MasterChef U.S. Season 4 Mid-Season Commentary

    Masterchef is a reality TV show that currently airs on Fox and is in its 4th season. I’ve watched the show for three seasons now (I missed out on the first season), and have been increasingly bothered by much of the show. While I understand the need to create drama to boost up ratings and that shows about cooking that are not on food-specific channels really aren’t actually about food per se, there are some issues, particularly in this newest season, that have been consistently bothering me about Masterchef. I figured that Mai would also feel the same way, so I asked her to watch this season with me and then see if my angry reactions were justified. We decided to share our many Facebook chat conversations with you guys (slightly edited and condensed). We’ll love to create an ongoing dialogue about this show so feel free to talk back in the comments! Any points that you disagree/agree with us? Who’s your favorite/least favorite contestant? Any judges you love/can’t stand? Join in the Flavor Boulevard conversation!

    Mai: Hmm, I’m watching episode 2 of MasterChef now. Doesn’t it feel like the judges choose people based on their inspirational backstory or character a bit more than their food?

    Kristen: Yes! I’m really annoyed at the show right now, but I can tell you why once you’ve seen more episodes.

    M: I mean, like the lady with the fried chicken and singing [Editor note: Sasha Foxx], she’s fun, but it’s fried chicken! And the yacht stewardess [Jessie Lysiak] made seabass en croute [fish fillet baked in a pastry shell], which is much more complicated than fried chicken and they said it doesn’t have what it takes??!!

    K: Yeah…in a previous season Joe [Bastianich] said that rice was poor people food.

    M: What????????? That is so racist!!!!!!

    K: And yet pasta is perfect in his eyes. Even worst, the winner of last season is Vietnamese, and during the final challenge, they asked her why she made a Vietnamese dish when they aren’t in Vietnam…

    M: Yeah! I remember that!

    K: And they never questioned the other finalist who made classic French food :-/ Yeah… this show. This show.

    M: They said it’s like food-truck level or something.

    K: I have so much to write about.

    M: Yeah, definitely! I mean, just the fact that the three judges are all white already makes it skewed.

    K: There’s some kinds of food that’s “comfort home-style food” and then there’s some food that’s “unrefined and poor” (Western food v. Asian/other ethnic foods). And all the “high-end” foods that they want people to cook definitely put a lot of cooks at a disadvantage from the get-go!

    M: Exactly, they need to be consistent! Either you praise high-end techniques and whatnot, or you praise home cooking, but not both!

    K: Totally agree!

    M: Although it’s a bit hard though, depending on the people’s goal with food, it’s hard to say which one is more skillful.

    K: Yeah it makes it hard for viewers because we can’t tell if the food is actually good or bad, we only have to rely on the judges’ word!

    M: The show needs to have a clear goal, are we making the next professional chefs, or are we just finding the best home cooks? I guess they should just do away with the technique and background thing and just judge the freaking food! That’s why I much rather watch “The Taste“.

    K: Exactly!!! it is a Fox show though… so a lot of the show is all these weird advantages and stuff and encouraging people to backstab each other.

    M: Really?????

    K: Oooo watch more!!! Lol!

    M: Ok, I’m boiling already…

    K: Hahahaha yeah the more I watch the show the angrier I get. There’s one thing that’s absolutely pissing me off more than anything but I won’t say anything until you’ve seen more!

    M: I feel like I would get way too angry 😀 I wonder when Asian food will be considered high-end, we have thousands of years of culinary history for crying out loud, and what does America have, like hundreds of years?

    K: Yeah T_T I’m tired of all the privileging of French/other western techniques that “elevate” Asian food gahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh (or any other ethnic food). It annoys me so much (haha it’s also why Eddie Huang doesn’t like David Chang’s food and claims that his pork buns aren’t authentic in his book 😉 ).

    M: But David Chang is at least putting Asian food on the screen, it’s good.

    K: Yup! I think without him there wouldn’t be as many Asian chefs out there!! For sure!!! I’ve never had his food either, but I love Lucky Peach heehee…

    M: Ok I’m gonna watch episode 3 now.

    [TWO DAYS LATER]

    M: Ok MasterChef really needs to lay off on the “who do you think will go home today” thing. (I’m on episode 5 now.) I think they’re seriously wanting to send Lynn home. Undercooked pasta is better than pasta with the wrong filling? WTH????!!!!!

    K: I think so too! It’s ridiculous! I honestly think it’s because the winner last season was an Asian women (an Asian *disabled* women too wooow!) and there were a TON of Asian people last season. My guess is that they can’t really eliminate Lynn because his food is probably too good but they can limit his screentime so no one would mind if he is eventually eliminated, and in the meantime they’re getting rid of all the other people of color..

