Ben Pobje May 28, 2012
Cactus is what you eat after you go insane after a week in the desert.
We begin a new week with a reminder of the myriad injustices of the previous week, including Mindy's defeat by the forces of leftovers, and Matt's banishment to the phantom zone of Hungry Jack’s by the evil fennel-related machinations of Deb.
But there is no time to dwell on the past, we must move, as always, ever onward, relentlessly pushing forward in our ceaseless attempts to fill the emptiness in our lives. That's what MasterChef is all about.
And so the credits, where Mindy hurls food at the camera, probably because Deb is standing behind it. And then to the house, where Beau is running shirtless on the treadmill in direct contravention of the show's anti-fitness philosophy, and "Andrew" is pondering what he should wear. Perhaps an eye-catching ensemble will allow viewers to remember who he is – he is nothing if not ambitious.
In the MasterChef kitchen, the amateurs are confronted with some enormous mystery boxes, probably large enough to contain the dismembered remains of an entire person. George gives them "a few clues" as to what's in the boxes, which is pretty pointless seeing as they're going to open them in a couple of seconds. And open them they do, and discover that today's mystery box challenge is to use "ingredients".
The degree of difficulty rises further when it's revealed that they must make biscuits, a challenge which will almost certainly lead at least one contestant to try to make some kind of Japanese-Greek fusion salad, because MasterChef contestants are nothing if not constantly eager to ignore the instructions given to them.
"Let's make some magic happen," says Sam to Kath, before enthusiastically trying to saw Emma in half. "Do I put eggs in?" says Sam to the viewers at home, who are sadly unable to help him with this dilemma. Meanwhile, Kylie has decided on victory through puns, and tells us, "I will try to risk it for a biscuit", instantly becoming everyone's least favourite MasterChef contestant/TV personality/human being.
Apparently for Julia, biscuits are all about home and growing up, because she was raised in a Dickensian orphanage where real food was unavailable. Psychological torture was also practised there, as she explains that the recipe is "imprinted on my brain", the tears pricking her eyes telling of the agony she feels being forced to relive this horror. You bastards, MasterChef.
Elsewhere, Ben confides that his favourite biscuit is the Anzac, and is immediately dragged away by the RSL's anti-copyright infringement squad. His troubles are nothing compared to Amina, who has decided to put Turkish Delight in her biscuits, forgetting the number one rule of cookery: Turkish Delight is disgusting.
Matt tells George and Gary that there is nothing better than the smell of baking biscuits, because he has led a sad and narrow life. Kylie, though, has let the pressure get to her, cracking under the strain as she abandons the biscuit challenge in favour of obsessively making a series of small edible toilet rolls.
I'm sure Kylie would feel better if she knew that thanks to Coles FlyBuys My5, the milk in her biscuits was only $1.80!
Anyway we’re back in the kitchen and things are getting tense as Gary attempts alliteration with horrific consequences. Biscuits are being smeared with things, Kylie is filling her toilet rolls with what appears to be mayonnaise, and time is ticking away. George yells, "Lock the doors, cos the Cookie Monster might get in!" causing the contestants to rush to the front of the room and beat him to death in a heartwarming moment.
The judges call up Amina, Julia, and Ben, in the traditional "render the efforts of the vast majority of the contestants laughably pointless" section of the challenge, because MasterChef is if nothing else, a show which teaches us that appearances are more important than substance. Kylie is in tears at the thought that her toilet rolls may never know their true worth. I hope you're happy judges – you made a girl cry. Disgraceful.
Anyway, Gary asks Julia to put her bikkies on the counter and is immediately ruined by a sexual harassment suit, and then proceeds to experience a tantric orgasm over her melting moments. Next up, Amina, who has misunderstood the request to make biscuits and has instead made some kind of weird little balls with dates in them or something. George has lots of Middle Eastern friends and has had these weird little balls before, but he makes it quite clear to Amina that his Middle Eastern friends are, when it comes to the crunch, crap at baking. Amina is so much better than his Middle Eastern friends – his Middle Eastern friends can go screw themselves.
