Reality Check: Masterchef Season Seven

Samantha Jonscher on the beauty of “reality”

Samantha Jonscher on the beauty of "reality"

My Masterchef journey started seven years ago, during season one when Julie stole Australia’s heart and Katy Perry’s ‘Hot n Cold’ was still relevant in its own right. Since then Masterchef and I have come a long way. What started as the wholesome twin to The Biggest Loser that I watched with my mum while she taught me to cook, has become a slick machine that grinds away under the bawdy red glow of the Coles logo. But that’s fine—its perfect realisation of native content as entertainment has given the show an additional dimension of fun (I now live in a share house with a kitchen that I do my best to avoid using, and I shop at Coles).

Much like the episodes of WWF that came on after The Simpsons on Sunday mornings, Masterchef is a thrill because it walks an Escher style intellectual staircase of “is-it-real-is-it-not-real-what-is-real”. Overtime, Masterchef’s producers have perfected the art of “reality”, which in many ways has sort of ruined the show—in season one everyone had a chance, the interviews were haphazard, the camera angles were less controlled and the writers played out plot lines as they happened, or at least brought a lighter touch to the table.

Season seven is a whole new animal.  It’s packed with tightly released red herring tragedies, careful characterisations, unnaturally concise commentary from contestants, better makeup and a formula for music=feelings that they follow with complete devotion. But the show’s manicured reality—a perfection of its own science—has given way to a whole new way to watch the show.

Watching WWF, you know that that guy is destined to lose because the other guy fucked his girlfriend four episodes ago, but is any of that blood real? Sometimes accidents really do happen, and I’m not just talking about contestants dropping their food, I’m talking about full on narrative disruptions. For all their camera work, careful staging and dramatic irony, the writer’s room couldn’t stop their until-then-favorite, Sara, from fucking up that pumpkin soup and leaving her toast in the oven and off the plate.

In some ways, this surprise actually redeemed the show’s credibility—for all the viewer knows none of the food tastes good, it could all just be a pre-ordained script with food designers on call to style food to meet the desired outcomes—maybe all the cooks are actors, maybe the food isn’t real (but then why does ice cream not melt, what temperature is the studio?). Sara’s failure, after her Guggenheim worthy plating, “hotness”, spunk and appealing story—she left advertising to realize her cooking dream on Masterchef, an irony worth giving pause for—was proof that the food is probably being tasted, and probably being measured to some extent.

Well, maybe. This could also all be an elaborate ruse.   

In the end Billie, the winner, the underdog, beat out Georgia, the until then supposed “fan favourite”. In many ways, this was unsurprising- Billie’s strong last minute characterisation, pushed along by her wholesome farming family and roots in the fat of the land, gave it away (Coles loves good Aussie farmers). Georgia may have been a good distraction- her smile, her warmth, her creativity and endlessly inventive dishes were a great sell- but tall poppy Australia loves to watch a fair go and an against all odds success story. After all, that is what Masterchef is all about- it is proof that your mum really might be the best cook in Australia, and that its never too late to realise the potential you have until then been too scared to embrace.

None of this is to say that Billy didn’t deserve to win but Masterchef is a wonderful “reality” and it’s fun watching the producers tap into their audience’s zeitgeist. Season Seven has pulled this off masterfully.