Anything that has been filmed before ‘This Time’ looks odd now, as sequestered in our homes, we resemble alien life forms peering down. We observe the contestants; hugging, high-five-ing, slapping each other on the backs: Where’s your social distancing?! Thank God they make their own pasta, as there’s no ready-made stuff to be found in the whole of Christendom at the moment and the sight of it might tip someone over the edge.
So, it’s Knockout Week. Pedantic of me to say, I know, but isn’t every episode? Each week of the heats started with twelve contestants and finished with three – I don’t think those other nine were in a holding pen waiting to spring back into action. Anyway, there’s no boxing gloves here, just an occasional blue plaster on sixteen eager beavers chomping at the bit to progress.
After the giddy excitement of Apron-geddon, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by this week, I can’t deny, but maybe Lockdown is making me grouchy. For starters they split them into two groups of eight and whittled down from there. Surely those last sixteen needed to see the whites of each other’s eyes, not least the whites of their aprons. Those aprons, my preciousssss!
First up, they had to make their showstopper dish. Again. Wouldn’t it be better to have given them something more challenging, as in something unexpected? If you haven’t perfected this one dish, heaven help you. Still there seemed to plenty to criticise, nonetheless. Jane’s adorable Woodland Wonder of toadstool meringues on pistachio moss. ‘It could be a fun looking plate,’ sniffed Toady beforehand, ‘I hope it doesn’t look like a novelty toy.’ No, Toads, cos that would be too much fun. In the event, it was too dry.
Shaheen went rogue with his mashed potatoes Beef Wellington, where pancake merged into potato in an unholy mess. I don’t know why contestants haven’t learned this yet. Don’t call your dish by anything like its official name, otherwise that is what they will expect! Call it Boeuf Pomme de Terre Surprise or something. So those two went, along with energetic James and his tonka bean sauce that didn’t taste of tonka bean, even though Toady had grumbled beforehand that it might and how could that possibly work in a savoury dish.
On the second night, I was mesmerised by the fact that Natasha’s colours on the plate matched her rainbow of eyeshadow. Such matching should be noted, you would have thought, but it wasn’t mentioned. Then off to the Pro Stint they went and we heard at least three times that we were in 2015 champion Simon Wood’s restaurant, thus affording us a lot of footage of him from five years back.
While Beverley in the kitchen hunched over her pasta, looking for all the world like Julie ‘Two Soups’ Walters; Toady, in his professional masseur black tunic, seemed staggered by their locale. ‘Incredible, isn’t it? We’re in former champion Simon’s restaurant and here’s five contestants who aspire to do exactly the same thing.’ Right. They’re not aspiring astronauts, man. Get a grip. Shrek meanwhile, had come dressed as his granddad in tie and cardy combo, marvelling at how the ‘amachurs’ had followed a recipe where someone had stood over them, literally every step of the way.
So, to the last episode and the remaining ten had to produce a plate of nine canapés in order to progress – ‘the sort of thing you’d pass around at a party.’ Thanks Shrek. Next week he’ll be explaining the wheel to the hard of thinking. This also seemed an odd challenge. To produce a perfect example of something, then do eight more of it, seems to diminish it somehow.
The fellas, who’d been a bit depleted in the first two rounds, came storming back, with all four of them sailing through. Sandy was the only female exempt from criticism, as they muttered over the saltiness of Charlotte’s artichoke (not a euphemism), the blandness of Claire’s balls (again, not a euphemism) and the hardness of Beverley’s rice (again,… ok you got it).
In the end, it was another unholy mess of a tiramisu type affair that saw Marla, a confident American in the way that the Brits often aren’t, take the walk of shame. Actually, I don’t think it was really the mess of it that was the problem, especially as a. it looked great and b. she’d given them an espresso martini shot alongside. It was the fact that she said it could be eaten in a couple of bites. Shrek reached out eagerly, cavernous mouth agape and managed only a third on his first attempt. That won’t do at all, Marla. You can’t pull a ‘Not even a black hole can eat three Shredded Wheat’ stunt here….