The first season of Masterchef America is over, and I have to say I didn’t think much of it. Obviously inspired by the British version, which has been going for years, and successful spin-offs in Australia and Hungary, this was a weekly 2-hour Fox TV show where hundreds of aspiring chefs, distilled down to sixteen, cooked for Gordon Ramsay and two other chefs – one fat one with tattoos and ridiculous glasses, and a bald one who hardly ever smiled – with eliminations every week, until the last one standing won the title of Masterchef America (gosh!) and $250,000 to start up a culinary business (minus tax, but they never mention that). I’m always a bit suspicious of titles that have been made up specifically for TV shows. Do they mean all that much? In a year’s time, when the winner reminds people of her 15 minutes of culinary fame when she won Masterchef America of 2010, will it be more than of passing interest to anyone?
Hell’s Kitchen it isn’t! That is a fun show. For the contestants it may be about food, but for the audience, who can’t taste the food so we can form no judgment about it, it is all about a group of people more or less locked up together, being deprived of sleep and made to do cooking related tasks with either a few hours away from lock-up as a reward or humiliation and onerous work as a punishment. Gordon Ramsay screams and yells in the kitchen, throwing food and F-bombs around the place, and the contestants seem to lap it up – his behavior, not the thrown food. I asked one former HK contestant, who is a Facebook friend of mine, if she liked Ramsay and she answered that she didn’t know him; she had just seen an act.
It’s an act that obviously entertains. HK is back for its seventh season next week, and according to the trailers were are promised lots of conflict, loss of temper, backstabbing, tears and all the things that make the show fun. Yes, ok, they cook stuff too, but we watch it to see them compete and destroy each other. I look forward to picking my favourites and rooting for them. Actually, the dinner services are not nearly as much fun to watch as the challenges that the teams have to undertake in the first half of each episode, followed by the gloating of the winners, who get a spa day or a helicopter ride or some such, over the losers, who have to spend the day cleaning the toilets or polishing the roof or something similar. And we also get the treat of eavesdropping on all the recriminations, accusations and general disintegration of whichever team is on the losing end that week. I’m looking forward to it!
Masterchef was all challenges and no dinner services, but even so, it came across as bland. There was hardly any tension and so much of it had a contrived look about it. I was sorry to see my two faves get eliminated, and very pleased that one insufferable big-head didn’t win. In the end, the winner was a rather sweet young woman who seemed to be a very intuitive cook, and may actually go far. You can never tell. I don’t know if the show has been renewed or not. She better hope that it is – the title of Masterchef 2010 will mean even less if there isn’t a Masterchef 2011.
● After a gap of a few years, The Apprentice is back. (I’m not counting the ridiculous Celebrity Apprentice seasons, which seemed little more than a way of keeping Donald Trump in front of the TV cameras). This time, sixteen men and women who used to have high power jobs and have fallen on hard times are bringing their expertise and sense of entitlement to the competition for a job in the Trump organization. Trump said he hates seeing people out of work and he is offering someone a second chance. All very nice, but you’ll notice that one of the qualifications for a second chance, certainly for the women, is that you have to be attractive. No second chances, it seems, for the overweight, the plain or the ugly. And I think that’s rather ugly.