Are Parents Bad For Letting Kids On Reality TV?

tv cameramanScott Pierce, who covers television for Salt Lake Tribune, criticized MasterChef Junior for using kids. And he warns that using kids in this manner opens them up to being attacked on the Internet. Pierce writes:

It’s a lock that the child contestants on “MasterChef Junior” are going to be subjected to hateful comments if not outright bullying by Internet trolls. And no parents should ever allow their child to put himself or herself in that position. Does it always go horribly wrong? No. But what good parent would take that risk?

His conclusion is that kids do not belong on reality shows. These shows, he argues, puts a lot of pressure on them and even if the show starts out benign, train wrecks can occur.

Given the nature of these competitions, it is usually the case that we see some unpleasant character traits emerge as time goes on. And we also know that reality television skewers what we see through skillful editing and manipulation of the events. MasterChef is no different in that regard. Pierce’s concern (and I share it as well) is that we could see something of the same but with kids. If you have worked with kids, you know some can be brutal at times (not physically but with words). In this case young kids are being asked to produce restaurant quality food to be judged by a trio of judges who, in the normal course of the regular show, really verbally sting those who bring up poor quality food. They tone it down for this show, which I applaud, but it is still a competition and each week two will go home (they have a rule that each night’s competition will end with two leaving).

Even so, kids are going to get hurt when their food sucks or they are told to leave the competition. There is simply no way to sugar coat that bad news. Pierce does have it right: Internet trolls are going to make hay with some of these kids. I doubt parents thought about it deeply but they ought to have. Having seen what these trolls can do, it can really hurt a kid to see themselves targeted on the Internet. And it is possible that some of those cute faces have a nasty side to them as well.

For Fox, getting people to watch is not easy considering what it is up against at 8 p.m. ABC has Last Man Standing, which handily beat out MasterChef Junior in the first half hour last week. And then over at CBS is Undercover Boss (a full hour) which also beat out MasterChef Junior. Now again the believability quotient comes into play. Which is more believable: a show that has the top officer of a company going undercover to see how things operate or a show that has 8-13 year old kids trying to cook restaurant quality food?

Source: Only bad parents let kids go on reality TV(27 Sep 2013, Salt Lake Tribune)

Caltrain Musings

Photo: Wikipedia

*San Bruno Grade Separation Update
Good news! San Bruno & Huntington Ave street closure is over. It was closed on 20 September for massive construction that included lowering the grade under the San Bruno elevated railway section to accommodate more trucks. It was supposed to open on 30 Sept at 0500 but alas did not happen. So it was extended to Thursday at 8:00 p.m. And now the detour around that area is over. Huntington between Euclid and San Bruno Avenue has been nearly restored to its prior condition. When they began construction, the east side was closed except for construction traffic. That meant the west side, normally two lanes for southbound traffic, was converted into a two lane traffic zone for north and south traffic. It made driving difficult at times. Buses and other traffic that had to turn north from San Bruno onto Huntington had a difficult time. It was a tight turn to negotiate for buses. With one northbound lane now restored, it alleviates a traffic problem at the intersection.

Even better is that now the tracks are elevated, there is zero chance of a vehicle being stuck on the rails in that area. During construction there were two serious accidents. One involved a tractor trailer at Angus (to big and got stuck on the tracks) and the other at San Bruno Ave where someone abandoned a car on the track. A third minor one involved a car that got grazed by a train when it was just a little over that line (those lines are there for a purpose folks). Amazingly the car was driven away and found later by police at Bayhill shopping center.

For walkers though, the sidewalk in front of the old bank at Huntington & San Bruno is closed. You will need to detour to one of the crosswalks near Mills or Easton to cross over.

*Clipper Issue/Reminder About Tagging On & Off
Recently I had a small problem with Clipper. I tagged on in San Francisco and off at San Bruno station. But when I checked my account a few days later, I was charged to full amount rather than deducting a ride from my 8 Ride ticket. I emailed Clipper and they investigated the issue. They did refund the money but did deduct the fare (discounted for an 8-Ride ticket)from San Francisco to San Bruno since my 8 Ride Ticket by that time had expired. The problem was a rare one where the Clipper terminal was not properly sending the information. So always check your balance when paying with cash or by 8 Ride Ticket. Otherwise you might get a nasty surprise the next time you tag on.

Now about what happens if you forget to tag on or off. If you board the train in San Francisco or San Jose, chances are the conductors will check at the gate and turn you around to tag at the Clipper terminal. However if you do forget to tag on and the conductor aboard the train checks your card, simply put you are doomed. Conductors will issue a citation for fare evasion and you have to go to court. I think the fine is $380 (that includes court fees) but it could be more by now. Ignorance is no defense here since Caltrain has signs all over the place and conductors reminding everyone to tag on and off.

