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Masterchef Australia – Matt The Strat Is Back

While you are waiting for my recap to be put up – entertain yourself with Matt the Strategos views on the strategy that the contestants have been playing.

Over to you Matt:

I’ve finally been able to watch more than part of a Masterchef episode without toddlers demanding to be read to sleep, and finally I got to see a bit of strategic thinking.

To be fair, there’s been some this season, but the soporific nature of the contestants hasn’t helped. Alana is certainly annoying enough to be a reality TV villain, but she’s also been a good enough cook to get through without having to really pull out the evil. That said, I just can’t help feeling she’s got this sense of entitlement that really jars with me. She is, however, thinking about the endgame, which is admirable.

Let’s look at the strategic thinking first.

Michael’s ploy to make the girls think it was a Zumbo dish was perfectly executed. It uses my strategic rule WWERD – “What Would Evil Russell Do”. It’s straight from the Survivor playbook, misdirection intended to blindside your opponents.

Michael downplayed its significance in his piece to camera, saying “They don’t know the recipe anyway, so it doesn’t really matter”. However it DID matter. Having decided it was a Zumbo challenge – and this is the traditional time for one – the girls would have been (or should have been) mentally rehearsing dessert techniques. What happens when you combine butter and flour, how many eggs to you need for certain recipes, what’s Zumbo’s layering techniques, how do I temper chocolate.

There’s two benefits to this. One, it puts your competitors minds on a single track. If they’re preparing for desserts, they’re not thinking about savoury techniques. And two, when the dish is announced, they’re thinking “Michael you bastard” for at least a minute or so, before they can wrench their brains back to reality and concentrate on the task at hand. And even when they’re concentrating, they’re thinking “If only I wasn’t thinking it was a dessert”. To use poker strategy here, if your opponent has their mind elsewhere, you’re already halfway to winning the hand.

Given that Michael failed (with everyone else) to observe my Rule One “Know how to cook”, can we say this was a wasted strategy? I don’t think so. The five minutes or so it took for him to mindf***the other contestants was worth it. The advantage he had from knowing the dish well outweighed the time spent on Survivor strategy.

Now let’s look at the endgame strategy this week.

This is the time when contestants have to have a clear strategy of how they’re going to perform this week (not cooking, mind you). This week is as much about the final submissions before the jury as it is about not losing the challenges (because, as we know, you only have to win the very last challenge in the show).

This is the week when your cookbook is revealed to the judges (and the eventual buying public should you leave the kitchen covered in glitter). The cookbook is crucial. It shows the producers how you can differentiate yourself from those who have won before, and from all those other cookbooks on the market.

To look at this from a pure marketing view, the two contenders are Alana and Michael.

Here’s the reasoning. Alana has clearly spent a long time thinking not about cooking, but about how to market herself as a cook. All the other contestants have gone on to be anointed a good cook, and perhaps one day to run a restaurant. Alana has gone on to be anointed the next Nigella Lawson. I suspect her cookbook idea will be the best formed.

Michael – Yes, the last Masterchef winner was a man, but Adam had a clear Asian cookbook idea. If I had to take a punt, Michael’s would be a quirky Barossa type cookbook. Definitely marketable, even if he comes across as somewhat dull at times (although the Zumbo-Survivor-switcheroo has gone some way to correcting that).

Kate – nice, but we’ve already had the mumsy cookbook from Julie. Dani – well, we all know she’s only here because of Eamonn Sullivan and frankly, I’d probably prefer a cookbook from him.

Actually the cookbook challenge really shows up the lack of depth this season.

If you think about it, the last two seasons have had standout runners-up. Season one, Julie’s cookbook sold, but Poh got a much better TV gig and Chris Badenoch’s cookbook is a clear Fathers’ Day bet. Season Two, Adam’s cookbook was a good one, Marion (who got nowhere near finals week) has a book out and selling well and I hazard a guess that a how-to-cook from Callum or a wispy Frenchy desserty thing from Claire would sell. Anything from Jimmy would also walk off the shelves.

Can’t see that happening with this mob. Maybe Hayden, but that’s been done with Surfing the Menu. Should Alana come second, for instance, I can only see her getting a gig as a columnist with The Sunday Mail in Brisneyland, not a book deal.



