My name is Ben and I’m addicted to MasterChef
I wish to make it clear, first of all, that this was not planned. I never saw it coming. It wasn’t premeditated.
You know those affairs where you just stop in at the pub on your way home for a quick drink, and before you know it you’re waking up handcuffed to a bed in a Taree motel next to a harelipped Slovenian wrestler? That’s how it was with me and MasterChef..
I had always been one of those men who loathed cooking shows in all their manifestations. Every time I saw one of those grinning loons drizzling things, or rubbing spices into the intimate sections of other species, or plunging their disgusting greasy hands into mounds of dough, I would go into a violent rant that nearly drove my wife to distraction, huffing and puffing about the degeneration of modern television and how in my day we had quality programmes like The A-Team and Vidiot but these days all we seemed to have was fat men opening cans and Nigella Lawson dripping her juices all over various puddings.
And for one season of MasterChef, it was the same. “I will not watch it!” I would declare loudly, and slightly embarrassingly when in public places. “I have better things to do, more inspiring televisual snacks to consume – the art of entertainment should surely amount to more than a depressing parade of maladjusted neurotics sweating into their sauces, crying into their pies, and fashioning everyday ingredients into culinary cries for help like mental patients painting their nightmares with bodily fluids”. Such was my attitude.
And yet…and yet. Something changed this year. “I think I’ll watch this season of MasterChef,” said my wife, words that seemed so innocent at the time but now assume the sinister significance of a misplaced clock in an Agatha Christie novel.
Because I discovered something about MasterChef: once you have been in the same room as it, you cannot tear yourself away. It consumes you. It only takes five minutes at most; you glance casually at the television, and next thing you know, without quite understanding how it happened, you’re on the edge of your seat wondering if a complete stranger’s soufflé will rise, or screaming dementedly at the screen, “Not NUTMEG, you f**king moron!”
Now, I have never before found nutmeg to be a source of mighty passions. I have never before exhibited any inclination to hold an opinion on nutmeg. In fact, let me be blunt: I do not, technically, know what nutmeg is. But when it’s erroneously used, by God it gets my blood up. I’m quite ready to run out into the street and headbutt the first spice merchant I come across.
Then there’s shucking oysters. Oyster-shucking had always been a closed book to me, one of those books you’re afraid to read because the cover makes you vomit. It’s still a fairly closed book – I’ve yet to answer questions like, how do you shuck an oyster, and, why the hell would you want to? – but nevertheless it exerts a strange fascination when I see people doing it on TV when working to a tight deadline. Will they shuck their oysters in time? Will they leave little bits of shell in there? Will Matt Preston describe their oysters with a lengthy analogy involving Henry II, a fragrant meadow of poppies, and his grandmother? Oysters have assumed far greater significance in my life than a species of immobile aquatic mucus-beasts have any right to.
But the thing is, it’s not the food that draws you into this horrible passive-aggressive relationship with your own major appliances. The food on MasterChef is really quite incidental. It’s like the bar in Cheers, or the actors on Home and Away. It’s merely a prop with which to further the epic human drama playing out on the kitchen floor, watching people you don’t know undergo the most awful agonies of mind and soul for your entertainment. It’s a lot like how the ancient Romans felt watching Christians get torn apart by lions; watching middle Australians getting torn apart by egg whites that won’t form stiff peaks.
And so, inebriated by the heady mix of characters and personality disorders on display, you find yourself picking favourites.
The merits of good or bad food fall by the wayside for you, as surely as they long ago did for the producers and judges. It’s not about who can make the most perfect steak and kidney pie or whose carrots were unevenly julienned. It’s about the fact that you find Sharnee’s blank, open stare oddly alluring and are heartily sick of Jonathan constantly grinning like he just fired a missile out of a volcano.
It’s about whether Peter is so boring you’re not actually sure there is a person called “Peter” on the show, and whether Matthew deserved to stay because nobody else can love Callum the way he deserves to be loved.
It’s about why we wish, just once, Marion would burn her chicken, undercook her vegetables, and fall face-first into a pot of Irish stew after slipping on a patch of spilt milk yet to be mopped up by ultra-absorbent Handee paper towels. And most of all, it’s about wanting to take that damn beanie off Aaron’s head and stuff it down his throat.
And people who don’t watch MasterChef will have no idea what I just said. But those who do will: we form a tight-knit, hermetically sealed community of fanatics whose sense of belonging is only enhanced by the knowledge that those outside are looking on in bafflement, wondering why these people are wasting their lives thus. We wonder ourselves sometimes; but never for long, because it’s time for another mystery box challenge, and this week it will be THE TOUGHEST CHALLENGE EVER.
It’s really the communal aspect that sucked me in. Not literally communal, of course; MasterChef is above all a show to be watched alone while horizontal on a couch, wearing elderly tracksuit pants, a glassy expression, and an elegant strand of saliva dangling from one’s gaping lips. But there is a virtual community; every episode, our tribe gathers on Twitter, to comment, to criticise, to commiserate and to rejoice. “Jake NOOOOO” we type frenetically, or “Alvin shut up about your mother”, or “Kate’s lumpy potatoes LOL”. It’s like a lovely little dinner party. With strangers. Who you can’t see.
And that’s why we love it. Because it brings people together. All we lonely, desperate, romantic misfits, searching for something to believe in, searching for something to belong to, searching for something to make us feel superior to our fellow human beings.
We who felt that the entertainment industry had left us behind with all its Twilights and Lady Gagas and Richard Wilkinses. MasterChef is something for us. It doesn’t have graphic violence, or gratuitous sex, or constant obscenity – hopefully in Season Three – but what it has is the ability to transport us, just for an hour, into a magical wonderland of pots and pans and whisks and constantly flowing tears.
It makes us believe that dreams can come true, but that usually they don’t, because they are mercilessly crushed beneath the heel of heartless celebrities following arbitrary rules and asking stupid questions like “What’s in this cake?”
And in this scary, heartbreaking world, sometimes the knowledge that there are people out there having their lives destroyed on national television is all that keeps me going.
Follow Ben’s hilarious Masterchef Tweets here.
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