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Masterchef – it is what it is (and it’s not what I was expecting)

It’s probably clear to all who’ve been reading my guest posts on Masterchef that it’s filling my spot of “show I love to hate”. That position has been empty since Kitchen Nightmares demoted itself down the order to “show I now merely hate, and therefore no longer watch” thanks to an ill-advised American adaptation that was half abuse, half recap. I wasn’t expecting Masterchef to fill that vacancy; from the moment I first heard that we were getting a local version, I was looking forward to it.

Like many Australians, I took advantage of the working holiday visa and spent a while living in London, working strange temp jobs, and spending most of my meagre earnings at the pub. Of course, since the Labour government came to power, many things – including licensing hours – have changed, but back then, with Major in charge, pubs closed at eleven and were open for a bizarre period of time on a Sunday. Sunday opening gave us enough time for a hearty roast with Yorkshire pud, a couple of pints of bitter, and then we’d head home for a lazy afternoon in front of Masterchef. That’s right – it was on once a week, on a Sunday afternoon.

The show was hosted by Loyd Grossman, a Bostonian whose bizarre native accent had been rendered even stranger by his time in Britain. Each week, he judged the competitors – who competed in heats of three hopefuls a time – with the help of a couple of guest judges: a chef, and a celebrity. The competitors were true amateurs; they were the types of people you’d also see on Mastermind. I recall – although this is through a haze of 18 years and the beer fog I’d be in at the time – cardigans with elbow pads. The show had a cosy feel to it. Each week, I looked forward to the results, which were delivered with Loyd’s trademark: “We’ve deliberated, cogitated and digested”. I don’t remember there being a prize, beyond being crowned Masterchef.

When we finally took the plunge into “pay TV” this year, I was excited to see that Masterchef was on. Not just the vanilla Masterchef, but also Masterchef: The Professionals. The format had changed since those days in Clapham South, and Loyd no longer presided over the competition, but I was still hooked. Hooked by the catchphrases (“cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!”), by the extreme volume of the two hosts/judges, by the rapid pace (six contestents cook from mystery ingredients – three go on; three cook in a professional kitchen; three cook a two course menu – one goes on… all in 30 minutes) and by the focus on food, rather than the personality quirks or flaws of the contestants. In fact, the prize seems to be nothing more than the Perspex trophy and the prestige that comes with the title. With that, though, doors do seem to open up.

That’s what I was hoping for with the home-grown version, but ours has trended more towards an American model and away from the original. Remember when Survivor first started? Well, do you also remember Shipwrecked? This was a British version, but instead of alliances and challenges, the aim was to adapt to a more hostile environment than what the participants were used to. There was no prize, but there were occasional lively spats over who’d taken more than their fair share of Hob Nobs from the bikkie tin. The British Masterchef is, of course, no Shipwrecked but they share some bloodlines. It’s not about the cash. It’s about both the journey (but not “the journey”) and the destination. It’s about nurturing and developing talent, not being sidetracked by squabbles.  It’s also, despite how that sounds, quality entertainment.

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Thanks for your responses to my guest posts! It’s been great fun being here. No doubt I’ll see you around in the comments on Raver’s posts…


1 Reality Raver { 05.24.09 at 1:43 pm }

Thank you Injera. Your the best.

I feel we must be stalking each other around the globe. I lived in London 18 years ago. But I was in Kilburn. Those Sunday licensing laws caught me out ever weekend. However I did watch MasterChef but have hazy memories due to Scrumpy cider.

2 Leon { 05.24.09 at 6:55 pm }

Remembering the UK 1990-92…..the last bus home on a Friday night at 11:30, always guaranteed a good punch up or 4.

3 Leon { 05.24.09 at 6:56 pm }

And I love these recaps, thanks heaps.

4 Injera { 05.24.09 at 7:18 pm }

RR and Leon – we managed to be there just before it was all Cool Brittania, with good food and Britpop, huh? I haven’t been back since, and keep planning a return, but feel that it’ll be the Tories again by the time I make it back.

Leon – I always tried to make sure the pub was within staggering distance, to avoid any public transport argy-bargy. There was always enough of that around the kebab shop at night, anyway! Glad you’ve been enjoying the recaps.