MasterChef AustraliaSun 7:30pm; Mon-Fri 7pm, Ch10
Yes it’s that time of year again, when the leaves begin to fall from the trees, when the temperature begins to plummet and when a little bald Greek man begins shouting inanities at a room full of people and, presumably, gets paid for the pleasure. That’s right; it’s Masterchef, season 4.

It’s incredible to think that Masterchef has come back for a fourth season, and that a cooking show could capture the imaginations of Australian viewers, though it is arguable that those imaginations were captured and pushed through the garden waste compactor that is Two and a Half Men long ago. Yet Masterchef holds a special place in our hearts, snugly placed within the cholesterol clogged arteries serving the nations left ventricle.

Season four kicks off with a look the very first Masterchef in the UK, way back in 1990. How different it was then, with four contestants shunted to four corners of a studio, the judges armed with only their taste buds, years of experience, and hand grenades lest one of the contestants tried to escape. Then there are images and geographical locations sprayed on the screen, to let us know that the Masterchef family is global, much like the Spanish flu was. Finally, viewers are shown the cavalcade of former contestants and winners of Masterchef seasons 1, 2 and 3, only because they now have to be completely wiped from collective memory, as for the next 3 months the contestants on Masterchef Season 4 will be referred to as the top amateur chefs in the country, even though 99.9% of previous contestants will remain amateur chefs for the rest of their lives.

And the first word shown is ‘journey’, because this is what Masterchef is all about. The journey from beginner to old hand, from amateur to professional, and from the kitchen to the toilet because someone left the cream sauce out of the fridge for too long. The three amigos, George, Gary and Matt, walk out to greet the crowd. Pantomime takes centre stage as George puts on a silly face, but that’s just his normal face, and it doesn’t cost anything to pity someone. Preston name drops some of the Masterchef alumni, but for the most part we don’t remember them. We only want to know about the current crop, the new arrivals, the ‘virgins’. One woman claims she wants to cook for the rest of her life. Is this a perversion of masochism, or does she only have weeks to live? Another, Athena, tells us that her dad forced her into years of sexual servitude (that is, he suggested she get married) so she didn’t have a chance to follow her dream of not marrying the guy that her father suggested she marry, plus cooking. They all claim they want it enough before applauding their ability to want it enough, and then the cooking starts. They are given an hour to cook their dish and 5 minutes to present it to the judges.

The first cab off the rank is a woman who’s name escaped me, but who has turned up with 700 of her closest friends and family. She drags her trolley out to the judges like an indifferent tea lady, weighed down by the constant expectation that the tea will ‘hit the spot’, wondering what will happen on the day it doesn’t. She serves up an interesting dish of ricotta and spinach dumplings, impressing all three judges. The woman whose name I don’t know is awarded an apron, so I suggest to myself I better learn her name.

Following no name woman is Rick, a name I definitely know. Rick is only 18 and very nervous, a trait common amongst 18 year olds, though more often displayed in seedy bordellos than cooking shows. Rick’s parents have accompanied him to the set, but judging by the fire engine red hue of his father’s face, only one parent will be leaving with him. Before we go any further with Rick, a woman appears on screen talking about her husband, stating that, “I think he’s hungry. He refuses to eat my food. Thinks I’m trying to poison him. Idiot. It’s the children I’m poisoning, I have Munchausen by Proxy.” However before we learn how this mini melodrama ends were are off to an ad break and we never see the woman again.

After the ad break, we learn a little more about Rick. Rick is studying property, or more specifically watching grass grow, but says his dream is to have a dream about cooking, and also to stop having wet dreams and get a girlfriend. George asks him why he doesn’t just go to TAFE. Rick evades the TAFE question, instead making some vague statements about his dream not being a dream involving hard work. Still, this is all about the cooking and if Rick’s cooking is good enough he will go through. Unfortunately for Rick his cooking isn’t good enough, so it’s TAFE or the highway. Double disappointment for Rick as he leaves the room to find that his father’s face had turned so red he had been mistaken for a beetroot by another contestant and used as a core ingredient in a risotto. Nice to see that someone is having a crack at a risotto early on, a dish that has failed more often on Masterchef than any other, even if it was at the costs of Rick senior’s life.

