Ben Pobjie July 25, 2012
MasterChef 2012 winner ... Andy Allen.
The champion is decided once more, and after a season almost as long as this recap, we slump and revel in another year of glorious competition, inappropriate crying and big hunks of meat.
A finale of MasterChef always brings a strange mixture of exhilaration and sorrow. The excitement and pageantry of the event sends delicious shivers down our spines, and we can but marvel at the extraordinary skills being displayed by the editors and sound engineers, but there is also sadness – will this really be the last time we see these noble kitchen warriors until we see their face on a jar of sauce or the cover of Zoo?
But whether happy or sad, a season of MasterChef is making love – as much as you might want it to last forever, it just wouldn't work without the climax. And this year's final is especially thrilling: will victory go to the steely nerves and precision gears of Julia; the efficiency and technically not-allowed professional experience of Audra; or the general handsomeness of Andy? Or will it be revealed that we've all been punk'd, and actually Amina has won? Let's hope so! But there is only one way to determine the winner of a cooking show, and that is to play it out to its grim, bitter end, and so we buckle in and bite down hard on something and prepare for the upcoming conflagration of blood, tears and vinegar.
We begin the finale with a montage of home videos of some people who I don't really recognise: friends of the judges maybe? The judges are talking over the top, so I guess so. It's weird, because one of them actually looks a bit like Audra! Funny old world.
We are then treated to lightning run through the events of the series so far, including that time someone made pasta, and the time Jamie Oliver waved to them, and one day when they had to be in a kitchen. We are reminded of the raw emotion, both ecstasy and heartbreak, that has run through MasterChef 2012. Whether hugging each other, dropping a bowl, or doing a third thing, there's no doubt these amateurs have made us feel a variety of feelings at certain times.
And then to the title sequence, a poignant reminder that we cannot remember anything most of these people did. Matt? Was he even in the show?
Thence to the MasterChef house, where Audra describes how much she's given up for the show, like for example the job that she hates and doesn't want to do anymore – quite a sacrifice. "Being in MasterChef, I've just realised how much I want to cook," she confesses, this desire having come as quite a shock – she had expected to hate cooking.
Meanwhile, Andy is drinking heavily at breakfast and remembering his childhood as a basketball fisherman. He flashes back to the terrifying moment when Matt Moran brandished a knife at him, and broods on the vicious enmity he has built up with Gary. A series of flashbacks demonstrate just how abusive all the chefs have been to Andy, as he confides that his mum doesn't even know how to cook, the hatred burning in his eyes.
And now it's Julia's time to boot up and get started for the day. As with the others we run through her triumphs and tragedies, the times she impressed the judges with her ability to do one thing, and the times she disappointed them with her inability to do any other things. We also see how she promised herself she wouldn't cry on the show, but made exceptions for those times when the cameras were turned on.
And so to the kitchen, where the moment of truth is to arrive, and we are confronted with a fireball that we treasure, for we have so few fireballs left.
In the ad break we reflect: will Puberty Blues be able to fill the hole in our soul that MasterChef will leave? It may lack something in terms of drama and tension, but then MasterChef lacks bittersweet coming-of-age stories and clever references to how things in the 70s were different, so you can't have everything.
Back at the kitchen, the final three wraps arms around each other, almost as if they do not fervently wish the others a slow and painful death. Above them all the eliminated contestants clap and cheer, and the final three just know they are going to have a lot of annoying crap yelled at them today.
Gary now describes the final three's cooking as "courageous", which I suppose is accurate – the stove gets pretty hot and they are risking nasty burns. George reveals the finale will be decided over three rounds – in round one, the amateurs must cook over a hundred entrees; in round two the amateurs must divert a river to wash out a stable; and in round three they must sing Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.
But the TWIST of the finale, the one that will CHANGE THE SHOW FOREVER, is that they will be cooking entrees for MASTERCHEF FANS. A great challenge indeed: will their cooking live up to the stringent standards of expert television watchers?
The amateurs also get to choose two assistants for the final, because 2012 is the year when MasterChef really rubs salt into losers' wounds. Julia picks Mindy and Kylie, Audra picks Amina and TK, and Andy picks his life partner Ben and Beau, meaning we have Team Blonde, Team Asia, and Team Handsome.
We then receive the startling news that Matt Moran has been in the room all along. Nobody offers any explanation as to why.
"Why do they do it to us?" a daunted Andy asks the camera, showing why he has endeared himself to a nation: he still doesn't quite understand what's going on.