And finally Ben, who has added cranberries and white chocolate to his Anzac biscuits in an effort to dishonour those who fought and died for our freedom. Matt loves them, but then Matt is from England, and Gallipoli was their fault in the first place.
"There can be only one winner," Matt says, fulfilling the "restate the rules every five minutes" clause in the judges' employment contracts, and the winner on this occasion is Julie, who therefore gets to choose the core ingredient in the invention test, an advantage that history has proven is practically useless.
The invention test, Gary explains, is to encapsulate an entire country, a country that makes him think of speedy mice, and sombreros, and offensive ethnic stereotypes. "It's a Mexican stand-off!" he cries, in case we haven't yet got the message that he is very committed to clichés.
But if you thought this show was full of drama, wait till the next episode of Offspring, when Nina doesn't want to go to work.
Back at the kitchen, Julia superfluously runs through the ingredients she didn't choose, before revealing the one she did choose – cactus. Ha ha ha! This is a funny joke on us all – cactus isn't a food! Cactus is what you eat after you go insane after a week in the desert!
"Andrew" states confidently that if you boil prickly pear for a few days you can use it to waterproof your mud-brick house – this seems like a dubious strategy on several levels, though. Just as confidently, Julia proclaims, "Who's cooked with cactus? I haven't." Great, good choice then.
"Dunno what you're waiting for, you have sixty minutes, your time starts now!" says Gary. Gary they were probably waiting for you to say "your time starts now".
Emma doesn't have a great idea yet of what she's going to do, so she's sticking with the tactics that have got her so far.
As everyone gets to work, they explain what they're cooking, but it hardly seems to matter, since they're all cooking with cactus and so "food" has clearly ceased to be a significant factor in the competition.
Kath, though, thinks Kath has picked an "awesome" ingredient – "how authentically Mexican!" she enthuses, not realising this would be equally true if the core ingredient was gila monster, or murdered drug dealer.
"I just don't know," says "Andrew", now feeling what everyone else feels whenever he's on screen.
With 45 minutes to go, Gary reminds them that they want "the whole enchilada", throwing everyone's plans into disarray, as everyone thought they had a bit more leeway. Mindy is not making an enchilada, she is making jalapeno poppers, as her food philosophy is centred around dishes that she can embarrassingly mispronounce on television.
Dalvinder, who doesn't make salads very often, is making a salad, because now is the time to play to your weaknesses. She may have made a misstep in her decision to put pebbles in, though. Meanwhile Sam is trying to set the kitchen on fire, and Gary is doing his Speedy Gonzalez impression, because, you know, Mexican. They're cooking Mexican food. So … Mexican.
Kath takes the lid off her pressure cooker, and reveals her chicken soup. It's Mexican chicken soup, though, because she's going to serve it with an accent. Gary seizes the opportunity to destroy her confidence, asking smirkily, "How are you going to turn that into something that we'll love." It becomes obvious that at this point the producers edit out the shot of Kath hurling the pot of boiling soup into Gary's face.
I really hope you guys have taken the Ski Activ 14-day challenge. I'd hate to think you're reading this while suffering from bloating.
"We're down to the prickly end of this challenge!" shouts George as we return, clearly having failed to learn his lesson from the frequent pun-related beatings he’s been subjected to for the last four years.
Julia is praying to the Mexican gods that her panna cotta has set, but the Mexican gods know full well that panna cotta is Italian, and they laugh mockingly at her. "You've got ten seconds to go – make the most of it!" shouts Gary, sarcastically.
First to present his dish to the judges is Ben, who has made tiny tacos and a large blob of snot, just as they eat in Mexico, land of sneezing munchkins. Gary likes it but also doesn't, as is his irritating way. Matt notes that it is an invention test, and criticises Ben for being too inventive.
