PREVIOUSLY ON MASTERCHEF AUSTRALIA: Our usual series of recaps fell into oblivion, partly due to the seasons falling into a tedious mediocrity where every challenge was won by either a Science Dessert or a Big Spicy Curry, and partly due to the fact that writing pithy jokes about George Calombaris – a wage thieving bastard – became too great of a moral hill to climb. But then in the off-season the three big boys departed the series due to *reasons*, leading to the largest shake up of the show’s formula since they quietly shuffled Sarah Wilson off after season one.
In their place marches the unfairly attractive trio of Andy Allen, Melissa Leong, and Jock Zonfrillo, accompanied by a cast of 24 former contestants all champing at the bit for a second shake of the stick blender.
So against all odds, the Bad Show is Good again. And once again I am trapped perilously in this never-ending carousel of self loathing and panna cotta.
Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in.
AND NOW, LAST NIGHT.
It’s a weird feeling seeing all these familiar and beloved heads walking back into the MasterChef kitchen. Because on the one hand every single person coming back now has years of industry experience under their belts, and is operating at a fully professional level, meaning this year’s competition should be the most highly skilled and even one of them all.
But on the other hand, this over-achieving brick shithouse is among them.
Reynold is back. He’s been a guest judge before, for christ’s sake. Dude walked out of MasterChef and opened his own successful dessert bar immediately. He didn’t do any famed apprenticeships under big name chefs or whatever because he didn’t have to. In fact, the only reason he’s *technically* eligible for this year’s season is because he didn’t win his original one, and that was only really because he was a little bit shaky on savoury food. But oh shit, guess what!
He can do that now!
It took less than 4 minutes in Episode 1 of the season for Reynold to swan into proceedings and straight-up declare “it’s over for you bitches.”
So who the hell has a snowball’s chance in hell of actually toppling old mate? Let’s check the tale of the tape.
Here’s the remaining 23 MasterChef: Back to Win contestants, ranked by how likely they are to beat Reynold.
23) Ben Ungermann – Season 9
We already know he gets booted from the show after an off-screen arrest over a “private matter,” so the less said about him here the better.
22) Simon Toohey – Season 11
On the one hand he’s got some sort of advantage because all the MasterChef kitchen tips and tricks are still very fresh in the mind. But on the other last year’s pool of contestants was so thin on the skill side that I probably could’ve lobbed up with a floppy chip butty and managed to place fifth.
21) Brendan Pang – Season 10
You may remember him as the guy who sliced the fucken bejeezus out of his hand in Season 10. You may also remember him as the guy from this season who does not beat Reynold.
20) Amina Elshafei – Season 4
The only competitor in this series who is returning from her full-time pre-MasterChef gig. That doesn’t bode well, you’ve gotta say.
19) Lynton Tapp – Season 5
I have watched every single second of every single episode of this godforsaken cursed show and I straight-up do not remember this bloke at all. Are they Mandela Effecting me here? Hard to say.
18) Ben Milbourne – Season 4
You can say what you want about upskilling and career progression and the like, but at some point the pressure of MasterChef is going to cause old mate to fall back on ye olde faithful taco and that’s gonna be it for him.
17) Rose Adam – Season 7
Rose is the light, the sun, the clouds, the flowers, the spark of joy in every drop of fresh spring rain, and Reynold is going to kick her ass six ways til Sunday.
16) Reece Hignell – Season 10
Now looking straight glorious with the shiny desert head, Reece is bringing his cake-heavy repertoire back to go toe-to-toe with Reynold, which is a bit like me thinking I could chon with Tyson Fury because I have fists.
15) Tracy Collins – Season 6
Will fare slightly better than most in the return series due to lifelong association with Maggie Beer, which acts as a +5 skills buff when inside the MasterChef kitchen.
14) Sarah Clare – Season 10
One of Tassie’s finest, Sarah’s shining moment in Season 10 came when she produced a dish involving carrot cooked seven ways. To beat Reynold, you’d think she’ll need to come up with about 50-odd more.
13) Sarah Tiong – Season 9
The one thing you can be absolutely certain of when it comes to MasterChef: Back to Win is there will not be any come-from-the-clouds, rags-to-riches redemption story. There’s just Reynold, a handful of close frontrunners, and then a whole pile of people who are on the show to finish 14th. Sorry Sarah.
