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2022-06-04 03:31:20 By : Mr. Kim Yang

Welcome to MasterChef New Zealand! It’s back after seven years and the controversy has kicked off before the opening credits have even rolled.

On Saturday, contestant Felina Kee posted a video to Facebook in which she accused the production of, among other things, unfair judging and “psychological manipulation”.

You know that of course; it’s the reason a lot of you are here at all. So what happened in this first episode?

Well, it starts with 23 people getting off a boat. It’s the Earnslaw, docking at Lake Wakatipu, because this season was filmed in Central Otago.

We’re here presumably because it’s home to two judges – season two winner Nadia Lim and much-accoladed head chef of Amisfield, Vaughan Mabee – and aren’t we lucky it is. That’s some stunning scenery they’ll be cutting away to.

Anyway – 23 people. I know 23 is a lot, but don’t worry! By the end of this week seven of them will be gone. The first week of MasterChef is really an extension of the audition process, with Lim, Mabee and fellow judge Michael P Dearth whittling the group down to 16 contestants based on their “signature dish”, which they are now given one hour to cook.

READ MORE: * 'Maybe I'm a bit too busy', says MasterChef judge Nadia Lim * 'I would never have guessed how emotional it gets': Nadia Lim, Vaughan Mabee and Michael P Dearth are your MasterChef NZ judges * Why chef Vaughan Mabee is delighted his phone doesn't work at home

But – pay attention now – they’re not actually kicking anyone off just yet. No, each of the contestants will either get a “yes” from the judges, in which case they receive an official MasterChef apron, or a “maybe” in which case they will go into a final first week showdown to decide who gets how every many aprons are leftover when everyone has cooked.

There is one recognisable face among the 23 and that is Sam Low. I follow him on Instagram, you follow him on Instagram, 20,000 people follow him on Instagram. He is World Famous in New Zealand, so he will go first.

Sam introduces himself as a “coffee trainer and consultant”. Sam, honey, you’re an influencer. Embrace it.

Sam wants to be the out-and-proud queer Asian representation he didn’t have when he was growing up. He’s going to make a dish called Drunken Chicken, which, interestingly enough, was also one of my university nicknames.

Obviously it’s great. Sam is great and I’m already picking him as a fan favourite (I mean, he has the advantage of already having fans). He gets an apron.

Then he walks back into the holding room where all the other contestants hoot and cheer like they’re happy for him, which they cannot be. There are only 16 aprons and they know that. Every one handed out is one they can’t get. It’s kind of nice, I guess, that the producers are clearly trying to create this Bake Off-esque sense of camaraderie, but it’s also one of the least real moments in reality television I’ve ever seen, and I watched several seasons of Keeping Up With the Kardashians.

Next we have Rach. She’s from a small community in the Hawke’s Bay where she forages a lot of food and honestly she terrifies me. She makes a paua pie, which would be a bold choice if she was familiar with what Nadia calls Vaughan’s Famous Paua Pie (TM), but she isn’t. Vaughan likes it. After a dramatically placed ad break, she gets an apron.

They are really speeding through the contestants here. Presumably in later episodes we’ll see more of the actual cooking?

Next up is Nick. He has a mullet and is making a Thai-style barbecue tasting platter. Nadia and Michael are into it, but Vaughan delivers him a maybe. “I don't see you here,” he says. Possibly because of the mullet.

Sieumuoi also gets a maybe. She left the peanuts out of her Cambodian lemon fish curry, which seems to have cost her an apron. Michele gets a maybe too, though not before Vaughan puts on an atrocious Italian accent to tell an anecdote about gnocchi.

“This is MasterChef, not great home cooks,” says Nadia. I thought that was the exact definition of MasterChef, but ok.

“You’ve really got to wow,” she says.

Can Jose wow? He’s a nurse, he’s Filipino, he has a ridiculously cute daughter, he’s cooking to honour the memory of his late father and if he doesn't get an apron Discovery can pay my therapy bills because I am already head over heels in love with this guy.

And he – what? He’s making dessert? Chocolate cake with salted coffee and Italian meringue buttercream and all kinds of cashew confections? He’s my dream man.

Luckily, the judges love it. He gets an apron. Cue more finely acted whooping from people who are definitely dying inside.

Vicky. Apron. Hana. Apron. I know I’m whipping through them now but in fairness, so are the judges.

Here’s Alice. Her real passion is baking, she says, which could be an issue down the line, but for now, she looks tipped for an apron.

Michael likes it, Nadia likes it. Then we come to Vaughan.

“Alice,” he says, “I’m going to give you a mah-bay”.

A what now? Is this another one of Vaughan's crazy accents?

No, it turns out that's how you pronounce his last name! While I’m reeling from this discovery, Vaughan says a Mabee is the opposite of a maybe. As in, she's in.

Is it me, or do the cheers of Alice’s new buddies-slash-rivals sound more like they're coming through gritted teeth than before?

Six aprons are gone as the credits roll. Who will get the other 10? We'll find out – some of them, at least – tomorrow.