    M: Actually I’m so happy yesterday that Lynn didn’t get eliminated, that Howard is not a bad guy, I wonder why everybody disliked him.

    K: Yeah I don’t know why people start hating each other… I guess they’ve been with each other for a lot of weeks by this point but it always seems really random to me. And I’m still on Episode 9! I’m just glad they finally showed Lynn talking and gave him a talking head!!! Now I know he’s 27 and a systems administrator. 😛

    M: Wait… oh no I leaked the ending!!!!!!!!!! I’m so sorry!!!!!!!!!!

    K: Oh it’s okay!!! I read it on a blog a few days ago actually by accident! Haha so I spoiled it by accident! T_T

    M: I feel so bad for Lynn.

    K: Me too! His food always looks soooooooo good but apparently his food always needs seasoning :-/

    M: The heck with that, I think they’re just trying to make him look bad to the audience. Because seasoning is the only thing the audience can’t see.

    K: EXACTLY! By the way this is a great blog by a former masterchef contestant: http://benstarr.com/blog/. Also, back to Lynn, it’s ironic because all of the other contestants have chosen him first in all of the group challenges (up to episode 9 at least) :-/ That means he must be a good chef, right? Blah they probably just don’t want another Asian to win.

    M: Exactly!!!!! I’m so angry I could boil an egg on my head.

    K: Me too! Why do we do this to ourselves?? I’m sorry for making you angry by having you watch this show with me haha, but it’s nice to vent with someone!!!

    M: I totally understand! Venting is necessary! If we notice it I’m sure a lot of others notice it too, and sooner or later the producer will hear some complaints (I hope!).

    K: I know! It’s almost too obvious though… how often is it that a single contestant doesn’t get ANY airtime in a cooking show if they aren’t eliminated right away.

    M: And what’s with all the Italian thing? It’s like this contest had turned into either “classic American” or Italian, and making classic filled pasta is good and they should keep to the basic, while everything else must be done with “fineness”? What the heck?!!!

    K: YUP YUP YUP YUP I agree 1000000000000000000000000%.

    M: Haha my gosh it feels good to vent.

    K: Oh gosh I can’t wait until we post this on Flavor Boulevard. I’m sure a lot of people watch this show right??

    M: Exactly. I mean, it’s people around the world watching it!

    K: Sadly so siiiighhh…

    M: I wonder how many generations it will take until Asian food is considered classic in America like Italian food.

    K: Yuuup. And Howard is totally right: “You want 15 of the same dishes?” I totally hate Joe and his attitude. He’s the worst most elitist person ever.

    M: Yesssssssssss I hate Joe too. Being proud of your ethnic food is great, everybody should be, but that’s not the same as thinking it’s sacrilegious, wait, I mean sacred.

    [A FEW DAYS LATER]

    M: I’m watching the Glee episode of Masterchef, and Krissi is such an annoying character, why does she hate Jessie so much? It’s like jealousy or something. And sure enough, it’s another person of color leaving the competition.

    K: Yes that episode of Masterchef made me really dislike Krissi. I don’t think Bime should have left and I thought it was completely contradictory that she chose to save herself. I was hoping she would have more integrity because of the way she acts… but that really made me lose respect for her. I understand it’s a competition but she shouldn’t have made such a fuss about it last time someone saved themselves and then turned around and did it herself.

    M: I read on Ben Starr’s blog how they patch scenes and comments together out of context to make it more dramatic, which doesn’t surprise me, but that’s not an excuse for someone like Krissi to appear mean. If you don’t do or say mean things, or agree to say mean things (if it’s scripted), there’s no way to make you appear like that on TV. Also, to make Bime leave because of a stupid mistake is just unreasonable. [He accidentally used cream of tartar instead of corn starch in his pie filling.] That’s another thing I don’t like about this show, if something is good, they show doubts that it’s a fluke, if something is bad, bam! you go home. Why can’t they judge more consistently based on the performance history of the person instead of one or two moments?

    K: Oh god the latest episode of MasterChef [Wedding Catering and Macarons episode]… I can’t even watch… I’m too angry… talk about setting people up for failure. It just feels like Lynn is being set up for elimination for anything besides his food [Chef Ramsay pounced on Lynn for wiping his sweat and then wiping dishes meant to go out to diners. Granted, that’s disgusting and wrong, but not a strong enough reason to send someone home!!!].

