MasterChef? In January? Has the world gone MAD?
The answer is yes, but nevertheless, here we are, with MasterChef firing up its enormous humiliation-fuelled ovens once again.
But this time MasterChef comes with a twist: rather than competing to see who is Australia's best amateur cook, the contestants will compete to see who can most effectively destroy their career.
Yes, it's MasterChef The Professionals, where the stars of Australian food come together to … well, we'll see, won't we? I can hardly wait!
We begin with a warning about coarse language, which is exciting in itself.
We then move to a Marco Pierre White voiceover saying he can tell a great chef by the way they handle a knife, the way they touch food, and the way they handle pressure; this is also how Marco can tell a successful serial killer.
"At this cooking competition, if you can't cook, you won't survive," says Marco, possibly stating the bleeding obvious. But then he might have meant that he will literally kill anyone who burns their salmon.
And now the opening credits! We see a quick montage of chefs doing chef stuff. They all have names but obviously we won't bother learning them yet. I do notice that some of them have unhygienically long hair; also, the montage is a bit samey: no jumping up and down in barrels of grapes or erotically proffering cupcakes in this lot. Also there's no Katy Perry. Mixed feelings on that one.
Cut to an alley, where the music suggests a murder is about to occur. Instead, we watch a man with a bag wander around and into the MasterChef kitchen. As he looks around, seeing enormous photos of food everywhere, it becomes clear that he has shown up on the wrong day.
This man is Michael, who works at a golf club and likes to go full-on with dishes. He's overcompensating for something.
Next to wander in a stupor into the kitchen is Akuc, who is a refugee and will be expelled from the competition following Tony Abbott's election victory.
And then we have Anthony, who apparently specialises in those little clumps of random vegetation that are so popular among people who dislike food these days.
Next is Cassie, who is only 19 and clearly too big for her britches. Cassie is followed by 'Outback Matty', who makes an early bid to be this season's Designated Idiotic Hat Wearer. He is not only a chef, but a life skills coach, dedicated to contributing the bare minimum to society in two fields. He is a protégé of Jamie Oliver, so we can expect plenty of vacuous catchphrases.
And then we have some other guys who seem to be glossed over fairly quickly, ominously, moving quickly on to 'Coop', who hopes to use his winnings to complete his name. He has a moving story of family hardship that is already making all the other contestants feel worthless.
And now here's Cameron, who declares he is not threatened by any other dish; he has overcome his crippling fear of food and is now ready to live again.
Then there's Rhett, whose eye was particularly caught by his own dish, a delectable-looking arrangement of colourful paper strips in a glass.
But before we can get to know all the contestants we won't care about, Matt Preston strides imposingly into the room and is immediately accosted in disgustingly rude fashion by Bonny, who insolently dares to speak to the great man without being spoken to, with the pathetically thin excuse that she is "deaf" and needs to hook him up with a special microphone. Preston takes this insult with his famed grace, and moves on to introduce his fellow judge.
As he describes this judge, the suspense mounts. Who will the mystery judge be? Will it be the man who has been appearing on all the saturation advertising for the show? The tense music suggests it could be anyone! But oh, it's actually Marco Pierre White who stomps grumpily into the room, murdering peasants in his path and making passionate love to Asher Keddie in the new season of Offspring coming soon in 2013.
Returning from what was apparently an ad break, we see Marco beckon the professionals closer, a quick edit making sure we don't actually see him biting off their faces in this timeslot.
"You've said goodbye to your past – this competition is about your future," Marco says, making it very clear that he is threatening violence upon them.
"I'm not here to be your friend," he elucidates, breaking hearts all over the kitchen.
"You may think you're here to cook, but you're not," he adds, and has to be taken aside by the producers for a quick chat clarifying the purpose of the show.
Matt explains the prize for this show is $200,000, a trip around the world to cook with top chefs, and "most of all, the chance to be crowned the first professional MasterChef", demonstrating his poor grasp of the phrase "most of all".
And so to the first challenge, which is to cook for 120 diners on a cheap knock-off of Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares set.
It is explained that tonight one chef will be going home, which comes as quite a shock to the contestants, who had never watched or heard of MasterChef or any other reality television show before.
"The feeling in the locker room is intense," says Cameron, probably because everyone has to try to avoid looking at each others' wobbly bits.
Cassie starts to worry, as "Marco Pierre White is known for making big chefs cry, and if he can do that to them, I can't imagine what he can do to me".
She's lying though: the flushed look on her face suggests she can imagine EXACTLY what he could do to her.
Marco assigns different dishes to different teams. Nick is happy with his assignment, because he has smashed thousands of yabbies over the years, but this isn't about Nick's anger-management issues, this is a cooking competition.
Tracy, Nathan and Anthony have to make lamb cooked two ways: pan-fried, and smoked inside Nathan's enormous beard.