As the amateurs begin their prep, the judges convene for a casual conversation about obvious things. From the balcony, Sam asks Andy how he's going. He's going pretty good, although he may be cracking under the pressure, because he is making squid ink and cauliflower puree, apparently under the impression he is auditioning for a job as a horror movie make-up artists rather than a chef. "If it doesn't work out, I'm gone," Andy admits, and yet he continues with his mad scheme.
Meanwhile, Audra is describing the pressure points of her dish, which consist of combining the ingredients into something that is good to eat. Always a fascinating insight into the process when pressure points are discussed.
At Julia's bench, George and Gary think Julia's dish sounds more like a main than an entrée, causing her to look at them as if they're something she just scraped out of her belly button. George is very dubious, but Julia explains that her dish is both "cheeky" and "thought-provoking" – if it is cooked just right it will produce a string of saucy puns and strong opinions on euthanasia laws.
Back in the kitchen after a break, Gary explains to George and Matt the terms of the challenge, in case they weren't there earlier. Matt confesses he is a little worried about Andy, who is using his squid ink to make a tar baby and chuckling darkly about the rabbit he plans to catch. George, on the other hand, questions whether Audra's entrée is hot, which I guess is some sexual innuendo or other. Oh George!
Up on the balcony, advice is flying thick and fast for Audra from a group of people who have already proven themselves far inferior to her in terms of cooking talent. This includes three bald men who were definitely never on this show. Must have broken in the back. It also includes TK, who calls out "watch the fingers", causing Audra, just in the nick of time, to abort her plan to sever her pinky.
Suddenly the doors open and the diners burst in. Andy is intimidated by the sight – "They've watched the show and they have really high expectations," he frets, not realising the utter inanity of this statement – if there is any group in society with extremely low expectations of MasterChef contestants, it is MasterChef fans.
The amateurs call their assistants down, and service begins. This is the most exciting time of the day, according to Andy. It is also the time when he gets to stand very close to Ben, so yeah.
Waiters are flying back and forth, but Julia's dishes haven't gone out, because the meat has to rest, as you'd expect given the amount of time it's just spent in Julia's company. Mindy and Kylie, though, tell her she needs to get her dishes out NOW – Julia does need to consider the fact that Mindy and Kylie probably want her to fail though.
Audra has cooked some of her signature "piles of various substances on a plate" for entrée, and TK and Amina struggle to engage in the complex culinary Jenga that is plating up for Audra. For her part Audra is sick of being harassed and yells at everyone to shut the hell up. They retaliate by setting her on fire, and after a brief glimpse into the terrifying world of sentient after-hours McDonald's cups, we are back.
In the kitchen, Matt Moran wants to be very, very clear, and he gives Audra a quick maths lesson. Maths is her enemy right now, because TK can't build a tower of salad to save her own life, which given Audra's current frame of mind, is a very real equation.
Plating up is going much more smoothly over at Team Blonde, which is serving up a gorgeous tiny little lump of pretentious rubbish on a big plate, just like in a real restaurant. The judges are extremely happy with the high level of pretentiousness that Julia has achieved with her tiny unidentifiable thingumajig. "Who said pastry chefs can't cook something savoury?" George asks the universe, getting no reply: although the correct reply is "nobody said that George. What sort of idiot would say that?"
Team Handsome is also brimming with confidence, their tuna being infused with the simple manly aroma of dude-love. However, George says he thinks it needs to be "zipped up a bit more", because he can't think of any way to describe the dish that actually means anything.
Finally the judges are served Audra's thing, which is called "Eggnet", as a tribute to her favourite film, Terminator. It looks great, but Preston is disturbed by its coldness. He just feels unable to connect with the dish on a human level. "It's definitely not a hot entrée but it's definitely hot," says George, having banged his head repeatedly on the edge of the table to gain inspiration for his commentary.
It is Judgment Day, as Audra would say, and the results of the entrée challenge will determine which two will proceed to the next round, and which one will be forced to live a hollow life of tearful regret, forever haunted by the memory of the day they tried and failed to become a worthwhile human being.
Gary has scored Audra an eight. "I wish I could cook like that," he says, tipping us all off that if we eat at his restaurant, we'll be getting a 7/10 meal at best. George and Preston give her sevens, more disappointed by the lack of heat and friendly banter.
Julia gets a seven from Gary, who is still hungry. But she gets a NINE from George, who fancies his chances. She also gets a nine from Matt, who is in a conspiracy with George to make Gary look mean.
