Clash of TV's culinary titans is ideological warfare
My Kitchen Rules' genial judges Manu Fieldel and Pete Evans.
In days of old, they say, the people would leave their villages and flock from across the land to watch when two mighty titans of the Age of Chivalry clashed, when Sir Lancelot rode against Sir Gawain, the world shaken to its foundations by the reverberation of a pair of unmatched champions discovering who truly was the greatest.
Those days have passed into legend, but today we have our own Lancelot vs Gawain, and tonight it shall be played out upon our television screens, with kitchens instead of horses and desserts instead of lances. When the irresistible force of My Kitchen Rules hurls itself against the immovable object of MasterChef: The Professionals, who will win the ratings war? And why?
This tantalising bare-knuckle brawl between the proud emperors of foodtainment will not only decide who rules the ratings as we move into 2013, but define, once and for all, the superior approach to cooking-based reality for our generation.
Matt Preston and Marco Pierre White from Masterchef Professionals.
Because tonight's grudge match isn't just about two cooking competitions butting heads: it's about a war of philosophy, of ideology if you will.
MKR and MC have profoundly different attitudes towards the task of entertaining food-lovers, and they have committed fully to convincing us all of the relative superiority of each.
Tonight shall show us who is right: those who claim the key to great television is triumph over adversity, feel good underdog stories, and the power of emotional piano music; or those who say transcendent entertainment can come only from tossing a bunch of horrible people in a room and getting them to bitch about each other.
The differences between the two shows begin with the choice of judges.
Of course MasterChef usually uses the merry triumvirate of George, Gary and Matt, to provide an even balance of homely jollity, high-brow pretension, and eating like a pig across the panel.
But MasterChef: the Professionals aspires to a higher standard, and so, being professional, it's rid itself of the amateurs George and Gary, and paired Matt with his long-lost identical twin Marco Pierre White. A man whose crusty, serial-killer-like exterior conceals a soft, caramelly inside that likes to press up against people and whisper hoarsely in their ear in a comforting/terrifying way.
On the other hand, My Kitchen Rules has chosen for its judging duo the startling Pete Evans, who indicates both pleasure and dissatisfaction by projecting his eyes several metres out of his skull; and prominent Frenchman-impersonator Manu Feildel, who has the ladies swooning with his suave fake accent, and who became a chef after his first career as a Tin-Tin character ended unhappily.
Their role on the show is quite different from the MasterChef pair: where Marco and Matt's job is to sail in a stately fashion around the kitchen undermining people's confidence, and later on hug them as they dissolve into tears of devastation, Pete and Manu's job is to barge into people's houses and sniff suspiciously at their disgusting food.
Of course the food is the centrepiece of the opposing behemoths: Masterchef: The Professionals is based on the premise of people who cook for a living striving to the utmost to impress; its regular incarnation is based on amateurs, but generally speaking amateurs who have some experience in making edible food.
On MKR this element is far less important: the contestants are obliged to tell us how passionate they are in the kitchen, but a total inability to cook is no more an obstacle than a total inability to see things directly in front of your face is an obstacle to competing on The Amazing Race.
Because here we get to the crux, the true clash of cultures that makes this the defining cooking show versus cooking show of the twenty-first century.
The fact is, MasterChef is about people achieving, or failing to achieve, their dreams. My Kitchen Rules is about people acting like complete jerks in public.
The new season carries on the tradition honourably.
One cannot give away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that one team calls itself "the real-life Spice Girls" and another is billed on-screen as "dating hipsters", and these facts are in no way misleading as to the level of obnoxiousness being achieved.
You have to understand that both of these shows began with very simple, one-sentence premises.
MasterChef began with, "what if we emotionally manipulated gullible viewers with expertly staged facsimiles of inspirational food journeys?" My Kitchen Rules began with, "what if we got the most unpleasant people in Australia to have dinner together over and over and over again?"
Both are strong premises, and both have proven successful, but which will achieve the goal of capturing the zeitgeist of Australia, 2013?
I think a lot will come down to the individual personalities. MasterChef has already unveiled its array of characters: the plucky refugee; the concerned father; the ambitious teen; the arrogant knob; the person who has a beard; and so forth.
Will My Kitchen Rules be able to match this diversity? Certainly they will have a nice spectrum of rudeness and devious sociopathy, but will it be enough?
They certainly have fewer beards than MasterChef. Will this make them suffer when they sit down to deliver their to-camera confessionals?
The confessionals are a fascinating part of both programs.
On the grand old MC, contestants are sat down and instructed to spend as long as they need talking in excruciating detail about every single thing they did that day, and then to burst into tears.
MKR takes a more modern, impressionistic approach, coaching its stars with the simple directive to do their best to make everyone on earth hate them.
Essentially, it's love versus hate. And who will win? The obvious answer, as we're discussing Australians, is hate, but TV can be unpredictable.
Complicating things is the fact that MKR has cunningly learned, as all good pupils do, from its master.
While keeping its core moaning and bellyaching philosophy intact, it's pinched a few ideas from the venerable MasterChef, which is why this year we'll see twists, episodes that will "change the game forever", and suspense galore.
Unexpected visitors, pointless visits to bizarre locations… it's even possible that at some point Manu will throw a bowl on the ground and then turn out to love the dish. They are a cunning bunch, and this will stand them in good stead.
Of course, there is a third possibility: perhaps neither side will win.
Maybe, rather than the breaking of mighty lances on sturdy shields, this will be one of those jousts where the knights ride straight past each other and both fall into a river.
Because maybe the public, rather than preferring the uplifting cooking show to the catty one or vice versa, is simply sick of cooking in general. Perhaps both of these shows will prove to be “old hat”, to employ a vaguely chef-related expression.
Have we moved on? Are we no longer about the croquembouche, and more about something else, like maybe shows about spies or pawn shops or something? Only time will tell.
And what's my prediction, for this titanic contest, this epic televisual donnybrook, this seismic bringing together of mighty opposing forces, this blood-and-thunder battle between the most powerful giant sloths in the tropical rainforest canopy of free-to-air entertainment?
Which will it be – My Kitchen Rules or MasterChef?
Well, as a professional television critic and connoisseur of the tele-culinary arts, I would say the top-rating cooking contest show this year will almost certainly be…
The Great Australian Bake-Off on Nine. I can't WAIT!
Poll: With the two giants of Australian foodtainment going head-to-head at 7.30pm tonight, which one will you tune into?
- MasterChef: The Professionals
- My Kitchen Rules
- Flick between the pair
Total votes: 1371.
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Poll closed 28 Jan, 2013
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