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Posts from — April 2011

Masterchef Australia – Top 50 Names Starting To Be Released

With Masterchef Australia kicking off on Sunday some of this years contestants will find their life changed forever, or they may find that it not quite the transformation they expected. However Justine Schofield, like Poh and Julie Goodwin has managed to sustain a successful Masterchef career with her new show Every Day Gourmet, Injera does an hilarious review of it on BlahBlogBlah.

One of the interesting things in the early episodes is trying to pick the contestants who will be the ‘stars’ of the season.

Names of the top fifty NSW contestants names have started to be released, and  if this a hint of who will make the top 24 I don’t know or are they just giving a few bit players their time in the Masterchef Australia. Also readers you know the pack drill if you know them I would love to hear from you.

The contestants announced in the Daily Telegraph are:

Greg Andren – 31 from Erskineville who is a barista. He also plays guitar, sings and writes his own music;

Kate Bracks – 36 – a stay-at-home mum with three kids. Was a teacher before having kids. Lives in Orange but was raised in Sydney;

Peter Vickery – 50 – account manager for a Sydney framing company. Went to drama school and has worked as an actor.

The cynic in me wonders if Greg and Peter applied to try and increase their profile with their artistic endeavours. If that is the case good luck to them, however they better be able to cook….

The Queensland  people named in the Courier Mail are:

Dive instructor Adam, 30, and fruiterer Michael, 35, are the first two Queensland contestants named in the top 50 of the popular show.

Michael’s nanna burst into tears when she got the news.

“Cooking is something I have enjoyed doing all my life. I used to cook with my nanna when I was younger,” Michael said. “She is a crier at the best of times, but she was very proud and happy that one of her grandkids loves cooking like her.”

Adam, who has owned and run Go Dive Australia since his early-20s, decided to audition for the show to find out if he’d taken the correct path in life.

“I was working at a restaurant as a youngster, but had a bad experience with a head chef,” he said.

Adelaide Now online has not contestants name revealed, however they review the first episode, and reveal what is in the first mystery box, and quite frankly the arrival is more exciting then the ingredients in it. Clearly they are as they say going back to basics. Don’t read the next sentence if you want a surprise on Sunday night, however it is potatoes, mince meat, and lemons. Otherwise known as the inaugural  Julie Goodwin mystery box.


April 29, 2011   13 Comments

Guest Post: Strategic Tips For The Masterchef Australia Contestants

Regular readers might remember how last Masterchef season Matt giving his strategic advice on how the amateur cooks should think more like Survivor contestant to ensure getting further in the competition.

He has kindly written a brilliant and hilarious blog post outlining his strategy for the upcoming contestants to use to ensure they get as far as possible in the competition. Thank you Matt the Strategos…and over to you.

What Masterchef Contestants Should Have Learned From Previous Seasons.

One of the more fascinating parts of the 2010 Masterchef phenomenon was not watching the cooking, but the strategic plays made by a handful of contestants.

Sure, the cooking was great – who didn’t make the pavlova – but if I want TV cooking, I’ll watch Jamie Oliver. But Masterchef’s also a competition, which is something some of the contestants didn’t seem to realise.

Masterchef, as I wrote during Season Two, doesn’t lend itself to the ruthless application of Nashian game theory in the same way Survivor does, but there were flashes of strategic genius.

The best came when Jimmy and Adam almost singlehandedly orchestrated Marion’s elimination by canny team picking – more on that later.

Unfortunately, from a strategic perspective Masterchef is still in the pre-Richard Hatch stage of Survivor. To be fair to Survivor, that stage lasted about two episodes, but it’s a fair comparison – before Richard Hatch, everyone thought Survivor was a game about, well, surviving. Instead, it’s turned into a game of scheming, plotting and relationships.

Masterchef is still – and should be – about the cooking. But strategy can elevate a mediocre competitor or bring down a good one.

So, what can this year’s contestants learn from last year’s competition?

Rule 1. Be able to cook

This, you would think, is a no-brainer. But remember the CWA challenge last year? When contestants couldn’t even cook scones and sponge cake?

