Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tactical Voting in Australian Masterchef

[Aussie Masterchef Finalists Poh, Chris & Julie]

Forget the Witi Ihimaera and Hone Harawira scandals, I have a far more weighty accusation to share with the New Zealand public. Yes, patient readers, I believe that our favourite reality show of the moment, Australian Masterchef, is rigged!

I first became aware of the gravity of the situation after almost coming to blows with a Julie-partisan (my mother) over dinner at my parent's house last night. I, a Chris true-believer, have elected to boycott the grand finale tomorrow in protest at the blatantly unfair judging that saw him packed off into beery oblivion ... Snout to Tail, Stout to Ale indeed!

Storm in a teacup (or a crockpot) you say? Too trivial for a weighty intellectual blogsite such as this? I don't think so.

What do we expect of a good reality show? Well, logical, consistent rules, for a start. Australian Masterchef got off to a shaky start by importing a system of voting-off-the-island from Survivor which seems to me completely unsuited to a skills-based programme such as this. Who cares who the other contestants want to get rid of? The point is who has the ability to go further. For the judges to step back from elimination decisions such as this as about as fatuous an arrangement as I can well imagine.

But, then, is it a skills-based programme? The first few "master-classes", where head judges Gary and George stroked their own egos by giving lessons in how to butter bread or how to boil water, left even the contestants baffled and unsure how to react. Was this some colossal piss-take? One could see them alternately scratching their heads and yawning until they learnt the correct response: fawning adulation. Julie was an early winner in this regard, along with the egregious, Uriah-Heep-like Sam.

[A Rogues Gallery: Masterchef judges
Gary Mehigan, Sarah Wilson, George Calombaris & Matt Preston]

As the seemingly interminable months of the competition wound on, chef after chef came up for elimination opposite the talentless Sam and self-doubting Julie only to receive their marching orders. It couldn't be ... that they were simply better TV than their opponents, could it? That would be a bit harsh. Let's just attribute it to their being more adroit and abject flatterers.

By the time of the Hong Kong challenge, even the judges seem to have woken up to the fact that they were looking at a final with all the good cooks (except Chris) already sent home. So what was their solution? Reverse the last set of eliminations and bring three failed contestants back. Brilliant! It meant that the entire Hong Kong excursion was a complete waste of time which accounted for no contestants, despite a whole week of stuffing around there. Fun and games, yes, but one could see that for Chris at least this was the final straw.

He'd put up with the transparently self-serving, insultingly elementary "master-classes;" had attempted to endure the transparent politicking of the so-called "kiddie mafia" (Sam, Josh & Kate); but he seems somehow to have retained a simple faith in the basic concept of a reality show, which is that you can actually send people home and hope they'll stay there.

By now the rules were so complex, so contradictory, so obviously invented on the fly, that the whole contest had come down to one question. Who's the most obvious candidate for "little Aussie battler" among those still left standing? The talented (though already-eliminated) Poh was just a bit too swollen-headed for the role. And just imagine the fuss from heartland Australia if an Asian won their inaugural "Masterchef" award! Chris might have seemed a good fit if it weren't for his refusal to blub and emote and self-destruct all over the screen. Who was left? Julie.

Last night Julie served up a leg of lamb, a piece of stuffed chicken and a dry piece of chocolate cake. She failed to garnish them with any of the sauce or vegetables she'd prepared to go with them through sheer incompetence and flap. Our guest judge, cook-book guru (and disastrous fashion-victim) Donna Hay, helpfully explained that this "didn't matter with rustic cooking." By this stage it was clear that three courses of vegemite sandwiches "cooked with love" (Julie's big theme) would have got her through with flying colours. 'Nuff said, as Stan Lee used to say.

I don't need to watch any further. I know Julie is going to win the competition overall. I don't believe she deserves to. She's about as much of a master-chef as my arse. For the love of Mike, didn't you guys want to find out who was the best cook among them? No you didn't is the brutal answer. You wanted to elicit a lot of sentimental tear-jerking slop from the contestants in order to build up your ratings. J'accuse. That's all I can say at this point: J'accuse.

You've robbed me of my simple faith in reality TV. No longer will I be able to sit glued night after night to the cook-offs and taste-tests. I mean, I expect this sort of thing of Americans: Las Vegas bookies conspiring in smoke-filled rooms, Martha Stewart and her pet brokers trading in dodgy stocks, but I wouldn't have believed it of our bluff, hearty neighbours to the North. You're your own worst enemies, that's the truth of it. You'll end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs (or perhaps, in this case, the goose that fricassees them in boarfat) ... Shakespeare, as usual, said it best:

O now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars
That makes ambition virtue! O farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th' ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
Th' immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone

(Othello 3.3.347-357).

Never mind, Chris, we still believe in you (though you won't catch me eating any pig's heads or pig's trotters outside a nightmare ...)

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