One woman tries to put toast through a pasta maker before she is dragged off by the men in white coats and beaten to death by the men in red coats. Then we meet Mina, part Egyptian, part South Korean, all woman, or so she claims. From Sydney, Mina is making food, which is helpful, and also has a good excuse for not having already become a chef, which is that she never wanted to be until yesterday. She explains she wants either a tapas bar or a tappers bar, replete with tap dancers, before she serves fatoush and kofta. While music the standard of a Brigitte Nielsen movie plays in the background, the judges are literally blown away when she pulls out an AK47 and wastes them, but my fantasies aside Mina’s dishes are a hit and she is put through to the top 50.

Next we meet Kath, cooking Singapore black pepper crab, because white pepper crab is no longer considered politically correct. The judges entreat her to eat with them and, when it’s apparent she hasn’t poisoned them, she’s is put through.

Ben is a school teacher. He’s risked everything to be here and yet cooks a fish curry, using a fish known as pink wing, which unfortunately sounds like a panty liner brand. Ben resigned from his job teaching schools to follow his dream. George wants him to go through, but Matt doesn’t, leaving it all down to Gary who is consumed by an ad break. When the show resumes, Gary was still pondering Ben’s future and whether it is fair to take a dedicated and committed teacher from the youngsters who need him so much. Or course it is! This is television after all.

Someone who may have been named Tregan is next, and she explains how she used to work at the youth justice centre with underage offenders, but a future of fulfilling community minded work just didn’t appeal anymore so she decided to take a shot at Masterchef. She also reveals that she partakes in that sport of kings, roller derby, which makes her an instant hit with the twitterati. Roller derby doesn’t make someone interesting though. It’s just like rugby league on wheels, and when was the last time anyone heard of an interesting rugby league player? Colourful, yes, but interesting? The judges asked the person maybe named Tregan if she wants it and she says she’s hungry, so they quickly feed her before letting her through.

Next up is Yukio. So much needs to be said about Yukio, yet he is so difficult to describe. Watching Yukio’s emotional outburst leaves me astounded. You know how on Australian Idol and The Voice and other shows like that when someone whose last name is Sebastian shows their ability to sing 17 notes in five seconds? Vocal gymnastics I think it’s called. Well, imagine someone doing that with their face. That’s what watching Yukio was like.

Policeman Ben is spending his honeymoon cooking for the judges, but obviously his mind is still on more romantic pursuits. “I didn’t realise the stove wasn’t turned on” he said. ”I had tweaked its knobs, turned up the heat and performed a short yet exceedingly erotic striptease. What else could I do?” He appears before the judges (as policeman often do) with raw chicken (as policeman rarely do) but does his best to apply the heat, making accusations about what the chicken had been up to and with whom. He serves up his chicken and spinach roulade and Gary asks, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just happy to see us?” When he confirms he doesn’t have a gun all three quickly reject him, no longer afraid of having their heads blown off.

Mario is an automotive detailer, or was that auto-erotica detailer, and starts with a flat joke and then stuffs a chicken breast, figuratively and literally. Mario claims to want to open a romantic restaurant with someone tinkling in the background, which will probably be Australia’s first fetish themed restaurant. Already a clear favourite for most annoying contestant of the year, Mario is also poised to take over George as the most annoying person on the show. When asked by Gary how much he wants it, Mario replies “A lot”. When Gary, rather unfairly, says to Mario “All of the people out there want it a lot. What makes you any different to the people out there?” Mario replies obliquely “I have six toes on my left foot.” The answer was good enough for Gary, and Mario was put through.

And so winds up the first episode of Masterchef 2012. While there were many other successes and failures, we were only shown a chosen few. No doubt, in the weeks ahead, we will learn more about the other contestants. Some we will love, and some we will hate. And some we won’t even notice, like what’s her name who was the first to go through tonight.