It doesn’t matter, as George and Gary decried this week, you can cook every page out of Heston Blumenthal, if when you come to an elimination challenge and it is whisking an egg. With a whisk, not a bamix.

If you look at the elimination challenges from the first two series, the majority were for basic kitchen skills – fillet a salmon, shuck an oyster, whisk an egg, be able to estimate the weight of a cut of fish or make a lemon tart without the recipe. And, in the most celebrated elimination, make satay sauce.

Oh, and have a signature dish. Because There Will Be A Test.

Knowing how to cook the basics better than everyone else may not have you winning many invention tests, but it does one crucial thing – it stops you from losing.

Which brings us to…

Rule 2. Winning isn’t everything

Sure, it’s a cooking show, but it’s a cooking show where to win, your competition needs to be eliminated.

And the most important part of being Masterchef contestant is not winning.

It is not losing.

There is only one night when you need to win, and that is the last night.

From a pure strategic viewpoint, up until the last night, it is more important that your competitors lose than you win. The reason for this is that to win, you need to take risks. The risk/reward tradeoff is just as valid, because the best meals always have an element of sophistication or finesse that is easy to get wrong. That’s why they’re the best.

So how do you ensure that your competition loses?

You can’t. They need to do that themselves.

But you can put them in a position to fail.

When you are in a position to influence events, you need to ensure:

(1) Your strongest competition is in front of the judges when you are not; and,

(2) When you are in front of the judges you are with the two weakest contestants possible.

There are several opportunities to do this.

Winning a challenge

Yes, I know, you’re not trying to win, but even Callum won a couple last year. Win a challenge and you get an advantage. Whether it’s a team pick, or choosing a mystery box, you need to consider the rules.

The best example of this was the team pick which led to Marion’s elimination, before the Army challenge. Masterchef team picks usually tend to be two things – picking your friends, or picking the best chefs – two strategies which are often the worst.

This one was different. With nine competitors left, you are going to have one team of four, and one of five. One of the team captains was Adam, who had immunity. Claire was the other captain.

Claire made the first good strategic move – picking Callum. Callum made it to the top two in the end, but with nine remaining he was the baby seal most likely to be clubbed. Picking Callum adheres to this rule – he may not help you win, but he will help you (not your team) not lose. Claire ensured that if she went to elimination, then she would be standing beside a (perceived) weaker competitor.

The next great strategic move was Adam picking Marion. Normally, Marion was the first picked, because she’d help you win. But Adam’s choice had a deeper strategic meaning (whether he intended it or not). If he won, great. But because Adam had immunity, he was ensuring that if he lost, the strongest competitor in the competition would have a much harder elimination. If Adam’s team ended up with five people, Marion has a one-in-four chance of going home, because Adam has immunity. If he ends up with a four-person team, she has a one-in-three.

But the clincher was Jimmy. The curry specialist was the last to be picked and got to choose which team he went on. Easy choice, right? One team which included culinary stars Adam, Marion, and Jonothan, (and pizzaboy Aaron) or the other, which had Callum and Courtney – good cooks, but not in the same firmament. So Jimmy chooses Team Stumblebum.

Why? Because if he loses, he’s up against four cooks, at least two of whom are just as likely to fail as himself. He chooses Team Alvin and if they lose, he’s all but guaranteed to be going home. More importantly, if Team Stumblebum wins, Jimmy has ensured that Jono and Marion, the two undisputed strongest cooks, both have a 33 per cent chance of going home.

Genius, all the more so because Jimmy didn’t have to win a challenge to be in the most powerful strategic position.

Jono pulled a similar move earlier in the competition, picking Joanne as his opposing team captain after she had shown a propensity to, how shall we say, not be the most organised leader. Joanne won the challenge, which proves that you can’t always rely on your opposition to follow your plan, but Jono’s move was still strategically sound because he was putting his opposition in the most disadvantageous position.

