The following, in a different form, was used as a rant on John Richard’s excellent The Outland Institute radio show. In case you missed it, which you shouldn’t have because it’s an excellent show, as I previously stated.
This week’s television controversy surrounds MasterChef. We’ve been sold a bill of goods. We’ve invited into our homes a Poh-faced liar.
From the very beginning Poh has been shown favouritism by the judges. How many other people had the opportunity to go home after failing the audition and return to cook another dish?*
Poh not only failed once, but twice. Poh was eliminated from the competition and then, with no reason given, allowed to return along with some other, seemingly randomly selected contestants. No one else in the MasterChef competition has been given as easy a ride as Poh and that is outrageously unfair.
It’s true that Julie also received some leeway with the rules of individual challenges. Out of the last three challenges in this week’s finalist series, Julie failed to finish her dish all three times: twice serving raw food and once just failing to plate up all the elements of her dish in the allotted time.
Many times in the last 18 hours people have told me via twitter and sometimes even to my face that Julie only ended in the final two because they want to publish her cookbook.
Couldn’t the same thing have happened to Julie? If Julie had lost the competition last night but her pitch for a cookbook so overwhelmed Donna Hay that she offered her a publishing deal on the spot, we would feel joy and heart-warming tingles because Julie was well on her way to success.
There was no sensational coda for Chris last night.
And so it comes down to the internal logic of the show. Like any good story the characters need to live by the rules of the story’s universe. Despite the real-person/contest nature of the show, it’s still telling a story. In last night’s episode the rules were laid out in the beginning: make a dish that would look good on the cover of a cookbook.
When it came down to judging, though, the aesthetics of the dish were largely irrelevant. Suddenly it came down to the flavour. The judges said that Chris’s dish didn’t taste good.
Somewhere along the lines they changed the rules without telling the contestants or, more importantly, the audience.
A good TV show has turned into a farce.
* In a moment of subtextual racism the judges sent Poh home to gather the ingredients to create a Malaysian dish. The implication that she was unable to create modern Australian cuisine because of her ethnicity should have been seen as a slap in the face with regard to her skill as a cook. Instead the judges somehow made it seem like they were encouraging her. Would they expect a Cajun to only make craw-fish gumbo? Would a Jew only be rewarded by making gefilte fish and matzo ball soup?
It’s unfair to everybody that she was given a second chance AND told what to make. It’s unfair to her that they did not judge her ability on the merits of her first dish. It’s unfair to an entire race of people that we should expect them to only be good at cooking one type of cuisine.