Survivor keeps on keeping on, in part due to the outlandish premises underlying seasons.
Who's better at cooking, men or women? This is the question the new series of MasterChef (the version with hapless amateurs, not the one with hapless professionals) seeks to answer.
And, obviously, it's a dreadfully important one. Just as Big Brother made great strides in the field of research into communal showers and diary rooms, and The Biggest Loser has solved a lot of society's mysteries about the effects of yelling at people on treadmills, MasterChef is dipping a toe in the waters of anthropological study, so we can finally stop lying awake at night puzzling over which sex makes the moistest cupcakes.
There has been much heated palaver over MasterChef's decision to make 2013 the year of girls versus boys and it is true that any attempt to set up a ''battle of the sexes'' is apt to produce a profound sense of weariness in the thoughtful consumer. It's also true that we are already being exposed through the promos to pink-blue colour schemes and cliches such as men barbecuing and women multitasking and all the best chefs being men and women being housewives and in all likelihood we'll see an ad where the men are cooking while playing football and the women are buying shoes. It's unoriginal and it's annoying.
MasterChef 2013: Catchy labels, tired stereotypes.
But it's also just what reality shows do. Gimmicks are the lifeblood of the industry. There's only so far you can go with interesting premises and real-life human drama: eventually you have to try to stave off viewer ennui with something stupid. The boys versus girls gambit isn't even a new idea: Survivor already tried it. But then Survivor, being now in its approximately 400th season, has tried pretty much everything. Nobody got too angry at its men versus women season, because pretty quickly it moved on to the one where it divided up the contestants according to race and everyone spontaneously combusted from pure outrage. Rest assured, if next season sees MasterChef: Asians versus Caucasians, the outrage over this year's gender divide will seem like a storm in a terrine dish.
And don't rule it out, because the golden rule of reality is: keep changing things. It's not a very good rule: in fact, it is often a rule that flies in the face of all available evidence; but it's a rule that is followed strictly nonetheless. Look at My Kitchen Rules. It was already a hugely successful show, but this year the producers realised the viewers they had invented inside their heads were yearning for the competition to be unnecessarily drawn-out and less fair, and they delivered.
Whether the gimmick road will lead to success for MasterChef is impossible to say, but if it does, expect future seasons to continue along it. If boys versus girls hits it big, next season we might see gays versus straights, or adults versus kids, or amputees versus non-amputees. They'll only be limited by their own imagination. Maybe they could do dumb blondes versus angry redheads. Although The Block might have already done that.
But let's not let this distract us from the real issue: who is better at cooking? Is it men, because their surging testosterone allows them to dominate the kitchen; or is it women, because their hair is prettier? Only one thing is certain: finding out will be pretty irritating.