Gary gives seven again to Andy, who can cook only just as well as Gary can. George gives Andy an eight despite the "big and lumpy" tuna, which to be fair was really an act of God. And Matt gives Andy …
A fireball, what were you expecting? A result BEFORE the ad? You gullible cretins. Knowing how Andy scored without considering the irresistible nature of Nando's fiery peri-peri chicken would just feel lame, after all.
And we're back, and Matt gives Andy…
An EIGHT! Which means handsomeness has triumphed and Ben's dream of Andy winning MasterChef stays alive.
And so Audra must leave, her dream of working in the food industry crushed, to return to her job as a professional caterer. She then gives a speech about camaraderie and blah blah blah, and finishes by leaping upon Matt Preston and trying to strangle him.
After security has ejected Audra from the kitchen floor, it's down to business. Andy on 23 points versus Julia on 25. "The question is, can you keep the lead on Andy?" says Gary, to which Julia, being unfamiliar with the human concept of rhetorical questions, answers "definitely".
Over the next hour or so, George says a sentence, in which he tells Julia and Andy they must cook something which could be Australia's national dish. "What does it mean to be Australian?" asks Julia in a panic, unable to find the software for this.
Well might she be panicked – she's up against Andy, who as she says is "so good with his protein", and has some skills at cooking too.
"What are you making, Andy?" calls TK. "Leave him alone!" Ben bellows, jealously. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!" The editors wisely elect not to show us the sight of Ben, enraged at the impudence of those who would ask Andy what he's making, rampaging violently along the balcony.
Andy is making a fisherman's basket, and Julia is making lamb, both of them having decided to pay tribute to the incredibly boring nature of Australian cuisine. If they're really feeling daring, there might be some chips, or tomato sauce.
Andy now describes how he's going to make an oyster emulsion, but since he's just making up words now, it's safe to ignore this bit. Julia, meanwhile, hacks into her lamb while being urged to go faster by someone on the balcony, or possibly the tiny pilot sitting in her head. She describes her plans for the main, and if I understand her correctly she intends to start a bushfire.
Elsewhere on the balcony, Andy's spirit animal, Ben, is giving him sage advice, and everyone else is sniggering behind their hands. Some old guy is also calling encouragement to Julia – no idea who he is. Her dad maybe.
His encouragement won't help keep her sane, though, as she attempts to turn her lamb into a cigar and smoke it. What will help her is George and Gary, who have sauntered over to Andy's bench to undermine his confidence. It works, his pot boiling over and flames leaping toward the ceiling. Julia sees her chance, hurling a can of petrol at Andy's stove and escaping in the ensuing confusion.
Gary points out that Julia hasn't caramelised her lamb. Julia points out that she knows what she's doing, dammit. George, though, is determined to make Julia think she's stuffed up. Again, it seems to work – Andy is plating up, but Julia once more falls prey to her obsession with letting meat rest. We all knew that sooner or later, her concern for the level of fatigue in food would catch up with her. Luckily for her, Andy has completely lost the ability to know what food looks like, and is frantically tossing foodstuffs at a plate, staring quizzically at it as if it's a magic eye puzzle.
Time is up! Will these horrible dishes be enough? The amateurs hope so, but the loud piano music suggests heartache looms. Andy can't put his finger on it, but there's something not quite right with his dish – will he notice the pigeon faeces before it's too late? Also, are fisherman's baskets and lamb really that Australian? Would they not have been better off cooking something truly patriotic, like a kangaroo or a brown snake or Dawn Fraser?
As we wait for the verdict we are reminded of what's at stake – the chance to get unreasonably excited about dishwashing tablets on TV.
And now, the second moment of truth out of a total of three moments of truth: the judging of the main.
First up is Julia's "crusted rack of lamb", with "vegetables". The dish was inspired by Julia's memories of growing up on a property and weeding bushes and having trees and I suppose at some point or other she ate lamb and stuff. So that's a pretty great story. Gary is worried the lamb is undercooked. George is worried the fat hasn't been rendered. Matt is worried the others won't shut up and let him eat.
Ironically, it turns out Julia hasn't let the lamb rest for long enough, which we can all have a good laugh about. It is also not an inventive dish, in that it's not a tiny medallion of raw pheasant next to a snail trail, like the judges prefer.
In comes Andy with his indefinably flawed fisherman's basket. He is behind on points, but he knows he can still win because he won a basketball game once. His dish is also inspired by his childhood, when he would go fishing, so he has at least defeated Julia in the Most Boring Inspiration contest. Gary, though, thinks the dish might have steroids in it.
