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Masterchef Australia – Strategy From Matt

Matt the Strategos is back with more pertinent words on the strategy surrounding Masterchef Australia:

With 18 contestants left we’re officially a quarter of the way through the competition, and this is the time when the strategic landscape starts to get a bit clearer.

You can pick the baby seals now, waiting to be clubbed in the run to the final 10 – which is probably only a month away, factoring in the odd surprise double elimination/no elimination week. Sun, Mat, Dani – you’ve got to wonder why any of these guys even got through to the final 24. Dani had a flash of strategic insight by noting that “we’re starting to work out everyone’s strengths and weaknesses”, so the smart strategists in the house should be running scenarios – What happens if it’s a team challenge with an Asian theme – who do I pick? Where does Hayden’s unused immunity pin fit into team-pick calculations? Who is a good dessert chef for the inevitable “slave-labour-in-Gary’s-restaurant challenge”?


Dani, of course blithely ignored the fact that one of her weaknesses is an inability to cook.


Which brings me to last night, which proved Rule One of my Strategic Tips For The Masterchef Australia Contestants – know how to cook. It seems a pretty obvious strategic point, but it’s one which many of the contestants seem to have over looked.


In particular, know how to cook desserts. It’s no surprise that of the top four dishes last night, none were desserts, while three of the bottom four (including Mat) were.


Every contestant should have been practicing their cooking, and desserts should have taken up at least a third of that time. It’s not about being able to regurgitate Donna Hay’s cookbooks, it’s about having four or five core techniques that you can use.


Jay in particular – who may not quite be in Marion Grasby territory yet but is up there in the top five favourites to win – even admitted he’s not that god at desserts. News flash for you Jay – Adriano Zumbo makes at least two appearances every season, so the producers do like their desserts. Couple that with the fact that the producers love desserts for their propensity to bring contestants to tears, and you’re guaranteeing that knowing how to bake a cake would be a reasonable core skill.

Having those few core techniques also mitigates risk on curve balls like last night’s basket swapping. In fact, the basket swapping wasn’t the big deal it was made out to be. All it did was effectively change an Invention Test to a Mystery Box.

Ellie was another strategic fail. When you see the dreaded foreshadowing of “I’ve never cooked brulee before”, you know you’re heading for a culinary car crash.

It’s strange, actually, that we haven’t yet seen anyone of the calibre of Callum (and who thought we’d be saying THAT at this time last season) when it comes to desserts.

And on the preparation aspect – who goes on Masterchef being lactose intolerant? Hell, who has a “food dream” and is lactose intolerant. Certainly rules out Mat from a Boost juice franchise. Quick aside with Mat – who else had uncharitable thoughts that when he said, “I never want to get that close to the razor’s edge again”, he was actually talking about his personal hygiene?

So having determined that no-one has prepared properly, at least on desserts, who had good strategy last night?

I thought it was solid work by Danielle, Shannon and Michael to throw up a tapas selection. Gary may have crapped on about Ellie putting up two dishes, this “being a sign she had no clear strategy” but three of the top four were essentially multiple dishes. Multiple dishes has worked well in the past – Adam’s Asian selection is a good example. Rule Two of my Strategic Tips For The Masterchef Australia Contestants states winning isn’t everything – you just need others to lose. By throwing up multiple dishes, you are spreading the risk – if one dish is a disaster, you’ve got a good chance of the G’s saying “but you’ve been saved by the flavours of dish B…” It’s tricky though, as Ellie showed. I think what Gary may have meant is “don’t plate up two dishes which have nothing to do with each other”. If you’re going to cook multiple dishes, make sure they’re linked by theme, taste or some other variable.

Billy had not just a Rule Two fail by offering Dani advice, but a Rule Seven fail (WWERD – What Would Evil Russell Do) by offering the RIGHT advice. Being nice is, well, nice, but Rule Two states Billy WANTS Dani in the bottom three, because it means one less spot for him. He was saved from his strategic ineptitude by the fact that he offered the advice to a complete strategic muppet, who promptly ignored it.

