MasterChef deja vu

This is not really a rant, but more of a shaking of the head. I used to be a big fan of the MasterChef cooking competition program. I even followed the UK version of the show and did the 'ingredient challenge' for one year. (This was back when they had a different format, and each preliminary round had a sort of 'mystery box' challenge that the contestants had to pass to move forward.) I like the austerity of the original UK format, which keeps the focus strictly on the cooking. You only get to know the contestants via their cooking, as it should be.

The format was made more dramatic and reality-show-y if you will, when the franchise was transferred to Australian TV screens. I managed to watch quite a lot of the first and second seasons of MasterChef Australia though the usual slightly nefarious means. MasterChef Australia is sort of like Australian Idol For Cooks. I really disliked the inter-personal, Big Brother like drama that was shown in season 1, which I was happy to see they got rid of in season 2. Keeping up with MasterChef Australia is tough, since they broadcast every weekday, but it's still quite entertaining. The best part of the show is the once-weekly "Master class", given by the two of the three host/judges, who are chefs, plus assorted guests. The two chefs, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris, are terrific teachers on-screen and I actually learned quite a lot from their demonstrations.

Then, the MasterChef franchise was transferred to the U.S. screens. They used the basic format of the Australia version, rather than the original UK version, and added Gordon Ramsay. Make that Gordon F**king Ramsay. They also stripped away anything good about the Australian version and made into yet another reality show.

If you think that reality shows in general, and this one in particular, is not scripted, you are as naïve as I used to be. How do I know? Well, the MasterChef franchise has actually moved to France now, and is shown on TF1 (official site). The format is the Australian-US version, not the straightforward UK version. If you have watched the first episode of MasterChef US, you may recall when one of the contestants, a young man whose wife was waiting anxiously outside (he may have had a kid too), was told to bring his wife into the judging room. The judges then practically made him get down on his knees and beg to be selected, with his wife standing tearfully beside him. He was allowed through after a considerable amount of Reality TV Over-Emoting.

Nevertheless, that was a spontaneous moment, yes? No. Because, in first episode of the French version of MasterChef (which was a mind-boggling 3 hours long), the exact same scenario was enacted. A young man with an anxious wife (and in this case, he did have a kid out there too) waiting outside, was told to bring his family into the judging room, then made to cry and beg for his spot in the semi-finals or whatever they call it. Except for the language and the cast, it was an identically played out scene. Heh.

I suppose that I may be the only person, or one of the very few anyway, to have even watched so many versions of this show. Yes I know, all reality shows are fake. It was just strange to see just how fake it really is confirmed though.

I also find it a bit amusing that reality-cooking shows have gained a foothold in this country, which is supposed to pride itself on being the best natural cooks in the world or something. There's a French version of Top Chef too - I haven't seen it, but I did see the companion book on sale at our local bookstore, alongside the cute kits for making sushi, or cupcakes, or cocktails and the like.

I suppose that it's another sign that the whole world is becoming homogenized.

Comments

I share you head shaking in the direction of the Masterchef shows. I enjoyed the UK version when it showed here in NZ and was looking forward to the NZ version - but this turned out to be in the style of the Aussie version as well, which was disappointing. The UK version seemed more about the food but the format they used in NZ seemed to be more about squeezing the most drama and emotion they could out of the contestants. At least they didn't do a show a night like the Aussie version - NZ is way too budget for that kind of caper!

Imagine the shock of someone who actually was a contestant on Series one of the Aussie Masterchef. I almost lost it when we were told we'd be in a house with no contact with our families for 3 months! Fortunately I didn't go that far with the show and got to go and play with food in my own way instead.

I never seen any of the masterchef and since I am in Australia I see a lot of advertisement and the candidats are the stars of the papers... The only cooking reality-show I have seen is one on the french swiss TV (TSR, you probably know it) and it was quit nice and I have the illusion, it's not fake (not enough money in TV in Switzerland :-p). The concept was one farmer in each canton invited the other and make them discover his production, his land and so... It was really nice and no small fights...

Maki,
Sounds like you are feeling better. Got some edge back.

Congratulations!

Best,

I like many others love watching cooking shows for relaxation, inspiration and also entertainment. I am an Australian and maybe I'm biased but I really do love our version of the show. I have seen the UK Master chef and US Top Chef series. I really didn't like the lack of respect that people received on the UK version and the backstabbing side of the US Top Chef series. I think Gary, Matt and George are very respectful of the contestants and are often very emotional when they have to send someone home. It is a nice balance between cooking, education and personal journies. The junior Master chef show starts this Sunday and I feel comfortable that they will be kind and encouraging to the kids. I'd prefer to watch Aussie Master chef any day, just my opinion.

Unfortunately I really can't share your sentiments re. Junior Masterchef. Thinking of the immense amount of pressure on the adult version, even if toned down for the kids I'm not sure it's something they should be subjected to. Then again, I just have something against kids being filmed whilst they're crying.
Is there no middle ground between respecting the food (UK Masterchef) and sharing the personal stories (Aussie Masterchef)? I found Aussie MC really, really repetitive on so many levels. If I hear "journeys" mentioned on Masterchef one more time, I may just destroy the TV...

