A Tale of Two Masterchefs: What our TV shows say about us

I like cooking shows. I used to watch them all the time when my aunt was over. At the time I rolled my eyes whenever she turned on Food Network. Now I look for cooking shows. My boyfriend’s mother introduced me to Chopped and Masterchef. She was watching season 2 of the American version at the time, and I had already missed several episodes, so I went to the Internet to find previous seasons.

I ended up finding season 2 of Masterchef Australia. It wasn’t what I was looking for, but I decided to give it a shot. My boyfriend and I grew to love that show. We enjoyed the Australian accents. We enjoyed the way the contestants supported each other. We enjoyed the way the judges encouraged the contestants.

We also enjoyed the fact that a single season of the Australian version was about 80 episodes while the American version was about 20. At first, that was the main difference I noticed. Well, that and the fact that every third episode or so was a “Master Class,” where you got to learn about cooking alongside the contestants. That was an awesome idea, though we didn’t really care, so we skipped those episodes.

We ended up watching the following season of Masterchef Australia. Once again, the people were really nice and supportive of each other. Were there disagreements between contestants? Sure. Did a contestant occasionally mad-mouth a fellow contestant? Yes. Did the judges sometimes get mad and yell at the contestants and tell them what a horrible job they had done? Of course.

But they were still nice overall. It felt like the judges wanted everyone to do well. They never set anyone up to fail or look stupid. They offered advice and criticism, but even the mean comments were meant to help the person learn. They were simply stating facts, and more often than not they sounded disappointed when a contestant failed, not angry.

One of the other differences I noticed between the two shows was that the American version shows people cooking to get onto the show. They start with (I believe) 100 contestants and then have 3-4 episodes where all we do is watch to see who gets invited to the next step. After that, they slowly cut them down to about 18 contestants. With the Australian version, we simply start with the best 50 and then watch them fight it out to see which 24 get to stay in the competition.

It might not sound like those first 3-4 episodes are that important, but when you stop to think about it – it really is. M-US only has 20 episodes. That means about a sixth of the episodes are there just so you can watch them make fun of the people who don’t do a good job. It’s like the beginnings of American Idol, where everyone laughs at the horrible singers and listens while the judges make fun of them. I used to find that amusing, but now it just seems mean (well, you know, and staged, but that’s a different matter).

The first episodes of M-US aren’t really my problem, though. I could have just skipped those and moved on. It’s what happens in the rest of the episodes that I have a problem with. The judges are just mean. And I’m not talking about “I’m going to be hard on you so you can learn” mean. No, I’m talking about brutal, “I’m going to ask you something you don’t know just so I can put you down” mean. They ask who thinks they belong in the top three just so they can tear that person down when he says that he belongs there. They single people out and say that what they’ve cooked is the most horrible thing they have ever seen. And the contestants are just as bad. They’re constantly talking about how arrogant the other chefs are, even though 9 times out of 10 the person saying that is just as arrogant as the person they’re complaining about.

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking – that it’s just a TV show, that it’s all staged and scripted. Or that they choose the people who the most hot-tempered because they make for the best TV. But you know what?

That is the problem.

That is what we consider good television in the US. We like to watch people put other people down. We like to watch people get yelled at and humiliated, often for no good reason. We like to watch people compete against people they hate. And if someone complains about it, they’re met with eye rolls and a patronizing, “It’s just TV. They have to keep people interested.”

But why is this the only way to keep Americans interested? Because it’s not needed to keep the Australians interested. In Australia, the contestants are there to learn to cook. They want to win the money and the cookbook, too, of course, but they seem like they’re there to learn. When a team captain led his team to a failure, he and the other person responsible for the team’s loss actually volunteered to be put up for elimination. They did the right thing. Another episode featured a woman who had won immunity but was struggling to use that immunity because she didn’t want to send someone who had done well to the elimination round. She still did, but she was crying about it, and they made it into this huge debate.

There would have been no debate on the American version. In the American version, friendships can quickly turn to fights, and they only really care about themselves. Everyone’s trying to push the responsibility to someone else. No one wants to take credit for the bad things, though they’d climb over each other to take credit for something good.

After the Sandy Hook shooting, there was a lot of talk on the Internet about gun control. People in Australia were saying that after their last big massacre, they banned guns and haven’t had an issue since. They didn’t know why those in America weren’t doing the same thing, but I did. I knew taking away guns would never work in America.

We’re too aggressive. We like fighting. We like humiliating other people. We like tearing them down. We like to feel better than everyone else, and then we wonder why so many people turn to violence. As much as I hate guns, I really don’t think guns are the problem.

Americans are the problem.

And if you don’t believe me, just look at the sorts of shows we find entertaining.
Masterchef US
Masterchef Australia