MasterChef 2020 recap: There's a bad apple in the bunch as we get down to the top two

An apple a day keeps the judges away.
An apple a day keeps the judges away. Photo: Supplied

Semi-final is finally here, which means it's time for long gratuitous slow-mo shots of the contestants looking up wistfully at the pots and pans as they reflect on the past few months in this competition.

Reynold wants to prove he's not just a pastry chef; he says he wants to win this so he can help his family, who have always had to work hard in life. Laura remembers how she has been in almost every elimination this season, which was really damn annoying, frankly. She knows this cook is going to be tough, but hopefully the weight of her massive diamond wedding ring she keeps flashing around will ground her.

Emelia tells us how she's been doing nothing but make cakes the past six years, which makes it sound like she's some sort of slave for Marie Antoinette, but I think she likes it. She knows she can do much more and won't hold back. We get a flashback to last week's now infamous "I am exceptional!" speech, and I haven't felt so much girl power since the Spice Girls released the Spice World album in 1997.

The final three enter the kitchen. Emelia comments that the judges are dressed all "fancy", although Andy has still forgotten to wear socks. Fingers crossed he finds some for the finale.

Emelia says she is "vibing a pressure test", which she is happy about because there's nothing like 10 pages of rules to follow that gets Emelia going in the morning. The judges ask how she feels going up against her bestie, Laura, and the two girls have a little moment. Reynold waves from his bench like, don't forget about me guys, but Emelia's like, hush Reynold we don't need you, and what I assume an awkward threesome must be like.

Melissa says this pressure test was created especially for tonight's special semi-final. It's made by one of Australia's finest chefs, who has won three hats eight years in a row. In comes Martin Benn from Sepia. Reynold is stoked because he has been to Sepia "over and over". Maybe he is also stoked because we finally have a recipe that doesn't call for the hibachi.

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Martin recognises Emelia from his last pressure test on her former season. Back then she had to create a dessert forest floor and managed to win the challenge. Martin says this dish is ten times more difficult than the forest and was composed using all his experience of his 10 years at Sepia. Hmm, seems achievable.

Martin removes the cloche to reveal a glistening toffee apple next to a bunch of crisp autumn leaves. He says the dish represents all five tastes: umami, sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

Laura looks a bit distraught; she knows there's no way she can pasta herself out of this dish.

Martin explains that the apple is actually one long apple strip "lathed" on a Japanese slicer. If, like me, you also had to Google what "lathing" was, you would have also got lost down a rabbit hole of YouTube carpentry videos, but to save you that even more tedious viewing: a lathe is basically a tool that rotates to slice an object evenly, kind of like a spiraliser, but less Gwyneth Paltrow-y.

Anyway, the strip is painted in red toffee caramel then rolled back up into an apple shape. Emelia notices that the caramel is really bitter, and Martin says it should be taken to the point of almost being burnt to get the correct bitterness. He says the leaves – one made of sweet muscovado sugar, one made of pumpkin and persimmon and deep-fried, one made of sour raspberry – have been his life's work to get it right, which doesn't give you much hope for this lot, does it?

They get three hours and 45 minutes to make it, so hopefully the judges have a few episodes of Killing Eve lined up to binge-watch while they wait.

The recipe has 113 steps. No, thank you! Emelia loves it though and starts with her persimmon and pumpkin leaves. She says she knows "she has to motor" and how many times are we going to hear that again tonight?

Reynold says he is in the zone and this is his kind of cooking. Reynold thinks he knows Martin Benn better than Martin Benn knows Martin Benn because he has eaten his food and read his book. He thinks this gives him an advantage and so says he is just going to go by his instinct. Please also read the recipe, Reynold, we beg of you.

Mel and Martin come up to talk to Reynold and Mel notices his pot of caramel is smoking and burning. Reynold's like, it's all good babe don't worry I got this, and says he is going to add more sugar in. Martin says he is hammering it hard, and that's what she said.

Emelia is "motoring". She has her apple on the lathe, but it keeps cracking as she winds it. She has another go but it also cracks. Martin and Andy come to visit and Emelia requests they please face the fridges while she works.

King Reynold does his apple perfectly in one go, even Martin whispers "woh" in admiration. He does a second one just in case, but says he is feeling good. 

Meanwhile Laura is not sure about this lathe thing. It's very different to a pasta machine, you see. She puts on her apple and starts winding, but the apple isn't moving. She tries again, but can't get the apple to spin. Andy notices she's having trouble, but decides not to help her.