1 JaniceG { 08.02.11 at 9:47 pm }

Despite having mumsy Julie ftom Season 1, I’m betting that the producers still would rather have Kate win this season. She’s a natural in front of the camera without being in-your-face about it, she has a winning personality, and she’s articulate. I think she could easily do a country-inspired-and-interesting-dessert cookbook without getting anywhere near the “feed my family” Earth Mother angle that they played with Julie. I actually think that Kate would make a very good TV cook as she’s very clear in describing what she’s doing.

I like Alana a lot but I’m not sure she’s really defined herself enough to make a good brand, plus she’s a bit stiff. I wouldn’t mind seeing her win, though, if only to put one in the eye of the producers and judges ignoring her for most of the season! I think Michael is way too nervy and erratic, plus I don’t think he has any clear brand either.

2 alicia { 08.02.11 at 10:08 pm }

Michael is not very elaborate ; he just cant explain himself and most of the times is a nervous wreck.
Alana is too stiff and distant. She can cook but she just cant engage people
Kate is all right though a bit too jumpy but she might work

3 SaintsDeano { 08.02.11 at 10:24 pm }

Series 1 winner: NSW. Series 2 winner: SA. Series 3 winner: Queensland. Hence, Alana to win.

4 Moonstruck { 08.02.11 at 10:24 pm }

Well dani showed her true talent tonight and finally went home. Michael needed the judges help with his choices. Not looking very strong as a contender.

5 brain dead dave { 08.02.11 at 10:44 pm }

Matt Moran and Gary Mehigan and their sickeningly vulgar displays of knife licking tonight proved that there were more pigs on the judging panel than in Michael’s oven. Great example for the children watching.

6 littlepetal { 08.02.11 at 10:47 pm }

Kate cooked 3 different dishes tonight and she nailed it. Alana repeated her dishes by making them more fine dining quality. Kate has come a long way. I can’t decide who will or should win and I am happy whoever wins. No more late nights (TDF) and no TV shows to make my blood boils. Finally I am at peace with myself and I could just chill out!!!

7 Jo { 08.02.11 at 10:51 pm }

Despite the mummy-cookbook having already been done, I think Kate would still sell more books than Alana. Alana seems like she’s definitely been trying to market herself with a particular image, but it’s been so vague and listless that I’m not sure what exactly she’s going for. I’m still surprised that she’s an actress.

8 Fides { 08.02.11 at 11:10 pm }

I find Alana too clinical – there’s no warmth onscreen at all. I’m sure I’ve read in her bio that her dream is to be the next Nigella with her own TV cooking show, but I can’t see it being appealing. But I am entertained by the number of sporting cliches she uses, so maybe that should be her angle.

9 PollyB { 08.03.11 at 7:17 am }

‘That said, I just can’t help feeling she’s got this sense of entitlement that really jars with me.’ Thanks Matt, I couldn’t put my finger on why I find Alana so grating.

10 Skod { 08.03.11 at 9:13 am }

I think Alana puts on her game face once she gets to the kitchen. She seems more relaxed at home.

Not sure what a cooking show with Michael would be like..

11 Joseph Skyrim { 08.03.11 at 9:33 am }

Alana does have a “game face”. You did get to see the real her when her hubby walked in or when she did her little NYC victory dance though. :)

Won’t mind if she or Kate wins. Michael though, uh… dude. Stop cooking wierd stuff. Lamb brains and then baby pig faces…

Also BDD, I am a knife-licker as well. You would find my “style” much worse than the judges’ I think. Not saying its nice, just saying comparatively speaking its not the end of the world (though I concede that -my- eating habits are not on national tv! Phew! :P)

12 kingfisher { 08.03.11 at 11:24 am }

it’s all about sponsors , sponsors pay millions. a cookbook is pittance compared to t.v money the book is just a prize for all their hard work ,that’s all

13 Paul { 08.03.11 at 11:36 am }

Queenslanders love their own – I can see Alana doing very well in her home state.

Weekly column in the Courier Mail or something like that.

14 AnonyMousse { 08.03.11 at 6:00 pm }

I’m a Queenslander (born and bred) and I couldn’t give a toss which state the winner of a reality show came from.