Next up is Alice, who has made chilli churros with prickly pear and tequila syrup and chocolate avocado dipping sauce, in tribute to the Mexican people and their love of foods that really do not go together. "You know churros in this kitchen have never worked," says George, barely keeping his rage in check. "Tequila!" Alice squeals, showing that it's not just her glasses that bug people. They're the best churros that this kitchen has ever seen, according to George, which means Alice has managed to do slightly better than dismal and abject failure.
Now we have Kath, whose chicken soup has a problem, according to Matt – there is a big slick of oil across the top. Underneath the flavours are great, but Matt is unable to get past the flock of dying seagulls bobbing around on the surface.
And now Deb, who has made tzatziki out of cactus and pure evil, and also doesn't know that tzatziki is not Mexican. And then Beau, who has pickled his cactus perfectly – if you know what I mean. And then Andy, whose playful pineapple wins plaudits.
But now comes the moment of truth. Julia steps up, to find out whether her attempt at being a complete smartarse with the cactus will serve her well. "Did you boil the yoghurt?" asks George ominously before the fireball puts us out of our misery.
A quick ad break, in which Kate from last year pops up to let us know how to get our dishes sparkling clean, and also remind us of a time when MasterChef contestants had a bit more bloody sense.
And then we're back to the action, as George tastes the panna cotta and finds himself desperately wishing for some Ski Activ to get the taste out of his mouth. The panna cotta is grainy, which apparently is…wrong? Matt loves the idea of the dish, but then in theory, communism works. "Kiwi fruit doesn't have gravel in it," Matt tells Julia, yet again putting his finger on life's deeper truths.
Times marches remorselessly on, as the contestants continue to tear the heart out of Mexican culture. Sam's cooked an entire mole, which he caught in the garden outside, and cooked it well. Tregan has made tostadas, which are tasty, but not interesting enough for a lengthy description. And then, "Andrew", who's made chicken chocolate tortillas, or to put it more accurately, mental-patient pancakes. Gary tells him he can't cook like this again – it might be advice, or an assessment on the laws of probability.
Here is Dalvinder with her salad, and she shows her competitors up – apparently all you need to do to make food Mexican is say "Mexican-style" at the end. In any event, Dalvinder has impressed the judges. Matt is impressed with how she's made a South Indian dish but with Mexican flavours, raising the question of exactly what South Indian food is. "Bollywood goes to Mexico!" he cries, proving that cultural reductionism is not restricted to Latin America.
And now Mindy, who has made Mispronounced Jalapeno Poppers, which make George want to get up and dance on the table, meaning Mindy is immediately disqualified.
I think Channel Ten is just going to keep showing those Last Man Standing ads – we might as well give up now.
It is JUDGING TIME, or as the Mexicans call it, Dia de los Muertos. The three best dishes were Mindy, who can't pronounce her dish; Dalvinder, who made an Indian dish; and Alice, who is just, you know, irritating. Matt then coins the term "guacamollywood", to really hammer home the point that Bollywood is literally the only thing he knows about India.
And the winner of the Modern Mexican challenge is …
MINDY! So that's … I guess that's pretty good? Mindy's victory means that she will once again get to face off against a professional chef and cook a meal that the judges clearly prefer, but lose anyway. Hooray!
The three dishes that were not so good, however, were "Andrew" and his laudanum-tortillas, Kath and her Exxon soup, and Julia, who is rightfully punished for her misguided belief that cactus is a food, and immediately states "From great heights one must fall", the disappointment of defeat shocking her into thinking that she is a character in a Spider-Man movie. Her next piece of wisdom is to tell us she has made her bed, which is a prickly one, already preparing for tomorrow’s elimination challenge, which will be a confusing metaphor challenge. Also, tomorrow, Maggie Beer will be in, producing cheers from the contestants and some incredibly filthy thoughts from certain unnamed recappers. Stay tuned! Oh sorry, I forgot, I mean "Ai caramba, amigos! Vamos!"
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.