A third case came when, quite late in the competition, the teams were asked to pick themselves. Callum quickly realised that there were six people, he was third in line, and to his right were the two best cooks in the competition – including one who’d lived in Japan for six years – not a bad help when Sakai is the judge.

He quickly suggested a split down the middle, before someone came up with a “girl’s against boys”, or over 25s against everyone else.

It also left the two “worst” cooks Courtney and Jimmy with Alvin. Like Jono, the end result may not have been favourable to Callum, but his rationale was sound. The poker strategist David Sklansky wrote that even if the cards don’t fall your way, you can consider yourself to have won a hand if you force an opponent to make a bad choice – because you have a greater expected value over time.

One caveat to picking teams – don’t let yourself be picked for elimination. Jake went meekly to the gallows when his team was asked to decide who was up for elimination. You’ve got to fight – refuse to go, insist on drawing straws, secret ballot with ratings, whatever. Don’t be a lemming.

Caveat two – Don’t give up immunity. If Marion was on The Apprentice, The Donald would have sent her home for that little stunt.

Picking the food

Find yourself with the power to choose the food for a mystery box and you need to follow the rules.

Jimmy gets a mystery box – pick curry. Claire gets one. Pick dessert.

Pretty simple, and again, the important thing is not to win, but not to go home. It’s no good winning the right to choose the ingredients and then stuffing up the Mystery Box WHICH YOU GOT TO PICK and being up for elimination.

Cooking the food

Basics are good, but there is a time to unleash your inner Shannon Bennet and go all foamy.

When the competition isn’t on the line.

No-one ever got sent home for stuffing up an Invention Test. And hell, you may even win the thing and get to choose the Mystery Box.

Example – Jimmy tries a croquembouche. I know, we’re all guffawing again. But it was inspired strategy. He didn’t have the skills to pull it off, but it was the sort of dish that if it had worked, Jimmy’s given himself an awesome advantage. At that point in the competition, Jimmy realised  that he needed the advantage, so it was a clever play. If he’d played safe and done a curry – well he could have done a gold-flecked curried swan that wiped the judge’s arses for them and they would have just yawned. He needed to be spectacular, and he was. A spectacular flop, but, as Pierre the Famous French Fighter Pilot says, “when I go down, I go down in flames”.

Again, follow the rule – winning isn’t everything, just don’t lose.

Rule 3. Nice judge, niiice judge

Or, make sure you listen in Masterclass. Don’t fawn over the judges in the thing, steal their intellectual property and recycle it in the Invention Test.

Show them the respect they deserve by listening, then shamelessly stealing their techniques.

Same for celebrity chefs. One team stuffed up last season on the seafood challenge because they took lobsters out of the shells, despite Rick Stein telling them all before about respecting the seafood.

Rule 4. Remember Philip

No-one ever won by fronting the judges in tears, or saying your pavlova sank.

Call it an Eton Mess and serve it proudly.

This goes back to Rule Two – you don’t have to win, so long as you don’t lose.

Remember Philip, who could serve up burnt bacon and expound on the lovely aroma and crunchy texture.

And if you think it’s an unrealistic and shallow rule, remember this – the most successful chefs in the world aren’t just good cooks, they’re great marketers.

You’d never find Peter Doyle serving up a Snow Egg and apologising because the sides are a bit runny.

Rule 5. Don’t let the customers in early, and other restaurant blunders

There will always be a restaurant challenge – there were two last season.

The first one was a disgrace to the competition, with Devon going up for elimination based on letting customers in early, not because of his cooking. And then, getting eliminated despite another competitor pulling out because it was all too hard.

Still, Masterchef isn’t fair, or Poh would have won Season One. So anticipate a non-cooking challenge (or at least doing the non-cooking part), be nice to customers, don’t spill the soup and don’t let them in early.

Think of Rule Two – you’re allowed to stuff up, as long as three people stuff up worse.

Rule 6. It’s not Nigella Bites, it’s Kitchen Idol

Masterchef doesn’t just want to find the BEST AMATCHA COOK, it wants to find the best amateur cook who is marketable and can sell a swag of cookbooks.

