The first season of MasterChef Junior is over after 7 episodes. This whirlwind competition saw some really terrific cooking from some very small kids. What made this show stand-up and make people take notice is how well it was done. Other kids reality shows have gone badly, with parents being divas and kids becoming divas. And while many shows about kids tend to exploit them, MasterChef Junior choose to treat them with respect, give them encouragement, and even when they send home the losers made sure it was done right.
Fans of Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef know that Gordon Ramsay is never afraid to say what he thinks (resulting in the usual bleep). On this show, except for one occasion when Gordon had cream dumped on his head, there was no need to bleep one word out. Joe’s stare was downgraded to a more friendly gaze and he did not dump any dishes into the trash. And Graham was mostly still Graham, though his comments less pointed than normal if the dish was below par. The judges spoke encouragingly of the kids and tried give them helpful advice.
They also avoided tricks done on other shows to elicit reactions from them (like having people lie to them to see how they react) or set-up conflicts as well. I previously commented that perhaps next season they would try to inject conflict. Thinking it over, I realize they are not likely going down that path. They simply do not need to. The formula they are using works just fine. If there is any conflict (at this is a competition so there is apt to be), it will be minimal. Doubtful we will see a younger version of MasterChef scheming characters here.
Friday we saw two rising aspiring chefs, Dara and Alexander, compete for the top prize. They used the same format as the finale for MasterChef where they set up a culinary thunder dome, have the eliminated contestants and family around, and give them 90 minutes to produce a stunning three course meal of appetizer, entrée and dessert. Unlike the regular, they only had to prepare one serving (the adults prepare three servings, one for each of the judges). During the cooking phase, Dara started having a problem feeling a bit weak and needing water. The competition stopped for a few moments (but the clock kept ticking)while water was quickly brought to her and Alexander tried to calm her down. Then the competition resumed.
The judges were floored by the food they were served. Each of them produced stunning dishes and only minor technical issues separated them in the end (Dara had a more sophisticated appetizer while Alexander’s was more simple or Dara slightly overcooked her prawns in the entrée while Alexander’s was perfectly cooked). This was very definitely a tough call which meant the winner was someone who just nicked out the win. Like one of those horse races where the winner just has the slightest edge over the other. And so Alexander became the first winner of MasterChef Junior. Dara though is by no means crying about her loss. The judges complimented her on how well she did. She walks out of there without a trophy but invaluable experience that will shape her future.
This show was overall a success and the ratings bear it out. The finale was second overall behind Undercover Boss on CBS. Last Man Standing (ABC) came in third. It never fell out of the top three during its run but I still think it runs into the believability quotient. More people watch Undercover Boss because it is more believable to them and perhaps more entertaining then watching kids cook. Also many are wondering whether or not the kids were actors, coached behind the scenes. and think the whole thing is staged. All reality shows are staged in one way or another, but how they do it makes the difference. In this case they used the tried and true MasterChef formula for selecting the kids and the challenges. And yes they use selective editing to their advantage.
Are there concerns? Yes. Parents are the ones being targeted by Fox to get their kids into the competition. It makes sense but also allows “stage parents” to offer up their kids. If you are unfamiliar with “stage parents,” these are parents that push their kids into all kinds of acting jobs often acting as their managers. Some push them into movies, or television, or even modeling at young ages. There are unfortunate examples out there of these parents who have damaged their kids so they can get fame. That being said, most parents are not in this category but they have to be careful about deciding to do this. There are plenty of people out there willing to use kids for their own purposes not to mention Internet trolls. Parents will need to really be on top of things if they go down this route. And not just the parents. The producers need to protect these kids as well and prepare them for what lies ahead. Andy Dehnart over at Reality Blurred says it best:
Producers and networks have a responsibility not just to care for their young cast members on set, but do their best to care for them after production and when the show airs, preparing them for the reality of life on and off a reality series, such as encountering criticism or ridicule from strangers online.
I began reviewing this whole show asking the question Are These Kids Really Kids? They are and they are exceptional ones at that. My other concern is that they perhaps put too much pressure on these kids to be like adult cooks. However the way they are treated on this show avoids a lot of nastiness and instead tries to induce mutual respect and good will. Cooking is one way to learn your own skills for later in life but also appreciating other cooking styles and methods. And any show that allows the three MasterChefs–Gordon, Graham and Joe–to take a cream bath knows how to tread the line between serious competition and injecting some fun into it. So I look forward to another season. I hope next year they will bring in some guest chefs like on the regular show and perhaps some past MasterChef winners as well.
Why Masterchef Junior is awesome, and very different than TV that hurts kids (8 Nov 2o13, Reality Blurred)
TV Ratings Friday: ‘MasterChef Junior’ Rises, ‘Shark Tank’ Steady + ‘Grimm’ & ‘Dracula’ Fall(9 Nov 2013, zap2it.com)