Time starts now! Cassie thinks two and a half hours is a very short time, but she still feels confident enough to duck away to talk to the camera for a bit. Meanwhile, Cameron feels like he's been thrown off a boat, and his teammates continue to worry about his mental stability.
Matty continues to wear his stupid hat in the kitchen, which will be great for the diners having to pick through the dirt and insect larvae that drop off the brim. Matty is having trouble because he thought the dish was pasta, but actually the dish is pastry. An easy mistake for a professional chef to make. "The difference between pasta and pastry" isn't one of the life skills his coaching sessions cover.
All of a sudden the producers decide we haven't seen enough of Cassie despite her being on screen for over 80 per cent of the running time so far, so we cut to Cassie's life story. It's pretty dull.
"When I first saw the potatoes, I knew I had a challenge to go to," said Cassie. Peeling the potatoes may be the greatest mountain Cassie has yet climbed.
Coop tells Marco about his daughter's surgery, getting in early to make sure Marco knows that if he votes him off the show, he'll be Australia's most-hated man forever.
Suddenly there is a rather underwhelming cut to commercial – there isn't even a fireball! – and we have the reassuring sight of Marco again, informing us how pointless the practice of professional cookery really is, since you can buy everything you need in a tin these days.
Back in the house, the cameraman continues to vainly try to climb the front of the MasterChef building.
Someone called Kylie pops up. No idea who she is – oh good, she's about to tell us. She bought her first restaurant when she was 22, so yeah I don't like her much. Over-achiever. A turn-off.
Kylie is a little taken aback when Nick tells her to start on the yabby tails, because she's an egomaniac who, Sauron-like, craves only power.
"We can't all be rock stars," she says through gritted teeth, visualising her bloody revenge.
Cut to Luke, who tells us that he thinks he's the only one with a Sydney Morning Herald chef's hat. Well lah-di-dah.
In the hustle and bustle of the kitchen, Nathan asks Bonny for some assistance. Oh why is that Nathan? Because she's a woman? Your beard is woven of chauvinism!
Bonny expresses her opinion that Marco has a "little bit of a heart" because he doesn't want to completely destroy a deaf girl's dreams.
Meanwhile, Marco is telling some dude to hurry up and Matty is still obsessing over the pasta that never was. Cameron becomes frustrated with Matty's failure to know what he's talking about, by which he means his hat.
Marco is showing some chefs how to do the jobs that supposedly they were already getting paid for, while Luke confesses to his bizarre fetish for rubbing his shoulder against Marco's shoulder. The thrill he gets from this oblique physical contact is quite unsettling, as is the fact that Luke is gradually turning into a pirate.
The pressure is getting to Coop, who now believes that Marco is his "mentor". But if Marco was his mentor, Coop would probably be a better cook, instead of this sweaty guy who's just wasted more than an hour fingering his fish.
Marco heads to the side for throaty-chuckle competition with Matt. Marco tells Matt that Matty needs to rectify his pasta, by which he means his hat. He goes back to taste Nick's sauce and express his utter loathing in a glance.
"If I'm sent home, what is this gonna mean for my business?" asks Coop, knowing that the answer is, "it will be over".
He's in luck, though, because he got to be filmed carrying his daughter on his back, and the ones who have to worry are the ones whose names we don't know.
Michael admits it's been a dream of his to do a service with Marco Pierre White.
"Let's just hope it doesn't turn into a nightmare," he adds, because he's very unoriginal.
A quick break to remind everyone that men are incredibly stupid without a Sunbeam mixmaster and back to the kitchen to find out if any of these men can overcome their natural idiocy.
Marco gives the professionals an inspirational speech in which menacing music swells and the contestants feel the dreadful pressure of Marco's force choke. He tells them he wants to do the two-and-a-half-hour service in less than two hours, living up to his nickname, Marco "Pointless Difficulty" Pierre White.
Everyone begins talking, before Marco silences them and tells them to look at what's behind him: a dragon!
Actually it is a restaurant with people in it. To be honest I'd have thought they've been expecting that.
Cameron desperately tries to render his duck with Marco in his grill: a particularly awkward and painful position to be in. Meanwhile, Matty continues to wear his hat.
The head waiter is French, because these people came expecting a meal that copied Hell's Kitchen down to the last detail and dammit that's what they're going to get.
As Cameron continues with his duck, he sees his girlfriend and mother walk in together, and is stunned: are they seeing each other behind his back? As he gazes, dumbfounded, Matty keeps up his knockabout larrikinish incompetence, tossing his tortellini in with no idea how long it will take or what tortellini is.
Hang on, didn't Matty say before it wasn't pasta? But now it is pasta? This show's labyrinthine plot twists are baffling!
Marco is yelling at everyone the way big chefs always do on TV, and something that looks vaguely like food is being put on plates, which are being taken to the people at the tables, who frankly should just be grateful for the free meal.
