Masterchef schmasterchef

The events of the last fortnight – massacres, earthquakes – have been something of a low point for humanity, as will doubtless be evident in the rest of this paper (notwithstanding the sudden appearance of even more weighty news like a price hike on pints at the union or student council election statistics). In times like these, as the world reels from one crisis to another like a drunk stumbling precariously down a cluttered hallway, the natural response is, of course, to quietly draw the curtains and reach to the television for some efficiently diverting sedative. TV may well be the opiate of the masses, but in fairness, we’re all probably much happier on the odd dose of audiovisual morphine. It was, therefore, doubly upsetting to note the baffling, quite frankly disturbing changes wrought of Masterchef, formerly the most enjoyable piece of pacifying froth widely available without prescription or digibox (apparently bootleg episodes of Ninja Warrior can still be found in the more disreputable quarters of the EPG).

​Perhaps, it’s some kind of Murdoch-sponsored plot.  After all, there’s a degree of almost suicidal lunacy in the BBC overhauling their most popular show, especially when the exact reasons for its appeal were unquantifiable, even to its ardent fans. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ may not be a particularly inspiring maxim but this is rather more a case of, ‘if it’s working perfectly, don’t rip the engine out and replace it with fudge’. The early knockout challenges, arguably the most compelling portion of the show, have been replaced by a turgid audition process, in which 100 contestants have one hour to prepare one dish and finish it in front of the judges, Gregg Wallace and John Torode. Instead of increasingly stressed cooks trying to simultaneously complete the challenge and endure an interrogation without burning themselves or lopping off a finger, they’re now only exposed to the pair when their most pressing remaining task is not dropping the plates. An even more disappointing side effect of the new format is the marked decrease in humiliating failure, especially as it’s a well-established TV fact that the entertainment value of reality programming is directly proportional to its cruelty quotient.

​The tone and staging of the programme has also been tweaked unsuccessfully, dialling up the battle scene music to eleven and introducing a brand new masterchef palace, which the judges parade with nervous expressions possibly resembling those of a pair of amateur kayakers who have been placed at the wheel of the titanic whilst dangerously close to an iceberg.. Although the kaleidoscope swerve between high melodrama and soaring triumph has always been a winning aspect of Masterchef, the production team has subtly misread this quality. The most enjoyable of the unreasonably epic tone was the contrast between the grandiloquent assertions of the hosts and the pleasantly mundane surroundings. There’s a vast charm differential between two men loudly insisting on the importance of every minute in a small, homely set, and the same occurring in a vast Masterchef bunker that looks like the kitchen deck of the Deathstar.​

​There’s still a scant shred of hope left, I suppose. Once the early rounds are over and the ridiculous critics turn up, perhaps there’ll be a soupcon of its former glory remaining. These are wistful dreams, though; essentially, the world’s most comforting programme, an ideal of elegant simplicity, has been transformed into a brash, awkward monster. If this goes on, we’re barely going to be dulled to the world around us at all. And I, for one, will not stand for that.


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