Three weeks into Masterchef The Professionals and it’s same old, same old. But no it’s not, because Monica has absconded. Mutterings about busy schedule, spending time with family, yada yada. Maybe she just got fed up with Shrek, aka Gregg Wallace. Back of the queue love, we all got royally narked by him before he even joined the party. Perhaps we should sign him up for a post in The Cabinet, he’d be gone in a jiffy then.

The new intro still features Shrek a-gurning and Marcus doing his wounded Bambi look up to the camera, but now there’s new kid on the block Anna Haugh, all butter wouldn’t melt expression (not surprising with the amount they put in, you’d need antifreeze to cut through that), with slight coquettish edge. A coquettembouche, one might say.

She may resemble Heidi with her hair sort of plaited round her head, but her big, sometimes startled, faun eyes can turn steely upon occasion. When one of the hapless men was flapping about his dish being ready for the critics (for as we know, they will actually die if their food is not served up immediately), she declared he’d just have to put on his big boy pants and get on with it. Quite right, you don’t get anywhere in the kitchen if you’re not ruthless. Those of us with long memories remember Marcus from his pre-judging days as nasty guest chef reducing the poor contestants to tears. It’s almost completely buried, but every now and then the mask slips.

You know the dream where you’re back in school assembly and suddenly realise your pants have fallen down? That is what I feel the skills test is and I’m forever puzzled that it’s the opening round. You don’t do black belt first, so why don’t they let them settle in with their own dish, before plunging them under intense scrutiny (and Shrek’s dribbling) at close quarters? Only a tiny amount actually do well in this challenge, but those that do bizarrely often mess up in the next round. In the Covid days, they introduced a safety measure regarding numbers where one judge watched the test from a back room via hidden camera. Like someone limping long after their leg has been amputated, this remains despite everything else being back to normal and the contestants hugging each other like billyoh.

You can imagine the production team: ‘We’ve bally well paid for this monitor and headphones [are those sanitised between judges?!], so we’re gonna keep it in. Anyway, it means we can get a running commentary on what’s happening.’ Errm yeah, but we’ve already watched how it’s supposed to be done, plus we’ve got Shrek and the other judge making cod pantomime expressions of dismay throughout and you know, the power of our own eyes and minds. We’ll manage. Or they could at least let the contestants watch the dish as it’s prepared and copy it. Sure it can be entertaining in a ‘watch behind the cushion’ way, but it’s unnecessarily cruel and not a good indicator of talent.

Speaking of talent, Head Office have obviously had words about the diversity factor and barked an order to the effect that if the competition has its usual glut of heavily tattooed, white men in their twenties, someone’s head is for the chopping block. So you get some intriguing characters such as Tasoula with her ‘Eight Degrees of Turnip’ creation.

Shrek got a bit above himself in one round, mimsying that he didn’t like Anastasia’s ice cream. Marcus and Anna smiled indulgently, in the way that you let a toddler think it’s helping with putting the shopping away, knowing that he was talking out of his rear end. He probably stamped his feet offscreen, demanding that his longevity in the post meant a third contestant be allowed to go through too, because HE didn’t think she was good enough. Complete waste of time, as the third contestant William mucked up completely in the next round and was out on his ear, while Anastasia’s brilliance continued. Shrek’s opacity can never be punctured, nor his vocabulary expand to more than calling everyone ‘mate.’ Marcus’ smile that doesn’t reach his eyes is always telling here. Shrek is not his mate, nor ever will be.