I just went out for a work dinner, and I planned to watch Jane the Virgin when I got back, but my family was watching Sliding Doors on DVD. Last night it was When Harry Met Sally, the first half of which is great. I pretend that it ends when they play Pictionary, and it’s a much better film. So, in my lack of planning that’s consistent with this time of year (although I finished my Christmas shopping a week ago), I thought about what I didn’t include on my Top 10 list for the year. It’s my first time writing a Top 10 list, and it was a strange exercise. I’ve had a draft post for about three weeks now, with a number of shows on it. I was going to cheat and do 15, but in the end there wasn’t anything I felt really bad about leaving off, except that I really do enjoy cooking shows, and I left both MasterChef and The Great Australian Bake Off off of my list.
2015 saw the seventh season of MasterChef Australia, and suddenly everyone in Australia was watching it again. Admittedly it wasn’t the high point of the 2010 final, which was watched by 4 million people (that’s pretty much 20% of our population), but it was suddenly something I could talk about with casual acquaintances in a way I wouldn’t have been able to two years ago. I was sending texts to my old boss because one of the contestants got a job working at Shannon Bennett’s Piggery Cafe at Burnham Beeches, which is close to where we’d worked earlier in the year. I highly recommend the snapper burger.
It’s really difficult to pinpoint the success of MasterChef. It’s some combination of the way it’s edited to be a family friendly show where people support each other rather than take each other down, and the cooking, but it had a slump for a while there. My Kitchen Rules, Seven’s lesser cooking reality show became a hit off MasterChef’s bat, except with added bitchiness. Then when that became popular, MasterChef tried to copy it and failed. There’s nothing quite like MasterChef time of year, especially now that it’s popular again, even on Twitter. In 2015, it had a companion in The Great Australian Bake Off.
I have a lot of problems with Bake Off, but it sticks to the formula of the British original, which is good, because that’s what works. Like MasterChef, it’s the kind of show in which all the contestants are genuinely friends. It’s also less intense than MasterChef – it’s filmed on weekends, and people aren’t talking about their food dreams every five minutes. The lack of talking heads is a bonus. I still think the judges should be actual bakers, but I doubt they’ll be changing any time soon. I also discovered what happens when you transfer a reality show from a public broadcaster to a cable channel, and that’s that there are sponsors. So if there’s an ingredient the contestants are using that isn’t from a sponsor, it’ll be put in a generic container with a label on it. That’s not good enough! Suzy should have been allowed a bottle of Cointreau and a bottle of Skipping Girl Vinegar, is that too much to ask? Either way, this series of Bake Off was delightful, and I’ll definitely be trying out some of those recipes when the weather permits.
Some people dismiss reality programming without even watching it, but there is good stuff out there, you just have to be willing to give it a chance. It’s not all manufactured drama and peoples’ quests to find love, it’s about seeing people follow and achieve their dreams and treat each other with respect, which is what I love about both MasterChef and Bake Off.