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Guest Post: Masterchef Australia – Strategy Moves In Episode 3

Matt the Strategos is back to continue to build his cult following on this blog. Something I am fine with as long it does not turn into an Altiyan Childs type scenario….

If you have not read his posts before you may wish to read his original article outlining strategic moves Masterchef Australia contestants should follow to stay in the competition.

And over to you Matt:

Strategic review of Masterchef – ep 3

Of my seven rules for Masterchef contestants, probably the most important is Rule 2: Winning isn’t everything. The rule is simple – the most important thing in Masterchef is not to win the challenges, but not to lose.

The overriding principle of this rule is that for you not to lose, somebody else has to. Your optimum strategy is not putting yourself in the best position to win, but placing your competitors in the worst possible situation for them.

There’s not too many ways to influence this on Masterchef, but the best way is through canny team picks. Late-game, you can even manipulate team picks to the extent that you can guarantee the eliminated contestant will be a strong chef – as Jimmy and Adam did with Marion in last year’s army challenge (the other likely candidates in that challenge were Jonothan and Aaron, so if that team lost you either lost a good chef or an annoying douche in a hat. Win-win).

Last night gave contestants the first opportunity to participate in a team challenge – except it was an opportunity they really weren’t given and definitely shouldn’t have taken.

It was no surprise to me that the three “teams” all ended up in the bottom 10. To look at it from a pure mathematical perspective:

  • Assuming everyone’s cooking skills are equal, you’ve got a 15 per cent chance of making the top 24. But forget that, because while nice, that’s not your optimum strategy.
  • If you don’t make the top six and don’t go up for an elimination, you have a 60 per cent chance of making the top 24 (18 spots remaining, 30 contestants in play) – so playing safe definitely has the highest expected value.
  • More importantly, you have a 25 per cent chance of making the bottom 10 (and as four contestants are being eliminated, a 10 per cent chance of being eliminated – almost the same as making the final 24).
  • But by teaming up with someone, you actually INCREASE the chance you will make the bottom 10. If there’s only one team of two and 38 individuals, your chance of making the bottom 10 is 26.3 per cent. Two teams and it’s 27.7 per cent. Three teams, as there were last night, and it’s 29.4 per cent (and about a 12% chance of being eliminated)

So, with three teams of two, and 34 individuals, your chances of being up for elimination have gone from one in four, to one in three. It’s a dreadful strategy, not only because of the pure numbers, but because at this stage of the competition you have no intelligence on what your potential partner’s strengths and weaknesses are. Sure you could luck out and end up with the next Marion, but even Marion would have struggled with the cake dropping idiocy of Alex.

To be fair to Chelsea, my new TV girlfriend didn’t have much of a choice. Cakegate meant she was all but forced into a partnership. But that didn’t have to be. Let’s look at another very important rule, Rule 7: WWERD “What Would Evil Russell Do?” In other words – how do you advance in the game by applying Survivor tactics? Evil Russell would have simply stated “Bad luck Alex, you dropped YOUR cake. Better get on with making a new one for yourself”. And in fact, it’s not even that evil a tactic. You break it, you own it. If Chelsea is eliminated because of this, it will rank up there with Jake’s supine slink to the gallows last year.

The other interesting strategic play last night was from John, who refused to plate anything up after a culinary disaster. In doing so, he violated one rule and followed another. The rule he violated was Rule Four – “Remember Phillip”, honouring last season’s eternally bright Phillip, who could serve up burnt toast and tell the judges that it was all about the texture. This rule says don’t be a wuss – if you are heading for the axe, there’s nothing that says you have to place your head on the block. Talk up your food, not down.

But John followed Rule Six, “It’s not Nigella Bites, it’s Kitchen Idol”, which says be a personality. John is now the one contestant who EVERYONE is talking about. my good friend Fleur Cole, who writes the well-worth-a-look Paradise to Plate food blog (Twitter @fleurcole, tweeted “Oh love. Bless you John. You are my new hero.” And I suspect that’s what the rest of Australia is thinking too.

I suspect that because of his cerebral palsy, people were always going to talk about John to a certain extent, and in an uncomfortable way, unsure of whether to talk about if his disability should be taken into account. John certainly doesn’t think it should be – and I suspect that sadly he will be going home before the majority of others because on his own admission he won’t be able to handle the speed challenges.

I say “sadly” because his integrity has shown through. I’ve often wondered why no-one has done this before, and the cold strategist in me says it’s actually the optimum move. If your dish is indeed so dreadful that not even praise from Phillip could save it, then don’t die the death of a thousands cuts, die on the end of a bayonet.

Rule Six also follows Courtney’s logic from last season “The only good way of leaving Masterchef is covered in glitter” – you’re highly unlikely to win the whole thing, so in your cooking, your conduct and your pieces-to-camera you need to set yourself up for your future restaurant/catering/B-list celeb promoting Pizza Hut career. John’s done that by just the third episode. Legend. Everyone now knows he’s (a) got a winery and (b) it’s highly likely that all the crap wine gets tipped down the sink.

Best strategic move of the night? John’s refusal to plate up.

Worst move? The six vegie maths geniuses  who teamed up.

Dishonourable mention? The fact that three of the hottest girls in the competition are now up for elimination.



1 Miss Piggy (MelbaToast) { 05.04.11 at 3:16 pm }

Your statistics made my head spin (nearly right off my shoulders) but I’m loving your posts on the strategy of MC3. And WWERD is priceless.

2 skye { 05.04.11 at 3:36 pm }

Vegie maths! Now there’s a phrase I haven’t heard since the late 80s. Maths in Society it was called at our school. Of course I wasn’t even on a par with those geniuses, as did NO maths at all in my HSC.

Am very much enjoying these strategy analysis posts, not to the Altourage degree though…

3 littlepetal { 05.04.11 at 4:31 pm }

Love your statistics. But if the contestants can work out the stats, they won’t have time to cook!!!

4 Matt { 05.04.11 at 5:54 pm }

Little Petal – agree, it’s probably better thinking about how not to scramble your sabayon.

I realised straight away there’d be a statistical probablility of an increased chance of getting in the bottom 10 if you teamed up (needed a calculator to work it out exactly), but then I’m a business school grad with a love of poker :).

However not teaming up SHOULD have been obvious, even if only for my second point – you don’t know how good your potential partner is (unless it’s Alex – and then you’ve got a pretty good idea that something’s more than likely to go wrong).

Can’t wait to see what he incinerates tonight. A shame the promos didn’t have him on the boat. Fair dinkum, you’d be wearing your lifejacket if you saw him board.

5 PollyB { 05.04.11 at 6:03 pm }

Loving these posts, far more entertaining than the show. Thanks :-)

6 chels { 05.04.11 at 7:23 pm }

Matt – “Fair dinkum, you’d be wearing your lifejacket if you saw him board.” seriously hilarious!!!

7 AnonyMousse { 05.04.11 at 8:10 pm }

If I ever see a team leader pulling out a calculater before they pick their team for a challenge, I’ll know they’re following your advice.

8 C J { 05.04.11 at 9:11 pm }

Gold! I knew John had achieved cult status and promoted his wine label – ReislingFreak, but it hadn’t occured to me that he has also telegraphed the fact that his standards are high and we would only expect him to sell the best vintages. Brilliant.