    Closing Thoughts

    Kristen: We’ve seen 12 episodes so far, not counting the first 3 because they’re in the process of selecting the finalists, so 9 episodes. For 4 episodes in a row, all of the people that were sent home were people of color…just one after the other. While people can argue that race has nothing to do with this food show, this pattern of eliminating people of color, of continuously privileging Western foods over ethnic foods, and of the judges singling out certain people (not just Lynn, but I think the judges were extremely rude to Howard as well) leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth when I watch this show. I want to see diversity reflected in the home cooks and after all, as Mai puts it, they’re home chefs and not restaurant chefs. I’ll still be watching because I never expected an Asian woman to win last season (or to see so much Asian American representation in a major network TV show), but with an ever critical eye! What do the readers think?

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    6 comments to MasterChef U.S. Season 4 Mid-Season Commentary

    • Cheryl

      Hahaha… This is exactly what the producers want, to create controversy and hype!! That’s how they get you watching episode after episode!

      Just like the previous winner- I didn’t watch that season- did she have the best food? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a controversial underdog winner and it creates HYPE. That’s my humble opinion about all these tv shows. It’s about “how do we get the best story out of it? How do we dramatise?”… No?

    • Cheryl

      I only watched two episodes this season and I am rooting for Lynn, by the way! He seems nice & pretty good at it!

    • You’re right that we can’t tell how good or bad the food really tastes, and that a show should have some drama to get you watching. But why can’t the show be really about food? This is a problem with American TV in general, it promotes overreactions and negativity instead of something nice. When the story is too dramatized, it’s not good anymore, don’t you think?
      The problem with this particular show is the double standard against Asian ingredients and cooking styles, or rather, against any ethnic food except the Old World foods. That’s just blatant racism, but it goes unrecognized.

    • Cheryl

      My point is that I would take all tv shows with a handful of salt. They don’t have to be dramatised but they are, to get high ratings- and look here- it worked! Just know that this one is definitely dramatised.
      In response to the racism issue, I am not sure about why you say that. I think the judges are judging according to their palattes- i.e. what they are used to. maybe what yiu are saying is that the panel is skewed to a certain palette profile. but that doesnt mean the judges are racist. Think about how you review food- you don’t like Indian food and ginger, the former is an ethnic food and latter is a major ingredient in Asian food, does that make you racist? Could just be a taste thing and what you are used to, no?
      And didn’t they crown an Asian woman the winner last season? Doesn’t that negate what you are saying about the show being racist…? Truth is I have only seen a couple episodes so correct me if I am wrong!

    • Cheryl

      I just read the part of your post where joe made some racist comments. Like I said I would take anything they say with a large handful of salt. I personally think they say such things to create controversy, but it could be that they are highly non-American, I.e. non P.C.(most Americans I know are soooo careful about being PC.

    • I’m not sure if I could say the drama of pitching people against each other really works. For example, many people I know don’t watch this type of show precisely because of this kind of stupidity. I watched it last season completely because of the contestants that I liked, and this season I have stopped watching because: 1. the contestant that I like got eliminated, 2. the drama just got too nasty, 3. the show has become too focused on stupid suspense and there’s little about food. The assumption that viewers are blood-thirsty enough to watch the show just to see the fall of the villains is rather degrading to the viewers, don’t you think? When I watch something, I want the good characters to win, but that doesn’t mean I want the bad characters to die. That’s probably just me, but in any case they’ve lost one out of many millions of viewers. 😛

      The racism here is a subtle one, it’s engrained in the judges’ perception that I wonder if they even know they’re being racist. I don’t say they have to like Asian food. But they have to acknowledge that pasta can be just as high end or comfort food as braised pork belly. However, they shower a simple stuffed pasta with so much praise of “finesse” and “restaurant quality”, whereas any kind of ethnic food (Mexican, Chinese, Vietnamese, etc.) to them are “comfort food”, “tailgating food”, etc. When I say I don’t like a certain food, I give a reason, and I never say that it’s not as sophisticated as something else, because ANYTHING can be made into a sophisticated plate or a bowl of comfort food. Liking and classifying are two totally different acts, and classifying has nothing to do with taste.
      In one episode this season, they showed a contestant saying that an edible Chinese black moss looks like Chinese pubic hair, as a joke of course, but I find nothing funny in that comment. Just because an ingredient is not familiar to you, you can make fun of it? That’s a ridiculous sign of cultural disrespect that I can’t stand. What would happen if I make comparisons like that about European products?
      About the winner last season, Kristen has explained the racism in the post already, so I won’t repeat it here. 🙂

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