Not sure about you, but I found MC really, really repetitive this year. It was the same stories about the contestants played over and over again, then their feelings etc... a good third (at least!) could have been cut and a tighter show produced.
Nevertheless, this year's standard was definitely raised immensely. The finale was certainly more interesting, and the calibre of guest chefs on a completely new level also. That was one of the few things that kept me watching an otherwise dreary show almost every night.
But is 3 versions of the same show really necessary? I actually thought a lot more could have been done with Celebrity MC. I'm sure Junior MC will get exceptional ratings, but I'm still not convinced if it's such a good idea.
On a similar topic, Aussie Iron Chef is being filmed right now, and will air soon... wonder how that'll fare.

[quote=yygall]
But is 3 versions of the same show really necessary? I actually thought a lot more could have been done with Celebrity MC. I'm sure Junior MC will get exceptional ratings, but I'm still not convinced if it's such a good idea.
On a similar topic, Aussie Iron Chef is being filmed right now, and will air soon... wonder how that'll fare.[/quote]

I watched Junior MC last night and thought it wasn't too bad. The judges really toned down their criticism, it didn't lok like they focussed too much on the time limit and they seemed to manage to catch the kids just before they were about to lose it and managed to help them out and avoid too many tears. I think they managed to create something that looks like it would have been a productive learning experience for the kids.. and they're all very good cooks for their age.

Iron chef I'm not so sure about. I loved the Japanese one, and wasn't so much a fan of the US one. The Aussie line up of iron chefs is respectable, I think Guillame has the bearing of an Iron Chef.. but they certainly aren't the most innovative chefs in Australia.. I'd love to see how Grossi handles an Asian ingredient.

Maybe, you watch TF1 to be more fluent in french! It must be difficult. I'm french and think we have the poorest TV of the world, so I almost never watch TV, except in Greece (to learn the language).And I "learn" world cooking with the blogs!

I actually don't have a TV at the moment. I watched MasterChef via the online live stream. Otherwise I kind of agree...most French TV sucks ^_^;

I've only seen the american version, but gotta say I'm stunned by what you are reporting!

Yes, it is reality TV, but I didn't think they directed and edited the show that much!

Thanks for the eye-opener!

Well TF1 is the reference for bad quality reality TV. Moreover the success for this show is not really there so I guess it won't last many seasons. If you want more "natural cook" you should watch the French version of Come Dine With Me (M6 channel). Currently they are doing the National Best. But people are getting tired, too much cooking reality show now.

Well, Come Dine With Me in any language or country is not a cooking show. It's a snark at other people show.

I don't know about other countries but anyway who cares about the comments? The most important thing is the cooking and the original recipes ideas you can get. Now in the National Best amateurs are judged by renown chefs and not other amateurs. I think they have something else to do than just giving lame comments?

I watched the UK version of Masterchef when I first moved here and thought it was great. I even want one of John Torode's cookbooks. I haven't seen any other versions, the only thing cooking wise I have seen a lot of versions of is Come Dine with me (I've seen the UK one, the Australian one, and the French one: Un dîner presque parfait) which seems very different, but only because of the cultures. I guess you can't recreate that so much.

Yep, watched the American Masterchef (from Canada) and that EXACT same scene played out where a man went and got his wife and kid and brought them back to face the judges while he begged for his spot.

Unbelievable!!

I have only seen the US version of MasterChef, but I became disillusioned when I saw them do an elimination using "Texas Style Chili." The contestants had to guess the ingredients in the soup, whoever had the fewest correct guesses before a wrong guess was kicked off. There was no Chili Powder in this soup, and I have no idea how you can claim to have made any american style chili without using Chili Powder. Tomatoes, yes I have eaten real chili without them; beans are optional in chili; chili powder is NOT.

Thank you for listening to my rant. I appreciate the soap box and will now give it back...

Re: chili powder

They used the component spices that make up commercial chili powder, but without the fillers, preservatives, etc. I would have been very surprised had they used commercial chili powder (or commercial curry powder in a curry dish, for that matter).

It is indeed an EXTREMELY sad day when Masterchef's been reality-ed up. I have friends who work in reality TV and the tricks they use are pretty awful. But having said that, can I say that "Come Dine With Me" is one of my favourite foodie programs? Just fantastic, I watch its German counterpart, Das Perfekte Dinner as well. Love them both so much.

I too saw the US version of Masterchef... Based on what I saw, I was highly disappointed. As far as I could tell, the crown was awarded long before the finale despited the fact that she was outcooked by most of the other contestant. After reading what you saw on the French version, I realize I wasn't wrong in my judgement of the show and that I won't be watching any future seasons. It completely flies against the point of being a "reality" show.

I thought you might be interested to see what the original pre Torrode Masterchef was like in the 90's.

This is from the Junior version - set time to cook a three course meal - which was then judged - it was done by part of the country, where the winner would go onto the next round .

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=waCUDvpu0_0

Love the giant bottles, and the fact they are sat on a bread board.

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