If you forget to tag off at your destination, Caltrain will assess the maximum one way ticket fare $12.75 and deduct it from the cash purse on your card. So remember to tag off when you get off the train. Otherwise if the cash balance on your card dips below $1.25, you cannot use it until you load cash. What happens if you do not have enough money on your card to pay the fare? What happens is you cannot use that card until you load cash and pay the negative balance on it. Remember except at San Francisco and San Jose stations, you cannot add cash to your Clipper card. Either go to Walgreens, a Clipper service center, call them up, or pay on the Internet.

*Important 8-Ride Ticket Reminders
-Cannot be used for zone upgrade. When you tag off, the cash needed for the extra zones traveled will be deducted.
-No all zones on weekends or holidays.
-Has a time limit of 30 days and then they go poof if not used.
-Can buy monthly parking permit.
-Must tag on at start of trip and at final destination. If you fail to tag off, you pay the maximum ticket of $12.75

Caltrain/Samtrans Alert
If a BART strike does occur, service to BART stations by SamTrans will be temporarily discontinued. This will effect Daly City, Colma, South San Francisco, San Bruno and Millbrae BART stations. So check with SamTrans or ask the bus driver for where the temporary stop is located if you using a bus that normally does go to a BART station. Caltrain has no plans to add extra trains as of yet, but expect some early morning commute trains to be even more packed when they depart Millbrae. Important tip: Express trains are almost always full (people standing in aisles), limiteds may be full (but not with people standing in aisles), and locals are generally have more seats available (they take longest to get to San Francisco). Plan accordingly. Bicyclists will likely have it even more tough when every seat and more is taken up.

Caltrain Sauna Effect
We have been having a some really warm weather. Sadly not all Caltrain cars have that air conditioning working right. One car I entered was warm enough for a sauna. Yikes! And the smell was pretty ripe as well.

Doors Do Not Lock Themselves
It is interesting to watch at San Francisco station (4th & King) as to who locks doors and who does not. Now usually the doors to tracks are locked when there is no need for them to be unlocked. And there is a security guard who does check. Sometimes the conductors will lock one side of the doors (the ones that will be open for the next departing train) and leave the opposite ones unlocked. And they clearly know this since I observe conductors go in and out of those doors as they get food or do other things. And train drivers are the worst. If a door is locked, they check the nearby ones. And then they walk to other ones nearby. Only if they cannot find one unlocked (or time is an issue), then they finally produce a key. But they rarely lock the door behind them (1-5 I observed locked and unlocked). They tell us to be observant about packages but if the conductors and drivers seem not to take much care in securing areas, it is no wonder why TSA wants to increase its presence in the railroad area. They might have to consider self locking doors that are always locked unless you insert a key and open it, and then lock when put back into place.

MasterChef Junior:Phone Home and Gourmet Burgers

Photo: Wikipedia

Having survived the initial trials, the top twelve junior chefs arrive at the kitchen to face their first mystery box. Last week I wondered whether these kids are kids owing to the quality of the cooking shown. Keep that in mind about this show. Perhaps, as some suggest in jest, they are actually Hogwarts students on vacation. Now one funny thing to remember is that many of these kids are too short when they stand at their cooking stations. So they stand on platforms that give them the needed height. Even with that, some of the shorter ones had some difficulty raising the mystery box. When asked what they do would do with $100,000 prize money, most thought about gifts and parties. Only Alexander would use it for culinary school.

Mystery Box
Fortunately the mystery box did not have anything like offal or a pigs head. Perhaps they are saving that for a Halloween themed episode. It did however have filet mignon, tiger shrimp, mixed berries, blue cheese (which Sara said stank like feet), arugula, potatoes, and assorted vegetables. So right away they are giving them high value ingredients to see what they make of it. They also had an advantage no one else had before: the ability to use a tablet to call home or a friend for advice. Skype got some good product placement out of this show. And not a mention of Walmart at all (which I think supplies groceries for this show as well.)

As the camera followed the junior chefs, we saw them busy at work as if they had done this all before. Pretty amazing to watch these kids tackle these ingredients. In the end the three that were brought up for judging were:

Alexander (filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, carrots and salad)
The chefs all loved this dish which had the right sear on the meat, delicious mashed potatoes, and carrots. One small complaint Gordon noted was that salad does not go under the meat. Alexander showed real talent here. Graham sees himself in Alexander and notes he has more talent then he did at his age. In short, a triple (using a baseball metaphor here).

