albacore tuna” and where Khanh was hilariously wrong, she is right. Laura says “sand whiting”, which is exactly what Reece said, so she’s not only bad at identifying fish, she’s bad at listening. She should have to do round two twice.
One more person to enter round two, and Tracy comes forward and says “cod”, on the basis that “Murray cod is often quite big”. It’s a bad basis. Josh says what the fish actually is, which is a series of odd mouth sounds.
And so it is Khanh versus Emelia versus Reece versus Laura versus Tracy in round two. They will have to cook a kingfish. Josh begins by demonstrating his preferred method of mutilating a fish. He informs everyone that at his restaurant he puts fish scales in a dessert, and everyone makes a mental note to never ever ever go to Josh’s restaurant. The butchery goes on for some time and is utterly horrifying. Poh says she would rather watch it than go to an opera, but this is not saying much at all, as a) opera is very boring and b) Poh is a psychopath.
Having seen how Josh lays out all the bits of the dismembered fish like a scene from Dexter, everyone applauds. Each contestant gets one part of the kingfish to cook with. The soundtrack goes crazy with suspenseful strings as they choose their cuts, to cover up the fact it’s an extremely uninteresting process.
Finally, more than half an hour into the episode, some actual cooking starts to happen. “There are a few dishes that come to mind when I think of kingfish,” says Khanh, but this apparently doesn’t help at all, as he has no idea what to do. Meanwhile, Laura declares that she intends to not lose the challenge, and the others curse the fact they didn’t think of that.
Emelia is feeling nervous. Josh tells her to remember that the kingfish is a lean fish, so she mustn’t body-shame it. Emelia has a flashback to her life making and decorating cakes, which rarely have fish in them. She realises that returning to Masterchef was a horrible mistake, but feeling trapped, she ploughs on.
Josh and Andy visit Tracy and demand that she show proof that she was ever on this show before. Tracy is evasive as ever. She wants her sauce to have a lush mouthfeel, which sounds disgusting, but to each their own.
Reece is cutting up a chicken, having become incredibly confused about the challenge. From the balcony, observers try to warn him that he’s supposed to be cooking fish, but Reece stubbornly refuses to listen. Andy tells Josh that Reece is a vegan, and they laugh cruelly at his stupidity.
Meanwhile, Laura runs to the garden in an attempt to escape the show, but the judges track her down and drag her back into the kitchen. She tells Josh and Andy what she’s cooking and they laugh at her too.
“Um…what am I doing?” Khanh asks. Nobody knows. He decides to do the dish he did in his semi-final in his previous appearance on the show. When he did it that time, he fucked it up royally, so he knows exactly how bad he is at making it, but he is doing it anyway because deep down inside he hates himself. He puts tamarind in his pot. Jock stares at the tamarind in horror. He’s never seen such atrocity.
The judges convene. Josh tells the others that he’s hoping to see some crispy skin, but they force him to discuss cooking instead. They all agree that Tracy’s dish sounds like garbage and that Reece doesn’t know the difference between fish and chicken. They laugh at Reece. He is a figure of fun.
Laura decides to cut her fish. On the balcony, the spectators find this deeply offensive. They glare at Laura in disgust, scarcely believing that someone they considered a friend would do something so vile. Cutting! A fish!
Emelia is discussing how to make fish stew, which isn’t very entertaining, is it?
Tracy tastes her sauce. The pork belly has made it too rich. The lesson is: don’t pork your kingfish. She starts the sauce again, with a new strategy: don’t fuck everything up like an idiot.
Meanwhile, Reece has made a fennel oil, as if that’s a solution to anything. “It’s all down to the cooking of that fish,” says Jock, with typically sophisticated insight. “I think I should just put it in the oven,” says Reece, referring to either his fish or his head.
Jock asks Laura why she cut her piece of fish into two pieces. She tells him the piece was too big. He tells her that Josh already cut the fish up into good pieces, and she’s got some fucking nerve to think she knows better than Josh fucking Niland what a piece of fish should look like. How DARE she tell Josh that the piece of fish he gave her is too big. Presumptuous little hussy.
Khanh is aware that he doesn’t want his fish to be squeaky. But let’s move on.
“Five minutes to go!” yells Melissa, who hasn’t had much to do today but still looks fabulous. Reece is happy with the presentation of his dish, but he is a vegan so his judgment is worthless. “THREE MINUTES TO GO!” Jock screams, his inner rage bursting out despite his best efforts to repress it. Emelia has done all she can to balance her sauce, and must now leave it in the hands of her Lord and Saviour, Jesus, who knows all. “I don’t know what that fish is like inside,” she muses, wondering whether it is even right to eat a fish without learning of its hopes and dreams, its life and family.
Khanh needs his fish to get to forty-five degrees. We’re supposed to somehow magically know why this is. I don’t know why this is. I have no idea. Take his word for it I guess,
With one minute to go, Tracy runs to the pantry, finds there’s no way out, and runs back. Time is up. Emelia wishes she’d cut her rack in half, but Laura did that and look what happened: everyone hates her now.
The judges sit down and prepare to eat a whole bunch of dreadful fish. The first bit of dreadful fish they eat is Laura’s. She cut her piece of fish up, defying nature and God, but it tastes OK so they forgive her foul blasphemy. Josh admits that his employees can’t cook fish as well as Laura and that he wishes he could sack them all.
The next bit of dreadful fish is Reece’s. “Skin looks great,” says Josh, but this is no time for flirting. Reece’s fish is overdone and the judges decide that he has no friends. On the other hand, Melissa says “A riot of spring and summer”, so she’s been drinking for hours already.
The next bit of dreadful fish is Emelia’s. She is nervous because her fish is huge and unwieldy and a selfish lover. She begins to cry as she describes how much she hates being on this show. The judges eat her fish and find that it, too, is overdone, and they will never speak to Emelia again. Josh says his mussel was cooked perfectly, but nobody cares.
The next bit of dreadful fish is Tracy’s. Nervous because unlike the other contestants, she was never on Masterchef before, so this is all new to her, she is uncertain of whether she has any idea what she’s doing. After eating her fish, the judges are agreed: she doesn’t. Tracy’s fish, even by the incredibly low standards set by the preceding efforts, is trash so revolting that the best thing any judge can say about it is “the corn is cooked nicely”. “This was a confused cook,” says Melissa, because she’s too nice to say, “this is gross and I would rather die than eat it”.
Khanh regrets his choices, both in this dish and in general, but he brings forward his dreadful fish. It’s the dish that sent him home once before, but this time can he possibly have made something less edible than Tracy’s? The judges eat. They like it. It’s wonderful to get something that gets the taste of Tracy and Emelia and Reece’s dishes out of their mouths.
It’s time for judgment to be passed and three contestants to find out they suck. Josh says it was “a great day” which is so transparently a lie that it’s amazing he even bothered. We SAW the judging, mate.
The judges begin by telling Laura and Khanh that they are, relatively speaking, worthwhile human beings in comparison to the other three. Andy tells Khanh that if he’d made that version of his dish in the semi-final he would’ve won, which is an amazingly cruel thing to say.
Now to the bottom three. They all sucked balls, but clearly one sucked more balls harder than the others and that was Tracy. And so Tracy departs, but she leaves behind many wonderful memories of some blonde woman sort of moving around in the background occasionally who we didn’t recognise. “It’s all good,” says Tracy, in denial of reality. “We are going to miss you so much,” says Melissa, even more in denial of reality.
Tune in tomorrow, when Willy Wonka introduces the children to a world of pure imagination.