Masterchef Recap: Box-Off

Ben Pobjie
10 min readJul 23, 2018

It’s finals week! And you know what that means: drama, intrigue, heartbreak, triumph, desperation, romance, sexual obsession, murder, racism and Legionnaire’s Disease.

The five finalists: Sashi, Jess, Ben, Chloe and Khanh. Yes, somehow both Ben and Chloe are in the final five. How did this happen? Science does not yet have the answers. One can only assume that the Deep State is somehow involved.

Anyway, finals week it is, and there is no point faffing about with a dull elongated rehash of previous events.

Oh, sorry, yes there is.

How sad it is to see Reece now, so happy, in the opening titles. Little did he know how low he would sink. And now, he’s dead. They’re all dead. Masterchef brings great rewards, but also great tragedy.

Anyway, where was I?

Oh, yes. finals week. Jess can’t believe it’s finals week, but really her incredulity has virtually no impact anymore, because she’s been unable to believe pretty much everything that’s happened so far. Time for her to get to grips with reality.

Khanh is really happy but also really nervous, which is unoriginal and shouldn’t even be included in the final cut of this episode.

“You are our top five for 2018!” Gary tells the five, who all applaud without really understanding why. The judges present them with five mystery boxes from seasons past. Each finalist will cook with one of the five boxes.

“Seeing these mystery boxes from past seasons is absolutely crazy,” says Chloe, who has an extremely low threshold for the phrase “absolutely crazy”. She draws the mini-box, which contains small things, like a quail, mini-celery, tiny teddies and her own talent.

Ben gets the burnt box, which contains his hopes and dreams, as well as charcoal powder, goat’s cheese, and other things which aren’t actually burnt, so I dunno.

Khanh gets the big box, which contains big things, such as a tomahawk steak (so named because it can be used to remove a human scalp), savoy cabbage, giant strawberries, beetroot and George’s head.

Jess receives the molecular box, which contains a bunch of wanky crap.

Sashi gets the silver box, which contains silverside, silver beet, silver dory, chocolate coins, and a bullet which can be used to kill Matt should he start to transform mid-cook.

“It’s gonna be tough, but I’m ready for it,” says Ben, who has not yet been ready for anything in this competition.

The finalists have sixty minutes in which to make something that doesn’t make the judges pray for death.

Khanh doesn’t want to cook the giant steak, because his mother is a butcher and he fears her wrath if he cooks meat badly. He doesn’t fear her wrath if he is afraid of meat, apparently, and so he decides to make a strawberry sorbet, because he received a tip-off that this year the judges are favouring unoriginal thinking.

Meanwhile Sashi is extracting flavour from fish bones in a profane ritual that elders had believed banished to the dark ages long ago. The evil in his food philosophy has come to the fore, as the fumes of his blasphemy rise high into the inky night.

“I need these ribs falling off the bone,” says Ben, possibly referring to cooking. “Anything that can get me closer to winning Masterchef, I’m gonna take it,” he adds as he throws a petrol bomb at Jess.

At Chloe’s bench, she is making a jus with quail bones. Or rather, according to her, she’s making a “Jew”. Her strategy in this challenge is simple: she will cook very poorly but someone else will be slightly worse and so she will go through. It has served her well so far.

Jess informs George and Gary of her incomprehensible plans. “I’m excited,” says George, as if he just interviewed a job applicant with no knowledge of industrial relations laws. Jess’s dish sounds fascinating. It doesn’t sound like food, but it sounds fascinating.

“I feel like I should be doing something more,” says Ben, and he’s right. He should be doing a night course or learning a musical instrument or something. But here he is on Masterchef, no use crying about it now. He starts making a pineapple salsa. He explains how he does this, even though nobody is listening.

“I’m really happy that I got the molecular gastronomy box,” says Jess, who has always dreamed of cooking dishes that make people hate her. “It’s really important to get the ratio of gelatin and agar right,” she explains, as if this means anything. She is putting more agar in than strictly necessary, which she admits is risky, but as her father always said, no risk, no dismal failure.