Here’s a test – who can remember Courtney? Yep, blond girl, sassy. What could she cook? Umm.

Sharnee, Daniel, Kate, Dominic? Remember what they cooked? Didn’t think so.

The best Masterchef contestants don’t just know how to cook, they have a readily identifiable, and marketable, TV persona.

Jimmy? Curry. Callum? Desserts. Aaron? Mex and pasta (yes, I know, he occasionally seemed like he didn’t know how to cook it, but he was still good at promoting it). Claire? Gorgeous Frenchy stuff. Even hapless Jake was the fish boy.

Philip hung around for ages, I suspect not because he was any good at cooking Greek food (he was) but because his pieces to camera were so damn interesting.

Looking at it from pure strategic terms, if you make the final 24, you only have a one-in-24 chance of winning.

Having a marketable TV persona does two things – it keeps you in the competition for longer, and ensures that when you are knocked out you can start up your restaurant (Jimmy), or fish and chip shop (Jake), and have a ready-made client base.

One important, but largely unremarked bit of strategy, was Jono and Courtney playing it very safe in a late-season (seven left) Mystery Box challenge. Playing it safe is usually the kiss of irrelevance in Mystery Boxes, and sure enough, he didn’t make the top two. However, with two weeks to go he only had a 16 per cent chance of making the final two. So while you’re trying to win the competition, you also have to realise that the odds are very much against you.

Jono made sure he (a) positioned himself not to lose, and (b) positioned himself for his post-MC career, because you’re not going to do six months of TV hell for no return. His easy but elegant dish was enough to keep him safe and good advertising for his new restaurant (or at least for his future equity partners in the restaurant). Courtney did the same, positioning herself to headline a small bistro or her catering company post MC. Good, honest food – and she’s using her pieces to camera to ram that message home.

And Jimmy – like Chris Badenoch, no-one is ever going to look at Jimmy and doubt where his culinary heart lies. Jimmy was a one-trick pony, but he was pretty good at that trick. I actually reckon he’s got the greatest chance of selling a post-MC cookbook of all the contestants. Just don’t ask him to cook any the recipes in it under pressure.

Speaking of cookbooks, HAVE A COOKBOOK IDEA.  It’s hilarious when you see the final four and they’re still struggling with the cookbook. It’s important – because it defines the winner.

Poh was the standout performer in Season One, but the minute Julie came out with her mumsy cookbook idea, it was obvious (if you believed in conspiracies) that she’d win, because it was more marketable, even if it should have been called “What do ya call these darl? Rissoles…”.

Rule 7. WWERD

Or, What Would Evil Russell Do.

This doesn’t mean being the villain of Masterchef in the same way Evil Russell Hantz got himself to the final two in two consecutive Survivors – although every show needs a villain, and the good villains tend to last longer, because the producers love them so much.

In pure Survivor terms, it means plotting and scheming.

Blog poster Chunks last year pointed out quite rightly that the appeal of Masterchef is nice people cooking, rather than nasty people strategizing.

But because of that appeal, a player with a smidgen of strategic nous could, and should, run amok through Masterchef – especially the off-screen parts. Sowing discord, forming alliances against the ugly kids, causing people to doubt their cooking skills – all would work.

Some examples.

  • Final three and there’s a choice between doing the lamb or the fondant for the Governor General’s dinner. Evil Russell would not have allowed dessert specialist Callum to choose the fondant (especially when Callum was all but dancing naked around the chocolate singing “let me have it”). He would have clubbed the hapless boy and made him take the lamb, where he had a much better chance of stuffing up. Not that much better, but it’s all about placing your opposition in the worst position for them.
  • Eliminations, where everyone seems to be shouting advice to the about-to-be eliminated below. Evil Russell would not do anything like shout the wrong information. He’s pass the wrong information to another person and let them shout it.