12) Hayden Quinn – Season 3
It is unfair, bordering on illegal, that this man has not aged a day since Season 3.
11) Courtney Roulston – Season 2
Spending a decade catering for the Sydney Swans is one hell of a plum gig that puts her in a unique position for MasterChef in the sense that she could pump the judges so full of carbs that they all fall asleep before tasting any of the other dishes.
10) Khanh Ong – Season 10
Now we’re starting to get into it. The top end of the MasterChef field is thick with folks who, on their day, could conceivably topple Reynold. Law of averages suggests that the Big Dessert Boy is going to blast them all to smithereens, but I reckon Khanh has one punch in him good enough to wobble legs.
9) Harry Foster – Season 8
Third place in the particularly good 8th season is enough to suggest that King Harry has more than a few tricks left up his sleeves. And given he’s spent the better part of the years between now and then learning virtually everything there is to know about cooking fish – which is Reynold’s achilles heel – maybe there’s a chance here. A very, very, very small, probably wouldn’t bet on it ever chance.
8) Emelia Jackson – Season 6
The one and only true dark horse of the series, Emelia already boosted her betting odds with an eclair that just about caused a holy experience for the new judges. Will that be enough to get over the top of Reynold when he pulls a bloody anti-gravity Killer Python or someshit out of his ass? Time will tell.
7) Tessa Boersma – Season 11
Conspiracy time: Tessa should have won last year’s 11th season in an effortless cakewalk, but producers knew there was an All Stars season coming, knew she’d be ineligible for it if she won, so they rorted her out of the win just to get her signed on for another round. That’s my hill, and I’ll gladly die here on it.
6) Jess Liemantara – Season 10
The only person in the field who can feasibly punch in the same dessert weight class as Reynold, mostly because she modelled her entire cooking methodology off of Reynold himself, more or less. Will the legendary old gun slinger be toppled by the quick young upstart whomst moulded herself in his image? Dunno hey. Mostly I just want them to fall in love because I reckon that’d be heaps cute.
5) Chris Badenoch – Season 1
Eleven long-ass years ago you all turned your nose up at Chris because he was serving up hog’s head soup and whathaveyou, but since then the whole No Waste thing has had more than its moment in the sun. Plus with no restrictions on prior experience this time around, he’s not gonna cop any weird aspersions just because of the “crime” that was “having a fully commercial kitchen installed in his house.” Rack ’em, chief.
4) Dani Venn – Season 3
Apparently the only one out of the entire lot that has actually watched any of the show since leaving it, Dani rocked up to the kitchen in last night’s premiere and roared into the upper tiers by claiming the quote-unquote only Immunity Pin of the series by cooking a big, bangin’ curry. Plead your case about culinary innovation and invention tests all you want, but despite the show’s massive shakeup the top dishes last night were still Science Dessert and Big Spicy Curry. Same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
3) Callum Hann – Season 2
The instinct might be to think that Callum is a little high in this list. But consider this: A handful of points fall his way back in 2010, and his place in the All Stars cast is taken by Adam Liaw instead, who would be so outrageously the season favourite it wouldn’t even be funny. Dude knows what he’s doing. Dude is good at what he does. Dude knows how to box his way through a 30-page recipe or two.
2) Laura Sharrad – Season 6
If we’re being honest here – and I mean really honest about things – MasterChef: Back to Win is realistically a three-horse race. There’s Reynold, naturally, who must’ve forgotten to call producers back about a slot on the judging panel, and then nipping right at his heels is Laura: The 18-year-old phenom who got within puff of smoke of winning season 6 as a teenager. That was 6 years ago. She’s only just 24 now. She made Jock Zonfrillo cry in the the first episode. If you think for a second she’s not in this right up to her neck you are huffing farts.
1) Poh Ling Yeow – Season 1
Who else? Who else could this possibly be? If Poh didn’t suit up for round two there probably wouldn’t even be a betting market on the season. You’d just hand a bookmaker $1 to put on Reynold and they’d immediately hand you 95 cents back. But it’s Poh, y’all. It’s POH. Without Poh there’s arguably no enduring MasterChef legacy. In fact there’s only one egregious wrong in the grand pantheon of MasterChef history, and that’s that Poh’s name isn’t on the winner’s plate.
So here we are.
Once more unto the breach.
For the Heavyweight Championship of the World.