Jack (surf & turf)
He was one of the few that incorporated the shrimp into his dish. Another great dish as the chefs all had compliments about its quality and presentation. Graham used a carpenter metaphor to say he nailed the dish. I would say a grand slam. But do not say “bam” too much Graham. I think another celebrity chef may have trademarked its use. 🙂

Troy (filet mignon with poached egg and root vegetable hash)
Once again compliments all around. Joe really liked it noting the intense flavor with bay leaves. Gordon would have preferred the steak medium rare rather than medium. Triple.

Jack wins the round and heads back to find out his amazing advantage. First off, he is spared elimination. Then he will decide what food his fellow junior chefs will cook. And this is where we take a trip back in time since it is our masterchefs favorite foods when they were a kid. Each one holds up a photo of them around 8 years old or so. For Joe, it was not a pasta or pizza dish but chicken wings. Who knew! Graham holds up his picture and it is hard to recognize him. Back then little kid now a Michelin star chef with tattoos, a hairstyle from an old cartoon strip, and funky glasses. Jack does not see the resemblance. For Graham, his favorite was the hamburger. Gordon looks much younger without wrinkles and it turns out he liked fish fingers (fish sticks in America).

Now for some strategy. Chicken wings are not hard to do but you have to know how to prep them. There are lots of easy combinations here but the wrong sauce, a badly made one, or mangled wings could send someone home. Fish sticks require to use fish meat coated in a batter and deep fried. Lots of ways to go here and easy to screw up (like what our favorite vegetarian did with calamari in MasterChef). And then the humble hamburger. Easy to make but easy to over complicate as well. Jack chooses hamburger but of course these are not going to be two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese and pickle on a sesame seed bun. Nope, these are going to be Gourmet Burgers.

Gourmet Burgers Challenge
After the mad scramble in the pantry, we see Gavin working on an Italian style burger, Kaylen on one that incorporates many flavors, Alexander is working on beef sliders. Joe tells Alexander that Jack is targeting him. Alexander is totally unafraid and says he has it all working together. And then tells Joe to step back while he dumps kale into frying pan (which immediately sounds explosive and Joe flinches). Molly tries a Korean themed burger with kimchee, rice, soy sauce, and rice cakes. Gordon asks if that sounds good to her. That sound you hear is the gong of doom being heard and her face reveals she is nervous. Tommy is making a breakfast burger with American cheese, an egg, and sweet potato. Gordon is concerned about using that kind of cheese inside a burger. Most chefs would use a good cheddar or other cheese that melts since American cheese needs more help to melt.

Those that really stretched flavors using beef or pork fared much better than those using lamb or turkey. Gavin, Alexander and Kaylen are chosen as the best for their flavors and presentation. Really it was quite amazing especially with Alexander. No doubt about it, this kid is destined to become a great chef one day. Sadly though this is an elimination so three have to be called up and two are going to be sent home. Jewels had a dry lamb dish. Both Tommy and Molly both tackled turkey that came out dry. Molly’s Korean themed burger was sadly a mess in terms of flavors. And Tommy’s breakfast burger was dry and the American cheese did not melt enough in the middle to give it any moisture. Joe observes at one point when tasting that he never has had a good turkey burger. I would have to agree. In most places they slab on lots of toppings to obscure its dryness. The same is done in cheap burger joints to hide the fact they quick cooked the beef by mashing it down (and oddly end up being praised by a ninny on Food Network for it) and then covering it up with gooey cheese and sauces.

Jewels survives but Tommy and Molly go home. It was sad to see and they were comforted by their fellow junior chefs. Joe mentions earlier that sometimes we have this idea in our heads but when we put it on the plate it does not match. Unfortunately on MasterChef you only get one chance and if you blow it, out the door you go.

Final Thoughts
These kids are remarkable. They are able to put out dishes that rival those seen on regular MasterChef. And that is a problem for this show. We have to believe that kids who have not yet graduated from high school are able to produce masterful dishes that get praised by the judges as restaurant quality. I suspect many are going to find that difficult to believe. Sure it is possible to get food training in their home kitchen. As a kid I knew families where cooking was very important and everyone was involved in the activity. You pick up quickly lots of knowledge this way (like Joe did with his mother Lidia) and learn a lot of techniques. Or your family is serious foodies that like to cook. Your apt to pick up a lot that way along with watching lots of food television programs.

At the same time, I suspect a lot of viewers will wonder if they are being tricked. They display skills that seem beyond what most kids have at that age. And that may end up losing viewers who wonder if the kids are being used or manipulated by reality television. They might very well be the most talented young chefs in America today but one wonders whether it is a one time thing or a trend that kids are learning to cook so well at a young age when most kids have to deal with doing their homework.