Laura has gone through about eight apples now, and has moved onto the heavy breathing stage of frustration. The music starts getting tense and we cut to an ad break.

But then angel Emelia descends from the heavens to help her! She tells Laura stay calm and keep trying. Reynold feels like he should probably help too so calls out that she needs to push the apple onto the lathe further. Emelia shows her how to do it with such reassuring calm that makes me feel like even I could do start lathing apples. It starts spinning, and Laura says she feels so honoured to be cooking with Emelia and Reynold. What a bloody wholesome show this is. Of course, this will all be crushed when the next ad break for Bachelor in Paradise comes on and I see that tattooed guy with a man bun comment on all the womens' bodies. 

Emelia is ready to paint her apple strip. She rolls it up and then puts it in the mould. She says one looks good and one looks a dog's dinner, so she ditches the one that looks like wrinkly prune and just keeps the good looking one.

Reynold is rolling his apple up really tight, and so it ends up looking more like a cylinder. He says he followed the recipe, so decides to add more caramel to the mould to fill it out as it cooks in the oven. Laura has managed to roll hers up and it actually looks like an apple. There's red caramel all over her bench so she says she'll clean up the crime scene and move on.

Two hours to go, and Mel looks like she is wishing they would let her sit down in those heels.

Emelia has to shape her muscovado leaves and says she needs to work in the oven to make these leaves. If only Poh were here to utilise her relationship with her oven. She stamps the first leaf, but it cracks. Jock comes over because he loves coming to have a chat at the most critical moments of the cook, and Emelia looks like she wishes he would climb in an oven and leave her alone.

Not sure if Reynold has inflamed joints or a hectic case of mosquito bites because Melissa asks him if he needs some Tiger Balm. He says "no thanks mum", but I think he's going to need more than just a topical ointment because his apple scroll looks like a soggy toilet paper roll that has been murdered, flopped sadly in a pool of blood.

Meanwhile, Emelia's looks perfect. Even Laura's looks good. Reynold realises he made the mistake of rolling them up too tight. He says he doesn't have time to make it again, so puts it back in the oven and hopes he can reshape it later. Not feeling good about this.

Laura says she "needs to motor" and gets onto making her leaves. Jock is in the background stroking his rosary beads and wow they have got a lot of airtime this season.

Emelia is onto the sour red raspberry leaves. She keeps breaking them and says she feels like she's going to vomit. I can relate when I get onto the red raspberry leaves, except replace "leaves" with "vodka cruisers".

Reynold's leaves are perfect and he just needs to finish the pumpkin persimmon leaf. It has to be deep-fried, but when he takes it out of the fryer he notices it is oily. He decides to put them in the oven to dry them out a bit. He says it's not part of the recipe, and look I'm not convinced that putting the paper towel in the oven is a good idea, but this is what his intuition tells him and who are we to argue with the brain that turned dessert into "space"?

Jock notices Reynold's leaves in the oven. Reynold is like don't worry mate they are just dehydrating, but then says no one's favourite words, "oh my god". He pulls them out and realises his mistake – the leaves have lost their shape and imprint.

Reynold – genius man who can make desserts from intangible concepts – has put all of the leaves into the oven, so he doesn't have any spare to work with. I can't believe it will be a very Reynold-like dessert that might kick Reynold out of this competition.

Thirty minutes to go and Emelia's apple scroll looks beautiful. She's very happy. Laura's is less apple, more pear, so she adds more caramel to make it rounder. It sags down sadly like my body when I eat too much caramel.

Emelia notices that her pumpkin leaves look oily. Luck for her Jock is right by her bench and tells her they are oily for now and they should dry out. Sucks to be Reynold right now.

Melissa asks if anyone needs a pep talk, because she is the best thing that ever happened to this show. Laura says she wouldn't mind a chat while she pulls the chocolate caramel into apple stems. Don't we all! Melissa tells her to lean on her strengths, yada yada yada, Laura is uplifted, mission accomplished.

Reynold says he "isn't even going to look at the recipe" because he remembers what the stems look like. Ok, Reynold but remember what happened to your pumpkin leaves?! He ends up making a thousand perfect stems just for fun because he is Reynold let's not forget.

While Emelia is dicing up her sour apple jelly, she does an all of us and forgets about her caramel on the stove and realises she has burnt it. Cool, calm and collected Emelia doesn't let it get to her and moves on with another pot of trimoline and isomalt to remake the caramel. Just when I was starting to get used to the word "isomalt" being thrown around, they now are adding "trimoline" to the picture. Whatever happened to good old sugar?