Back in the kitchen, Marco has an aneurysm and begins babbling "myfourduck" over and over again, while Matty finally squeezes out a few possibly pastas and Cameron's mental health takes a turn for the worse.
Marco instructs his charges to deliberately burn themselves in a sick power trip. As the evening devolves into a Roman Polanski film, Matt is devastated by his cold yabbies, if you know what I mean. At another table, the yabbies aren't only cold, they are raw. The yabbies return to the kitchen, but the waiter takes a while to get through to Marco, who continues to gibber about duck.
Matty and Cameron crouch down to drink water and hide from the wrath of Matt Preston, who lumbers up to the kitchen to complain about his broth, which has no duck on it. "Where's the duck, Cameron?" barks Marco, but Cameron doesn't know where the duck is.
It seems like his whole life has been a long series of angry men demanding to know where the duck is, and he's not sure he can take it anymore. He collapses in a heap on the floor and begins to disintegrate into his component fluids.
There are, of course, worse things than a missing duck, as we are quickly reminded by Status Quo and the Coles ad.
Back in the kitchen, Cameron has been given 48 hours to find the duck before Marco and Matt execute his family. "We just have to be professional," says Cameron, before looking at Matty's hat and bursting into a torrent of bitter tears.
A new duck is prepared and served to Preston, who is now known as the Idi Amin of ducks. His fellow critic John Lethlean opines that the dumpling is gluey, but if he could see Matty's hat he'd probably be impressed that it arrived without cow manure on it.
Meanwhile, Coop is nervous. "How are your fish Coop?" asks Cassie. Coop's fish are well, but they still have a slight sniffle. Coop nurses them back to health.
Nathan is unhappy, as his fellow chefs are failing to live up to his high beardy standards. Marco asks Cassie how long eight snapper will take. They are going to take a while, as Coop has to bathe, dress and educate each one before they will be ready to serve. Marco tries to steal Cassie's dish, but is caught red-handed.
Madness is beginning to take hold in the kitchen. Cassie obsesses about basil. A guy with no name runs wildly past the camera. Coop begins snorting alfalfa. Matt cuts into his fish. It reminds him he left the iron on.
No doubt the diners are wishing they'd just gone to KFC, especially with the new Twister Max, on sale now!
Back at the kitchen, the sun rises on another day. It is now 15 weeks since service began, and Matt is still thinking hard about his fish. He tells Simon it is beautiful: "snapper is a pig of a fish," he says, woefully ignorant of taxonomy.
Suddenly Marco screams "Pastry", his safe word. It's dessert time, and Rhett knows "we have to get these brulees done", showing a keen understanding of how restaurants work. As a young woman chef cracks under the strain and sets fire to the kitchen, Matty explains how he "just couldn't stand around and do nothing", and so promptly begins ruining everyone else's dishes.
As the grit from his hat falls gently upon the desserts, the finish line is in sight. Over on the dining floor, Matt is having brulee-induced orgasms, as in the kitchen the chefs hug their mortal enemies and Matty refuses to remove his hat.
"It was like a service we had never had before," says Cassie, going out on a wild conceptual limb with her wacky similes. Back in the locker room, the mood is gloomy, as everyone remembers that somebody is going to get kicked out. Perhaps it will be Matty, who has foolishly removed his hat, from which he derives all his powers. They troop sadly out to the main room to hear the bad news.
But first, the good news: one lucky chef will gain immunity from the next elimination. Matt calls forward Cassie, Coop, and Cameron, who gains recognition despite his ineptitude in the duck-finding field – imagine how bad at finding ducks the others must be!
And the winner of immunity is … David Attenborough! Oh no, they're just doing that thing they do.
OK so three hours later we return to the kitchen, where an agitated string quartet will deliver the news of immunity. Cassie has won immunity, her obnoxious self-promotion proving more effective than Coop's tender fish-parenting or Cameron's incompetence.
And now for the serious stuff: who is going home, to a life blighted by unstoppable night terrors? It will be between Matty, Kylie and Nick. Kylie's mistake was sending out a raw yabbie – though at least she did send out a yabbie, unlike "Duck a la Missing" Cameron.
Nick, meanwhile, took too long to prepare his dishes, causing many diners to still be at their tables weeks later. And Matty, of course, wears a dumb hat. All good reasons to crush the dreams of a fellow human being.
Luckily for Outback Matty, Marco has gained great insight into Matty as a man, due to his selfless decision to help others with their desserts. Not-so-luckily for Matty, Marco's insight into Matty as a man is "Matty is not much of a man", and he's going home.
"People may think I've failed," says Matty, and those people are indeed fairly canny assessors of the situation. Off he goes back to the outback, to lasso sheep and cook witchetty grubs or whatever the hell outback people do. Arriving home, he discovers a gruesome murder scene which Kat Stewart and Micallef must clean up and nope, that's just another ad.
What will tomorrow bring? Cooking? PROBABLY.