Master Chef Heats Up Reality TV
Whitney Miller, a 22-year-old college student from Mississippi, was named the winner of the first season of MasterChef on Wednesday night. She won by preparing three dishes in a timed cook-off against fellow contestant David Miller. Her meal was deemed superior by the show’s hosts, a trio of restaurant industry heavyweights led by the ubiquitous chef Gordon Ramsay.
The show’s first season was typical summer reality fare—eliminations, overly dramatic music, unrealistic edits, cliffhangers at every commercial break and crying contestants. The producers hit every high note of the reality genre and they hit them with force. During the auditions alone, it seemed as if every other person cried and once the field was set at 14, the inspirational Faruq Jenkins cried often as he clung to his place in the competition.
Perhaps that’s just how intimidating Gordon Ramsay is. Or perhaps the emotions on MasterChef stem from a sort of authenticity. The contestants were average people chasing real goals. You can put any girl in an evening gown and stand her in front of a plate of roses, but not everyone can cook well, much less with the kind of skill found in our finest restaurants. So maybe the tears were a result of true passion. No matter how cliched or cheesy MasterChef was from a production standpoint, the show could not contrive the passion of the contestants.
The main misstep in the finale was the overuse of reality show cliches. The cliffhangers were annoying and the music seemed more apt for a Bourne Identity climax than a cooking show. But the editing hurt most of all. In the semifinal match up, in which Whitney faced Lee Knaz, Knaz appeared to have the better dishes. The same was true in the final round, in which David’s courses looked more sophisticated, more daring and showed a more refined view of food. The choppy editing however, which was likely used to create suspense where there was none, had the effect of obscuring what is surely Whitney’s immense talent.
As Ramsay perhaps a little too elatedly named Whitney the winner, it looked as though the judges couldn’t resist the young, pretty girl. When Ramsay popped the cork on a bottle of champagne as confetti fell, he incorrectly remarked that Whitney was too young to have some. That the judges were all older men just made the anti-climactic finale celebration seem creepy.
But not even the production could hurt the overall effect of the show. The best and most understated aspect of each episode was the judges’ comments. Without intending to, MasterChef became an educational show. Viewers were exposed to ideas about what makes food work and about how a chef should view his or her materials. It was an inspiration, not a spectacle, and one would be hard pressed to feel anything but admiration for Whitney Miller, who showed incredible poise for her age. She, and every contestant on the show, will have a bright future in food.