Another Rule Two fail was Danielle, who may have won the challenge, but I fear may not be long for the Masterchef itchen with an attitude like “I want to win every time I go up there, not just survive”. Admirable and ambitious, but not a good strategy. Playing safe right now, when there are so many poor competitors still to be culled, is the optimum strategy.

And Jay – what can we say? There’s an accounting term called sunk costs. It essentially means that having “sunk” the costs into an investment, they should not be factored into any go/no go decision on proceeding. Money’s gone, sunk, so don’t factor it in. It’s like someone playing a poker machine and saying, I can’t leave now, I’ve just put $50 in. That $50 is sunk, as was Jay’s time in persisting with the churros. Jay needed a plan B to get himself out of there, and enough ingredients and time to extricate himself. After half an hour or so, simply saying “one last time” was bad strategy.

Strategic high points – Danielle, Shannon and Michael’s multiple dishes.

Low points – Ellie trying brulees for the first time, and plating up multiple, unlinked dishes.

Dishonourable mention – Billy should be thankful he’s a good enough cook not to worry about Dani. Pull the giving advice trick with Michael in the final five and he’s gonski.




1 littlepetal { 06.06.11 at 4:20 pm }

Good analysis Matt. You pick up all those points like Ellie has never cooked cream brulee and yet she wanted to try; Dani asking Billy how to make chocolate mousse. Billy should have said “I can’t tell you, it is cheating”

2 donae { 06.06.11 at 4:39 pm }

perhaps we need to think backwards from the type of cookbook that
might sell this year; not mumsy family food or asian-done that; a dessert
cookbook might be what the producers want. any other ideas?

3 EH { 06.06.11 at 4:51 pm }

Bogan BBQ cookbook with a special section dedicated to recipes using frozen and canned food. Bonus recipe: cheap Chinese sweet & sour pork.

4 wallah { 06.06.11 at 5:04 pm }

Yep, make the cookbook like the album that Australian Idol winners release, all pre-packaged and ready to go from day 1….if they haven’t done that already.

5 AngelSN86 { 06.06.11 at 5:35 pm }

Arena and Alana are supposedly pretty good at desserts. They’ve each put a few decent dessert dishes up and seem to default to desserts when given a choice. Not sure if they’re at Callum’s calibre though, we’ve barely seen their cooking. Other than the foam explosion in the frozen and tinned challenge. Hee, always makes me giggle just thinking of it. :)

6 Jasmin { 06.06.11 at 5:45 pm }

The winner could release one called ‘Never Cooked This Before – A Masterchef Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Cook Book’.

Each recipe could have a choice between following the advice of the judges or going with your own gut instinct.

7 littlepetal { 06.06.11 at 6:01 pm }

They could just publish a compilation of recipes cookbook. Just put other chefs recipes in it and said tested by MC winner !!!!

8 AnonyMousse { 06.06.11 at 6:27 pm }

Arena and Alana? It’s Billy who every other contestant seems to acknowledge as the desserts master. And Billy didn’t need to be not nice in this challenge – a quick look around would have shown him that several people were struggling much more than he was, and therefore he didn’t have to worry about elimination.

9 JaniceG { 06.06.11 at 8:14 pm }

@Jasmin: Completely agree. Never understand on any cooking show when contestants blithely admit in key challenges that they’re cooking something they’ve never cooked before to show they’re stretching themselves or some other philosophical bs. Hardly ever works. And I also never understand why they don’t pick up on the judges’ comments and actually implement them: do they really think the judges are complimenting them when they say things like “I’ve never seen that technique used with this ingredient before”? Buy a clue, you numptys!

10 akris { 06.07.11 at 10:21 am }

Totally agree AnonyMousse, I think Billy is the desserts master this year.. and I think more so than Callum last year.. who has admitted that he only really got into desserts because of his Immunity challenge with that pastry chef.. Philipa?? whereas I think Billy has come into the competition already quite knowledgeable and interested in the area.