Thursday, May 21, 2015

MasterChef Episode 1: An Aborted Review

I had such fun blogging about Top Chef's last season that I considered doing the same for the new season of MasterChef, one of Gordon Ramsay's staples in his, as he himself says in the show's voiced-over introduction, "billion dollar empire." (Modesty... not so much.)

The current season kicked off last night with a two-hour premiere consisting of two episodes. In the first, twenty contestants initially believed they had made it onto the show, when Gordon dropped the bomb on them that nope, there was another bunch of contestants with whom they'd each be competing in head-to-head challenges to win the right to wear an apron and really-truly-this-time-we-promise get on the show.

Seriously, is that kind of thing really necessary? I didn't mind the head-to-head challenges, especially because they matched chefs by similar types of signature dishes: seafood against seafood, dessert against dessert, etc. But to me, the only thing the show added to the mix by springing it on people who really thought they'd already achieved something (assuming the whole element of surprise wasn't faked) was meanness.

I made it through the first head-to-head challenge before turning off the show. A woman named Claudia made a Mexican shrimp dish to compete against a man in a bowtie who presented shrimp and grits. Speaking of bowties, several of the potential contestants seemed to have carefully cultivated "looks" to make themselves stand out, including a woman who dressed like a Mad Men-style housewife. I prefer chefs' coats.

Naturally, the first two judges to give their opinions were split: Christina Tosi, who replaces Joe Bastianich as judge this season, chose the shrimp and grits, while Gordon preferred the Mexican dish, leaving the decision up to Graham Elliot. As is their wont, the show cut to commercial just as Graham was about to announce which of the two would get the apron. This is annoying enough when they do it for big decisions later in the seasons, so it was really irritating here, especially because it means they repeat footage and dialogue when they come back from the commercial break. Got it the first time around, thanks!

And then the thing that I dislike the most about competition shows happened. Graham told the man (sorry, I didn't catch his name) that his dish was good, then said to Claudia "I'm sorry...." And just as she was about to start crying because she thought she'd been kicked off, he continued, "... but you're going to have to stick around a little while longer."

I hate this crap. All reality shows are fake drama, but this is contrived, manipulative, unkind, invented drama. Reasonably intelligent audiences (not that that's what reality TV is aiming for) don't need that stuff to enjoy a competition show. And this was just for the first head-to-head challenge between contestants who technically aren't even on the show yet!

It does not bode well for the rest of the season. I was also put off by the ridiculous amount of time devoted to the aftermath of this "momentous" outcome -- it looked like the show was practically throwing the woman her own parade. And there were still 21 more head-to-head challenges to go!

So no, I won't be watching MasterChef. I did watch an entire prior season of MasterChef (Season 4, when Luca Manfè won), and I enjoyed it for the most part. But not enough to put up with another whole season of contrived dramatic moments. I'm going to stick to the (in my opinion) much classier Top Chef. In all fairness, I have to admit that Top Chef sometimes sinks to that level of deliberately misleading the contestants and audiences when announcing winners and losers. But they don't do it nearly as often as other shows. I also have to concede that MasterChef's style obviously works for a huge number of people, as evidence by the many offshoots under the MasterChef brand all over the world. It really is a billion-dollar empire. It's just not for me.

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