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When FANS meet FAVORITES, who will emerge victorious?
It's the 14th season of Masterchef Australia (thank God for cable TV). For this edition, half of the 24 cooks chosen to participate are former contestants, with three of them emerging champions in their seasons. They're the team of favorites.
The fans are obviously thrilled to step into the iconic Masterchef kitchen and have been following the show the past several years. To compete alongside favorites puts pressure on them, on one hand, because they will be cooking against folks they look up to, and these are people who have experienced the many challenges of the famed reality cooking show.
Of course, to have made the cut and be in that prestigious kitchen means they're no slouches when it comes to whipping up dishes. But strutting their wares under the glare of lights and cameras is a whole different ballgame. It's not to say they can't keep up or even best the favorites because in that kitchen anything can happen.
You may be at the top of the heap today with an incredible creation, then be right down at the bottom of the pile tomorrow because things didn't go your way in the next challenge. So, it's anybody's ballgame everyday.
At the start of the season, the reward for the first winning dish is an immunity pin. It's a gold pin that the owner can use to avoid getting booted out of the competition. It can be used at anytime while undertaking an elimination challenge up to the last second before the timer ends, in case the cook feels they won't come up to the judges' standards and be in danger of leaving the kitchen.
I've watched two previous seasons where in one, the only contestant with the pin hemmed and hawed about playing the pin (at that time the contestant had to decide before the challenge starts if they would use the pin or not) and finally ended up NOT USING the pin at all, and getting shown the door.
In the other season, one pin holder - in trouble during the elimination round - kept asking fellow contestants not cooking if she should use her pin or not. She was quite a talented cook but because of pride, she also ended up going home with the pin that was supposed to give her at least one more week inside the kitchen to prove her worth.
This season, three immunity pins were awarded - one each for the best dish of a favorite and a fan, plus a third for the second best dish, which can come from any team. The result was another favorite winning the last pin.
There are two parts in the first elimination round. To avoid going into the second round, whoever wins the best dish in the first round saves their entire team. The losing team cooks off against each other and whoever makes the worst dish is the first to get the boot.
It was a favorite who made the best jaffle - her sandwich filling was potato and chicken curry - and blew the judges away in Round 1. It was understandable that the FANS team would be nervous because that meant the first to go would be from their ranks.
The brief for the second challenge seemed simple enough: cook a dish that changed your life.
But that is such a loaded brief! Not all memories would be happy. Already weighed down by the pressure of cooking to stay in the competition, the fans had the added burden of reliving an experience that isn't necessarily a joyous one.
The fan with the immunity pin unfortunately had a very emotional experience and it obviously distracted her so instead of focusing on the dish, which by her admission was something she made regularly, she stumbled with almost every ingredient of her recipe, especially the main component.
With just 10 minutes remaining, she was already uncertain whether her lentils would be cooked right and was considering playing the pin. With just minutes to spare, she decided to go up for judging and did not use her pin.
One favorite who also had a pin was most worried for the fan in trouble. He could see her vacillating between giving up and using the pin and continuing the fight.
He said something very insightful after she opted not to use the pin: "It's a very light pin but it weighs heavily on your mind." Strong emotions don't always make for a good cook.
She ended up in the bottom three, and escaped by the skin of her teeth! The cook who was eliminated most deserved to leave. He showed very little confidence in his abilities as a cook, and got stuck in past challenges where he did not perform well.
The Masterchef kitchen does not only test a contestant's abilities to create delectable and mouth-watering dishes, but also provided valuable experiences that tested and built an individual's character. If at the beginning of the journey a cook second-guesses themselves, or is unable to focus a hundred percent during each challenge, they will be hard-pressed to stay long in that kitchen.
The best thing to do with that immunity pin is to USE IT AT THE FIRST OPPORTUNITY. This way you can be rid of such heavy weight on your heart and go back to equal footing with everyone else.
Cook to save your life!
Without that pin, all a contestant has to focus on is creating a masterpiece that hits the brief. If they get stuck in the middle of cooking, they just have to up their game, scramble if they must to save their dish, find a way to adjust, and just be proud of the outcome at the end of the cook.
The most foolish and regrettable thing a cook with an immunity pin can do is to leave that kitchen with that gold pin still stuck on their apron. It is not a souvenir! It is the one chance to live another day in the quest to be crowned the next Masterchef!