The eating begins, and Matt is mightily impressed with the oyster emulsion, playing along with this farcical charade, while George grunts enthusiastically. The overall consensus is that Andy's dish is delicious and we should go to an ad break while pretending everyone doesn't already know Andy has crushed Julia like a cockroach in this round.
And we're back, to hear Gary tell them that the grand finale is exhausting, so wasting more time on talking will really pep them up a lot. He explains the criteria on which they judged the dishes, because clearly the show was moving at far too cracking a pace.
Matt explains how they loved lots of things about Julia's dish, except obviously for how she cooked it. Andy, though, cooked his seafood perfectly, even though the dish looked like it had just fallen out of a barracuda's belly slit.
Gary gives Julia a seven, and she reacts with an expression of relief that indicates she had no idea that "seven" means you pretty much suck. Sevens all round in fact, and Julia admits she is happy with that because she deserved much less, thus insulting the judges' expertise to top it all off.
On to Andy, who gets a NINE from Matt … a NINE from George … and a TEN from Gary! Stunning! Andy has kicked Julia's steely buttocks all around this kitchen with his perfect fish and oyster gunk. He steps forward to give Gary a hug, the air thick with emotion and great howling sobs from Ben on the balcony.
Time for round three, which Andy cannily guesses will be a dessert, rather than a cup of coffee or after-dinner mint as it might have been. Dessert, of course, is Julia's forte, her parents having both been blast freezers, and Andy's five point lead and stylish hair may not be enough even now.
In steps the guest chef to present the final challenge – Christine Mansfield, legendary dessert chef and stop-motion puppet. "Be afraid," she grins, homicidal lust throbbing in every vein, as up above Emma rubs her hands in a most disturbing manner. Christine lifts the cloche of death …
And reveals …
A candle with a blob of chocolate ice-cream on it.
We're informed that this thing is actually a Gaytime, which is patently untrue, as it has neither a stick or a wrapper.
"It's like a Gaytime on ‘roids," says Andy. Ben gasps.
Christine then explains how to make her Gaytime candle, a very complicated process compared to the traditional method of "go down to the shop with a couple of bucks".
"You've all got amazing skills," says George, forgetting there's only two of them, in what he probably thinks is a pep talk, and the pair rush to their benches. Julia begins by making her honeycomb: first she carefully hatches several thousand bees, then releases them to seek out nectar to bring back to the queen.
While she is engaged in the ancient apiarist's art, Andy is busily describing the incredibly dull process of making something or other with eggs and milk and stuff. After that thing, he must make another thing, which has a pressure point apparently. Just one though, so it shouldn't be too hard. He puts his mousse in the fridge and returns to the bench to discover he's made the mousse completely wrong and has to start again. Above, Ben falls to his knees and screams, "WHY?" Andy tells us that Julia is "the Terminator of desserts", as he starts his mousse over, and behind him Julia fires a shotgun into her mixing bowl.
Julia is happy to be making a dessert and watching Andy have a nervous breakdown. Gary tells Andy he enjoys watching him sweat, while Christine offers each contestant a poisoned apple.
Disaster strikes! Julia isn't entirely happy with her mousse! There are lumps in it – her batteries have fallen out and into the bowl! Andy has his own problems though, as the recipe informs he must mix something into a "homogenous paste", and he must confront his greatest fear: polysyllabic words. He is not helped by Ben calling out "come on fancypants" and making things incredibly awkward.
There then follows a succession of shots of cylinders being rolled, which is not as exciting as it sounds. Disaster strikes again! "As I'm rolling the cylinder, I hear a little crack," says Julia. Yes, her exoskeleton is beginning to lose its structural integrity under the studio lights.
Andy's rolling adventures though are going remarkably well. Could the dessert queen be about to succumb to the Admiral of Handsome? Probably not, because Andy's caramel has split, man. He has only three minutes to fix this problem, which is nowhere near enough time, so he decides to whip up a bolognese sauce and hope for the best. Meanwhile, Julia's thermostat has broken and everyone is yelling at her, thinking they're being encouraging but actually driving her into a bloodthirsty rage. "Zen, Julia, Zen!" Audra yelps, creating a soothing sense of calm with her uninvited shrieking.
Anyway now time is up, and Julia and Andy breathe a sigh of relief, knowing they will never have to cook anything again as long as they live.
For the next six hours we listen to Status Quo.
When we return to the kitchen, now bedecked in cobwebs and the skeletons of the weaker crew members, Julia presents her dessert to the judges, admitting with refreshing modesty that her greatest weakness is her relentless perfectionism.