There was one good bit of WWERD in Season One, when Chris “Alfoil” Badenoch texted his girlfriend to make sure she’d talked the local Coles into getting in some sort of offal. Chris went far –again, I suspect, not so much because of his cooking skills but because he was a bad boy who the producers wanted to keep around.

If you’re a bad boy, you might even make it into the final two because of luck, plotting and some basic cooking skills.

The producers would never let you win, but who wants to win? If you win you get $100,000, a cookbook deal and some appearances on the Today Show.

Come second and you’ll get a cookbook deal anyway, and a nice little series on the ABC.

Rule 8. Cut the red wire

Because the Blue team is cursed. Always choose Red.







April 28, 2011   23 Comments

Nigella Lawson In A Burkini – One For My Male Readers

Now I know I must bore my male readership with my comments about Manu’s accent, Matt Moran general bald hotness, and Commando’s six pack.

So guys this one is for you. Here is Season Three Masterchef Australia guest judge Nigella Lawson on Bondi Beach in her Burkini. If you are wondering if I am taking the piss, I am not, I understand she is very attractive to men.

And bless The Guardian as they queried that Nigella wearing this outfit was actually a subversive political statement as her wearing it came a week after wearing the burqa was banned in France.


April 28, 2011   15 Comments

Mel B Confirmed For The X Factor Australia

In what was revealed in the Sunday papers Mel B will be a judge on The X Factor Australia. Here are my thoughts on that in a previous blog post on why we should use local talent.

Ronan Keating and Guy Sebastian are also locked into the second series, and Channel Seven have said they will announce the fourth judge in the coming weeks. Rumour has it that it is Natalie Bassingthwaite, however Natalie Imbruglia has been spotted in Australia.

Mel B was on Sunrise this morning talking about her new role, and also saying her third baby will be born between the auditions and the live shows. So nicely timed for her.

April 27, 2011   5 Comments

Masterchef Australia – The Judges Did Not Like Season Two

The Masterchef Australia pre-show media frenzy continues, and now the judges have revealed to the Daily Telegraph they did not enjoy Season 2 of the show.

The Daily Telegraph writes:

Preston makes no bones about the fact that he, Calombaris and Mehigan didn’t enjoy the second series of MasterChef.

The trio’s displeasure wasn’t just with some of the contestants – it was also aimed at themselves.

“In series two we were all overly dramatic,” Preston says. “We were all ‘performing’ for the first half (of the series), and as soon as we saw what it was like on the TV, we went, ‘Oh my God, that is so ridiculous, so overblown’.”

Last season’s Country Women’s Association challenge was an embarrassment. Many of the contestants couldn’t even bake a simple sponge, scone or fruit cake.

“We’ve become better at picking contestants that we think will grow through the course of the show,” Preston says.

“We’ve stripped out some of the dickhead factor. This year a lot of contestants are cooking for their family and friends. They’re not cooking their way through the complete works of Heston Blumenthal. They are people who cook as part of their lives rather than as an extreme sport.”

I take it this is code for no plate throwing this season thankfully.

The article also states there will be no second chance re-entry into the show, as there was in the first two seasons.

“We decided to remove things that don’t feel right,” Preston says. “Hopefully, it will feel more natural.”

Personally I don’t mind the second chance re-entry, as sometimes there are people who are eliminated due to having bad luck on the day or if your favourite goes early you keep watching on the off chance they will get back in.

The other thing they reveal is there will be less bitchiness and crying.

MASTERCHEF Australia judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan have vowed to stamp out the bitchiness and blubbering that plagued last year’s season of the hit series.

This year, they say, will be back to basics.

Last year, contestants including Jonathan “The Terminator” Daddia (IT consultant) and Claire Winton Burn (lawyer) fell out of favour with the judges and viewers for their perceived arrogance and repeated crying.

There was a lot of wailing on screen last year, however I actually thought the crying by Jonathan Daddia made him human to the audience. Also Claire Winton Burn being out of favour with the judges? She made top three, does that mean if she had been in favour she would have won. I thought the reason Claire Winton Burn did not get to the final was related to personal life issues.




April 27, 2011   24 Comments