There's 30 seconds to go and everyone starts finalising all their elements. The countdown finishes and Reynold says he doesn't know what happened to him. "It shrunk," he says. And I promise this is my last "that's what she said" joke.

Time for the taste test. Emelia is up first and says it was the hardest pressure test she's ever been in. She begins her five-minute plating time and puts her apple on the plate with the chantilly cream and the sour apple jelly. She fills her apple with miso caramel, tops it with the twig and arranges all her leaves. It looks better than Martin's.

Melissa says she should be proud of herself. Emelia says she feels like she will get further. Jock asks her where this confidence comes from, and she says she has just started "staying in the moment". Personally I think it was when she started wearing lipstick every episode.

Martin says it looks "pretty damn good". Martin decides to take the job as master carver, and I'm not sure how Jock feels about losing his portioning role. Jock makes a joke that this is what Martin's iso cooking project has been while we were all making sourdough.

Martin says Emelia's apple was extraordinary, phenomenal and perfectly cooked. Andy says she nailed it. Mel says it was glamour and took a lot of skill. I can't remember what Jock says, but it's safe to say that Emelia's apple is as much of a winner as Steve Jobs' was.

Laura is up next. Her apple looks like the frumpy girl at the ball, all misshapen with a way-too-perky stem. Andy asks what happens if this sends her home, which seems like a cruel thing to be asking at this point. She says she would be heartbroken and then apologises for crying like every girl feels like they should.

Martin says that while it didn't look as perfect as Emelia's, the layers look good. Andy says the bitterness in the caramel was the hero. Melissa says the muscovado imprint in the leaves was not quite there, but it is just minor differences compared to the real thing. Jock says for someone who is not a pastry expert, it was an amazing effort.

Things are not looking good for old mate, Reynold. He says he will be devastated if he has to go home at this point, so is going to "give everything in these last five minutes". Bit late, but you do you. The pressure gets to him – he has 60 seconds left of his plating time when he breaks his stem! Thankfully he made a thousand so gets another one, but his hands are shaking from the pressure. Ten seconds to go and Melissa looks like she is about to faint. He gets it on just in time and the world breathes a collective sigh of relief.

Jock asks him why he wants to win and best prepare your tissues, everyone. Reynold says he hasn't had an easy life as an immigrant. Through tears he says he is not the type of person to speak about these sorts of things, but his mum and dad are both very hard workers and no matter how hard his family works, there's always something that knocks them down.

Reynold says that even though he has Koi and it may seem like a success, he is still struggling and the hospitality industry is really hard. He says he didn't come on here for the fame, he came on here because he loves to cook. He says this is all he is good at; he's not good at studying. "Join the club," says Andy, who is not reading the room.

Melissa is feeling all the feels. She tells him not to "discount the hope you give to everyone who is pushing up against a dream". Jock says no matter what happens, we are proud of you. Oh Rey Rey.

Martin says it's skilled work, but as they eat it Jock and Martin both bends their leaves Melissa says the apple was tiny but her raspberry leaf was the dish of the day. Andy says the bitterness of the caramel wasn't enough. Jock says the leaves were bendy like fruit leather. If you are wearing mascara, I would take it off at this point if you don't want to looks like a panda bear in the next 10 minutes.

The judges march out like they are about to perform a calisthenics routine. Jock says it's a pressure test that will go down in history. Martin says they all deserve to be here.

Jock announces that the apple star and the first person in the finale is....Emelia, obviously. Now Emelia is feeling all the feels. "Martin Benn strikes again," says Emelia, also a poet.

So it's down to Laura and Reynold. Reynold's dish had the best colours, but some of the leaves were soft. Laura's apple looked more like a pear, but she cooked it perfectly and the bitterness of the caramel was perfect. Reynold's dish looked better, but Laura's ate better. That's it ladies and gentlemen, superman Reynold is flying home.

Poor Reynold tries to keep his tears from pouring out but is overcome with emotion and has to sob at the bench privately. Everyone stands around wondering if they should elbow tap him. Bloody hell, someone please hug the man! 

Melissa answers our desperate pleas to say something uplifting, and tells Reynold he is one of the brightest and most promising stars of the MasterChef universe and the Australian food industry.

Reynold says this competition has given him so much and second chances don't come around often. As he walks to the black car of death, hopefully throwing the apron out of the car window as he drives off, Reynold says he feels devastated and felt like he could win (so did we, Reynold, so did we). Next time make yourself a dessert version of the MasterChef trophy and save us all this hoo-ha.

Read more of our MasterChef recaps here and follow Eloise Basuki on Twitter @eloise_baz.