Postscript: The numbers are out and there was a dip in viewers watching MasterChef Junior. ABC won the night and Last Man Standing (half-hour show at 8:00 p.m., same time as MasterChef Junior) got more people watching. (6 million compared to MasterChef at just under 4 million). MasterChef was third in the first half-hour behind Last Man Standing (ABC) and Undercover Boss (CBS/full hour/7 million viewers). MasterChef 18-49 rating (the top demographic they target) dropped to 1.3 (last week 1.6).

Next week: Can the kids recreate Gordon’s famous Beef Wellington?

Friday Titanic Newswrap

1. Hartley Violin Update
Wallace Hartley's ViolinWallace Hartley’s violin will make one last public display before its date with auctioneer Henry Aldridge & Son on 19 Oct. The violin will be going to his hometown (Dewsbury, UK) and on display for one day only on Monday, October 14 in the town hall. A vintage tea room with period music will be setup as well.
Source: Wallace Hartley’s Titanic Violin To Return Home To Dewsbury(1 Oct 2013, Dewsbury Reporter)

2. Rory Golden, who has been on two dives to Titanic, will be giving two talks at the former Harland & Wolff Drawing Office about his experiences diving to Titanic. The first one is scheduled for 17 Oct and the second on 18 Oct. The second talk will include Ralph White, the cameraman who captured the first images of the ship. Full details are available at Titanic Belfast.
Source: Up Close And Personal With Titanic, By The Irishman Who Has Dived The Wreck Twice(2 Oct 2013, Belfast Telegraph)


3. Robert Ballard has begun an expedition to investigate major faults and underwater volcanoes in the northern and eastern Caribbean reports The Associated Press. Ballard is overseeing 31 scientists who hope the information they collect will help when natural disasters strike. Remote controlled vehicles will be used to explore the faults and underwater formations.
Source:Titanic Discoverer To Explore Caribbean Faults, Volcanoes(3 Oct 2013, WTVQ)

Titanic Jewelry Goes Live


Titanic Pigeon Forge and Jewelry Television have teamed up to broadcast the museum’s Titanic Jewelry Collection (not to be confused with the touring exhibition of actual Titanic jewelry) from Titanic Pigeon Forge on 4 Oct 2013. This is the first time, the press release states, that Jewelry Television has actually left its studios to broadcast on location. The press release goes on to point out the collaboration between Titanic Pigeon Forge and Jewelry Television has been quite successful.

So if you want to feel like 1912, you can buy historically inspired Titanic jewelry. And with Halloween ahead, you can add a touch of reality to your Edwardian outfit. Meals not included. 🙂

Source: Titanic Jewelry Collection To Be Showcased In Jewelry Television’s First Remote Broadcast, Live From Titanic Museum Attraction In Pigeon Forge(1 Oct 2013, release)

Nazi Titanic Propaganda Film Turns 70

Joseph Goebbels
Photo:Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1968-101-20A / Heinrich Hoffmann / CC-BY-SA

The Times of Israel has an interesting story on Joseph Goebbel’s famously overbudget and scandal plagued Titanic movie. Conceived as a means to convey German heroism while depicting how bad British society and capitalists were, it ended up being banned and shown only in occupied countries. The film had a budget of 4 million reichmarks (around 180 million today). They also diverted resources (men and material) for set construction and for set extras. Stories of partying, the director Herbert Selpin in constant turmoil with producers and actors, and Selpin uttering anti-Nazi comments reached Berlin. Selpin was arrested, interrogated, and was found dead in his cell (suicide but most believe he was murdered ). When Goebbel’s saw the final cut, he was not happy. When production started, Germany was master of Europe. But by late 1942 and 1943, the tide of war had changed. It now was in a two front war, being bombed by the allies, and had suffered some defeats. He banned its showing in Germany but allowed it shown in occupied countries, where it was well received. Then the war ended and the movie faded.

But not the end of the story as Wikipedia notes:
Titanic was re-discovered in 1949, but was quickly banned in most western countries. Shortly after the war, the film, dubbed in Russian, was screened across the Eastern Bloc as a “trophy film.” After the 1950s, Titanic went back into obscurity, sometimes showing on German television. In 1992, a censored, low quality VHS copy, was released in Germany. This version deleted the strongest propaganda scenes, which immensely watered down its controversial content. Finally, in 2005, Titanic was completely restored and, for the first time, the uncensored version was released in a special edition DVD by Kino Video.

Four scenes from the movie were incorporated in the 1958 A Night To Remember. Wikipedia says it was of two day scenes of Titanic on calm water, and two clips of an engine room walkway flooding. The restored version is available on Amazon although clips and trailers (and perhaps the full movie as well) are to be found on YouTube.

1. Goebbels’ ‘Titanic’ Cinematic Disaster Turns 70 (1 Oct 2013, Times of Israel)
2. Wikipedia:Titanic (1943)
3. Internet Movie Database