The judges quite like Julia's Gaytimes, even the deformed ones that are shaped like fish, and it taste OK as well, though not as good as Christine's original.
In comes Andy. "I never thought I'd be here," he exclaims, displaying the sad short-term memory disorder he's been suffering from. His Gaytimes all look fantastic, and Christine notes that he's "nailed the biscuits", a euphemism we can all agree with.
But in the end, the result will come down to the cold, hard, ridiculously elongated facts of the scoring. It's remarkable that it's come down to this moment – when we sat down, all those months ago, to start watching this episode, it seemed so far away, and yet here we are, the final two standing before the judges, just a few thousand pointlessly slow sentences away from finding out which one of them is a pathetic loser.
"Before we reveal the result," says Gary to resounding countrywide groans, and in steps all the guest chefs from the series, except for Jamie Oliver and Marco Pierre White and Heston Blumenthal and anyone else whose names anyone remembers. Matt then reminds them of what the prize is, for the benefit of amnesiac Andy. And because two-and-a-half hours just isn't long enough to watch a cooking competition for, George insists on quizzing Andy and Julia on their feelings, and discovers that yes, they have some.
"Before we reveal the final scores," says Gary, to screams of agony, and in step Andy and Julia's families, with whom the judges now have to have MORE conversations, as the producers spread their show out thinner than George spreads a stick of delicious Western Star butter. Matt takes the lead, asking Andy's parents if they are proud of their son, which actually they are, and then telling Julia's husband that he is in fact Julia's husband, to which he reacts with gentle good humour.
Matt Moran then has his say, which is as meaningless and tacked-on as everything else he's done this series, and hope burgeons in every heart that perhaps we are about to find out who has actually won the thing. "For one of you, your life is about to change forever," says Gary, referring to the loser, who will become a vagrant. He then reminds us of the scores so far because hey, why not. He then explains the DIFFERENCE between the scores so far, in case we can't subtract 46 from 51. He then explains that the last round will depend on how well they did in the last round, and then explains that this will depend on whether they have done enough in the last round and that we are about to find out.
And mercy, mercy me we do. Matt scores Julia eight out of 10, saucily complimenting her on her "kick of salt" if you know what I mean. George scores her seven out of 10, and for some reason smiles at her while saying it, as if to say, "God I enjoy telling people they're mediocre". "It all comes down to my score," says Gary, which is patently untrue, but he's in a loop and cannot help starting every sentence with "it all comes down to" forever and ever. Everybody applauds Julia's magnificently average score.
As time no longer has any meaning, we can now take a moment to giggle at Andy's ineptitude with desserts, and then Andy gets a nine from Matt and we know it's all over and Julia activates her self-destruct sequence and Ben cries with joy. Then some dramatic music lies to us about how tense the situation is – oh my goodness, will the dish that got nine points from Matt be good enough to get nine from Gary and George between them? Well George gave him an eight – is he good enough to get one point from Gary? HOW CAN WE STAND THE SUSPENSE?
Yes another eight from Gary and sparkly paper rains from the ceiling. Andy has won. Possibly the handsomest MasterChef winner in the history of MasterChef, Andy has proven that an unconventional hairstyle and the fact that I didn't know who he was for the first six weeks of the competition are no barrier to defeating a remorseless killing machine who makes biscuits. Andy's parents declare themselves quite proud of Andy in their own way.
Matt tells Julia she's one of the most generous team members they've ever seen – OK, whatever, dude – and tells her she's won a $15,000 prize, which frankly seems to go against MasterChef's honourable tradition of grinding losers into the ground. And then Adriano Zumbo offers her a paid apprenticeship, and it really seems like Everyone Gets A Trophy Day here. Especially when Audra gets $5000 just for making it into the final. What next, a $50 JB Hi-Fi gift card for Mario?
And so that's it. The champion has been decided once more, and after a season almost as long as this recap, we slump, replete with juicy reality TV meat filling our brain-bellies, and revel in another year of glorious competition and inappropriate crying and big hunks of meat. Congratulations to the winner, sucks to be you to the losers, and most of all, long live MasterChef and all who sail in her.
Thank you Andy. Thank you Julia. Thank you Audra. Thank you Mindy, Kylie, Ben and Beau. Thank you Alice, Deb, Sam and Dalvinder. Thanks Kevin, thanks Mario, thanks Lydia. Thank you Matt and TK and Kath. Thank you "Andrew". Thank you Jules and Emma, Filippo and Tregan and Wade. And of course thank you Amina, the real winner. In our hearts, I mean. Right?
What a strange, long, salty ride it's been. See you next year.