“Thirty minutes to go,” calls George for no other reason than to break their concentration. “I have the mini-box,” says Chloe, but we already knew that, so shut up. She has burnt her jus, because she is bad at cooking. “I am determined to win,” she claims, but you’d think if she was really determined she wouldn’t have made burning the jus her first move. Changing tack, she decides to make a burnt butter mayonnaise, which isn’t really a thing, but still probably better than burnt jus. But why does she think she needs a burnt anything?

Khanh tells George that he is making a strawberry black pepper sorbet. George admirably swallows the vomit that surges into his mouth, and gives Khanh an inspirational pep talk along the lines of “blah blah blah you want this advantage blah blah blah this is a big chance blah blah blah Swisse ultivite”.

Ben has evolved his thinking, and his ribs are now “sticky pineapple ribs”. This is madness, as pineapples do not have ribs, or indeed any kind of skeletal system. “It’s gonna be finger-licking good!” he exclaims, or at least he would exclaim, if he were capable of modulating his voice in any way at all.

Meanwhile Sashi is kind of just getting on with things. Fish and beans etc. He adds salt and pepper and sugar and butter to his sauce, but “it’s not happening,” he says. Maybe he needs to add more chocolate coins. “It’s a bit dirty, isn’t it?” says Gary, licking his lips sensually. Sashi refuses to respond to his advances, but takes on board the message that he fucked up royal. His fish bones have made the sauce all muddy-looking, because he foolishly soaked his fish in a peat bog before making his stock.

Matt visits Khanh to talk some shit and prevent him from getting on with the job. Khanh is making a chantilly cream, as famously sung about by the Big Bopper in his hit single “Black Pepper Does Not Go In Sorbet”.

Jess is using liquid nitrogen to be a big Heston-y wanker. “Gently,” says George voyeuristically. Jess is extremely happy with just how wanky her dish is turning out.

With only three minutes to go, Chloe is no closer to figuring out the complex association between food and heat than she’s ever been, and Sashi has cracked under the pressure, making a sauce that is 99% hydrochloric acid. He decides to serve his fish without a sauce, which is a risky move but at least he hasn’t put black pepper in a sorbet.

“THIRTY SECONDS!” George bellows, as if there’s anything anyone can do to save their terrible dish in thirty seconds. “I’m really happy with the way that I’ve cooked today,” says Ben, sounding as excited as a man who has just topped up his radiator.

Time is up, and devastation reigns across the tear-stained kitchen.

“What have you cooked?” George asks Khanh. “Beets and berries,” Khanh answers. “That sounds pretty shitty,” says George.

Not really. Actually all the judges are very enthusiastic about Khanh’s gross dish, which he describes as a “Transition between dessert and main”, which is something nobody actually needs or wants because dessert comes straight after main with nothing in between. Anyway the judges like it so whatever.

Jess serves her cherry sorbet, which means forty percent of finalists have made a sorbet, which is so freaking Masterchef it’s painful. The judges think it’s great. Gary says it’s fun, but then he’s led a sad life.

Sashi serves his sauceless fish, causing consternation and alarm among the judging community. “The fish is cooked beautifully,” says Gary, sucking up to Sashi just so he can be one of the cool kids. The judges seem to like Sashi’s fish and not mind that he has outraged contemporary mores.

Chloe serves her weird tiny bits of nothing. The judges think it’s fine, but Chloe knows, as she walks back to her place, that in their heart of hearts, they hate her.

Ben comes up last, and serves his ribs. I mean, not HIS ribs. The judges think they are absolutely fantastic. If I could sum up their comments in a few words, they would be, “This is clearly much better than Chloe’s”.

Tasting over, Matt takes the opportunity to say an amazingly huge number of words in a row, even though all he really needed to say was, “Ben is better than all of you losers”. Ben goes straight through to cook for “the advantage” — which is both mysterious and disappointing — while the other four must now engage in an invention test. The winner will join Ben to smirk at everyone from above. The three losers will go into the pressure test to see who will be devastated first.

The four losers run into the pantry to search for inventive things. Jess sees slightly lost. Not in the pantry, just in an existential sense. Meanwhile, Khanh confesses that he’s been thinking of a pork and apple dish for a while, forcing us to confront our own instinctive revulsion and try to act constructively to help him with his compulsion, rather than simply condemn in a kneejerk moralistic manner.

