Season 2 of MasterChef Junior concluded with its finale Tuesday night crowning the bow-tie wonder Logan as Masterchef Junior for 2014. It was quite a ride though the season was short (unlike the full run of regular Masterchef which spans six weeks or more). They really had some very talented kids this year making it worth watching. Once again there was no one really to hate and most of the kids were adorable. And once again many are amazed as to how talented these kids area. More on that later. In the finale we saw two very talented junior chefs take the stage, each cooking the best meal in their lives. They just had to convince Gordon, Graham, and Joe they were worthy of the title.
And it was not so easy at all. Both of them were exceptional so it came down to very fine technical points in the end. Was the sauce right or wrong? Did the flavors go well together or did the olives make it too strong? It was those kinds of things that the judges had to sort through because both, quite frankly, could win the award. They were that good. In the end they awarded the win to Logan. I have to admit he was my underdog in the challenge.When he decided to do the salted fish I was both amazed and shocked at his decision. It is not for the faint of heart but is something you see in Sicilian dishes and elsewhere in Italy. If you ever attend an Italian Christmas Eve Dinner you probably will see a large fish that was likely cooked that way. It is very delicious and worth the effort. But not for the squeamish either. The fact he pulled it off shows Logan’s boldness and it paid off.
This season had a lot of bright, creative kids doing things in the kitchen that astounds many and raises questions I see all the time on the Internet. Is it staged? Do the kids get coached? Is it faked? My answer is no but these are not your normal kids either. If you go into any elementary, junior high, or high school and select a random number from each and ask them to roast a chicken, many might not know what to do. The reason for this success of this show is that they pick kids that are cooking at home. The parents may be foodies or old fashioned families that want the kids to learn how to cook (in the old days that is how cooking was learned). And so at an early age they are shown how to cook. Think about how that helps out down the road. You open up a cupboard and find canned beans, spam, tuna, and rice. In the fridge are some mushrooms, bell peppers and in the pantry some onions. A clever cook or chef will make use of those ingredients to produce a decent meal while someone else might just pop open a can of beans and warm it up.
The show is enjoyable to watch and clearly is winning viewers but it not toppling the competition either. According to TV By The Numbers Tuesday’s finale had 5.5 million viewers (live plus dvr recording) while a new episode of NCIS on CBS had 17.21 million viewers. Masterchef Junior came in second place. It beat out A Charlie Brown Christmas on ABC, another Christmas show on NBC, and a rerun of The Flash on CW. It will need to get a lot more viewers to topple CBS from the perch it now has on the 8-9 p.m. time slot. But the producers and schedulers are very confident in the show. So confident that season 3 will literally start on the heels of the last one and premiers on 6 Jan 2015 at 8 p.m. That seems odd to bunch them so close together like this. It is certainly a risky move and could backfire if people find more interesting things to watch.
There is also the danger of what I call déjà vu programming, When you run reality shows so close together, people might get tired of it thinking they are seeing the same thing all over again. After all, the danger for shows like Masterchef Junior is becoming formulaic lacking depth and breadth. Libby Hill over at Grub Street had this to say on this point:
The thing about both Logan and Samuel is not that they’re bad chefs or uninteresting boys. But the fascination they exhibit with the cooking process seems to be just that: a fascination with the process. It doesn’t seem like either of them really like food all that much. In other words, the finale of MasterChef Junior was missing any sense that the people involved loved food, and so a certain level of warmth was lost, too.
Her concern is that the show is more concerned with process less about the food itself. She has a point in that but regretfully in cooking shows of this kind, process is going to be desired. This is not a food science or food cooking show like on the old Food Network but a competition. Perhaps competitors will try to get that into their shows. Fox probably knows or expects that other networks might be looking at their own kids food shows to compete with Fox. Food Network probably has someone working on it right now and planning either Booby Fool or Gina Italian to handle it (Alton Brown is too grizzled looking like someone out of a Friday The 13th movie). Again people watching television make decisions: do I want to watch my favorite comedy/drama or watch kids cook like adults? So far millions are making the choice not to watch Masterchef Junior so running the shows nearly back-to-back makes little sense to me. Time will tell on this one.
A problem I see is that fine line between adults and kids seems to becoming blurred on this show at times. I get the impression that while Gordon, Graham, and Joe treat these kids on one level as children, that it changes as the competition goes on. There is a shift and often comes as the challenges get more difficult and more suitable for adults. Like running a professional kitchen. It is one thing to have the adult contestants do a restaurant shift (and it is very tough on them)but to throw 8-12 year old kids into a professional kitchen seems unwise to me. I just wonder if some child experts out there will eventually start criticizing the show on these lines.
At any rate, we wrap up this season with big congratulations to Logan. The bow-tied wonder proved he was the best. And more importantly shows bow ties are not a bad thing to wear anymore. And I look forward to eating in his restaurant one day (even if it is underwater!).