Jess is making a drink. That’s weird. She’s weird.

Chloe is full of nervous energy, and who could blame her? She admits that it would be wonderful to get top dish today, and she is determined to do so, by secretly contaminating everyone else’s dishes with mouse dung.

Sashi is starting with his rosewater jelly, despite the fact that his rosewater jelly explicitly warned him not to start with it today. Meanwhile Khanh is putting pork crackling with apples and ice cream. “Mum will think that I’ve lost my mind,” he chortles, and it’s true — she will be extremely worried by the fact that he can’t seem to do anything without blurting out what his mother will think about it.

Chloe is struggling with the question of how to make moss for her forest floor. Matt asks her how she’s going to make moss. Chloe doesn’t know how she’s going to make moss. Matt reiterates that if she wants to make moss, she’s going to have to make something that is a moss. Chloe stares at him blankly. Eventually she hits upon the innovative idea of mixing up a bunch of green muck and hoping that it resembles moss in some way. Another idea would’ve been to not make a forest floor in light of the fact that she has no idea how, but that was a bit too “outside the box” for Chloe.

George and Gary get together to discuss how much they love the idea of Khanh’s disgusting pork dessert, and how much they hate the idea of Chloe. Matt visits Khanh, who tells him that he is turning his crackling into a crumb. Matt explains that this is dumb as hell, which causes Khanh to second-guess himself. Undermining achieved, Matt wanders happily off.

Jess is doing something with pink balls. She’s weird.

Fifteen minutes to go, and the incidental music is developing symptoms of severe stress-related illness. Khanh needs his pork to crackle in the next few minutes or he’ll need to figure out something else to do, like woodwork or scrapbooking. The pork isn’t crackling though — it retains soft edges, much like Khanh himself. If this pork doesn’t crackle, his mum will kill him. She is just that irrational.

All of Sashi’s elements are ready, despite the fact we haven’t seen him on screen for ages, which doesn’t augur well for him. “Up here we’re nodding and smiling,” cries Gary, wishing to let everyone know just how vacuous the judges are. Khanh puts the final touches on his dessert. “I think it tastes good,” he says, but what the hell would he know?

“THIRTY SECONDS!” George bellows again, still trying to make this a cachphrase. Jess squirts her weird drink into her weird balls because she’s weird, and time is up.

Chloe is first to plate up, with her awful leaf litter garbage. The judges like it but are probably lying.

Jess is next, and she likes the look of her dish but hopes she got the right balance etc etc. “It’s you, Jess,” says George, who has always thought of Jess as a pink ball full of alcohol. The judges don’t think it’s very good. Except Gary, who thinks it’s delicious, but also thinks it’s not Negroni, which to me is a plus, because who wants Negroni? Nobody.

Sashi is next, and feels very proud of himself, which is a bit premature, because it’s actually the judges’ decision whether you’re proud of yourself or not. He has made cardamom ice cream, which is simple madness. The judges are very impressed with how clever Sashi is and very unimpressed with how terrible the dish tastes. “It’s interesting, isn’t it,” says Gary, and the editor removes the rest of the room saying, “No”.

Khanh serves the pork and apple dessert that broke his mother’s heart. “I love the idea that you have put a big chunk of crackling on there,” says Matt. “I’m not sure about the big chunk of crackling on top,” says Gary. They immediately begin punching each other. Of course everyone loves Khanh’s crackling ice cream nonsense.

It is time for judgment, and Matt delivers a preamble in which he assures the contestants that despite what the judges have just told them, all their dishes were actually good. But still, the actually good person was Khanh, and he gets to go up on the balcony, while the other three must fight to the death for the chance to avoid a life of mind-numbing family.

“You’re not little mouses that are gonna run away to the corner and get scared,” says George, trying to inspire the losers to give of their best tomorrow. Yes, he said “mouses”. He does not know the word “mice”. “Mouses”. That’s what he said.

Tune in tomorrow, when nobody will be mouses.

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