For a show based solely around cooking, MasterChef has surpassed expectations worldwide to become one of the most entertaining reality TV franchises out there. This makes it all the more disappointing that a show so compelling and so popular, often has something seemingly suspicious going on behind the scenes. Although fantastic in what it achieves, MasterChef is absolutely and utterly fake. The show has done better in recent years in reducing the amount of suspicious behaviour mentioned, but MasterChef U.S. went through a spell of events a few years ago, that left fans with a bitter taste in their mouth. This is when allegations of the show being fake all began. While its closest competitor – Top Chef – operates by working with real top chefs, who have already reached a relative amount of success in the food industry, MasterChef works with home-cooks just trying to make it in the world. This leads to a striking difference between the casting of the two shows, as the former just casts good chefs whether or not they make for compelling TV, while the latter relies on having entertaining personalities, often ignoring the best home-cooks on the show if they can’t meet that same level of entertainment. Top Chef is a competition first and a show second, but MasterChef is a show first and a competition second. This article examines the various ways in which the American version of MasterChef often looks guilty of being a hoax.
Focusing On The Show, Not The Competition
Because MasterChef relies on producing a good TV watching experience, far too many fantastic cooks have gone home in place of contestants who just simply make for better TV. Take Season 7’s Terry Mueller for example. The 40-year old handyman was the season’s front runner for a large majority of the season, quietly making stunning dish after stunning dish. Only problem was, he was a wallflower. So the moment he made one mediocre dish, he was eliminated. This was in place of contestants like Nathan and Dan who probably had half the culinary talent as Terry. Admittedly, Nathan and Dan were two of the only reasons worth watching season seven. It was one of the show’s most disappointing ever and one could sympathize with Gordon and co wanting to keep anyone who could provide entertainment value. That being said, this kind of focus on the show and not the competition, has always opened the American version of the show up for criticism. Its closest competitor on the other hand in Top Chef eliminates the cook who made the worst dish each episode whether they are the show’s star character or just wallpaper, blending into the background.
Need more proof? Remember when the loud and obnoxious Leslie Gilliams made it all the way to the final three in Season 5 for seasoning every single protein with just salt and pepper? Or back to the notoriously bad Season 7 when despite being up for elimination almost every single episode, the narcissistic David Williams made it all the way to the finale. This can be seen time and time again and practically every single fan of the show has picked up on it at this point as the show continues to lose viewers to other reality shows.
Another incredibly obvious formula for eliminating contestants on MasterChef arises out of an attempt for constant gender equivalency. One of the main problems the judges ran into on Season 7 was in eliminating so many females early on. When the show got down to the final nine, only three female contestants remained, which created a massive problem. That was one of the key factors in Terry’s elimination, as it was for fireman Eric Howard in the same episode as well. The highly untalented Tanorria Askew (who?) meanwhile made it all the way to the final four to make for an equal 2:2 gender ratio; something that has been chemically produced in seven of the nine seasons so far. This also became highly obvious in Season 5, where this time it was the men who were far less talented. The aforementioned Leslie and ‘Cutter’ – the man who had been up for elimination for what seemed like the entire latter half of the competition, cruised into the final four. This was in place of highly talented baker Jaimee Vitolo, as there was only enough producer-filled female slots for Courtney and Elizabeth towards the end of the competition.
Across seven seasons of the American version of the show, only two contestants have really achieved top success in the field. This doesn’t necessarily contribute to making the show “fake” but it does make the season very pointless at times to watch.
Take Becky Reams for example. With seven challenge wins, Becky was easily the most consistent and probably the best competitor on Season 3 of the American show. After she was eliminated just before the finale in third place, Gordon Ramsay was quick to offer her a place in any restaurant of her choosing, something he actually hasn’t done that often across any of his programs. Instead, she’s stuck to a career in photography and the farthest she’s managed in the food industry is a very discreet food blog.
Most contestants who do well on the show and don’t just go back to their everyday lives opt to open up food trucks or small scale catering businesses rather than bothering with the hassle of trying to open a restaurant. Season 4 winner Luca Manfe is one such contestant with his truck “The Lucky Fig” while Elizabeth Cauvel has served almost solely as a menu consultant.
Of the 175 contestants to compete on the American version of the show, only three have achieved a high amount of success in the food industry. That’s season 1 winner Whitney Miller (above), a former NFL’er who was already famous before his reign on the show in Eddie Jackson and perhaps more surprisingly, season 3’s fifth place finisher Monti Carlo (below). Christine Ha could be thought of as relatively successful, but her post-show stardom has rather unfortunately revolved more around her being an inspiration for the visually impaired than being an amazing chef.
Season 1 winner Whitney Miller has achieved a high amount of success in the field, mostly through her writing but also through acting as a judge on a multitude of different cooking shows and platforms. She also currently works at a top Florida restaurant in Orlando. Eddie Jackson meanwhile has hosted or been a judge on several shows on the Food Network. Not necessarily what a former MasterChef contestant would hope for but it’s better than most. Other than Whitney and Eddie, the only other contestant who has used MasterChef as a platform to really make it into the food industry is Season 3’s fifth place finisher, Monti Carlo. Monti Carlo has been quite the blogger since MasterChef ended. Her website islandgirlcooks.com has turned into a business venture where she conducts cooking classes country-wide. She also hosts Food Network’s Help my Yelp and previously hosted A&E’s Make My Food Famous.
Three successful contestants out of more than a hundred-fifty, renders the show almost pointless to watch as even the best of the best seem to fail to truly make it deep into the industry.
To its many faults, MasterChef USA still manages to produce a highly entertaining television program. But it’s biggest controversy and the point at which most fans started to realize that the reality show may not be all that real, arose out of the back-to-back winners of season five and season six.
Although season five winner Courtney Lapresi may have been the most talented contestant on the season or at least second to Elizabeth, by the rules of the competition, she should have gone home really early on after a fatal mistake in just the third episode. Towards the end of the season it was also extremely evident that she was encouraged by the judges to save herself from pressure tests and fans were outraged all season long as she constantly won challenges despite her dishes often really not seeming up to par. She ended up winning the season and for many viewers of the show, this author included, she was a deserving winner of the show. But the problem was that her fellow finalist, Elizabeth Cauvel, had dominated the entire season with what still holds as a record amount of challenge wins. A heavy amount of backlash arose thereafter and the primary suggestion from viewers was that Courtney received the money over Elizabeth because she simply needed it so much more, as it would help her quit her job as an “aerial dancer” (stripper).
Even worse though was Claudia’s finale win in season six. Derrick Peltz had been the front runner all season long and although very young, he might have been the best home-cook the show has ever seen. At the series finale it came down to Derrick and Claudia Sandoval, an “events manager” of very poor background who had stuck to cooking Mexican cuisine the entire competition and never really stepped outside her boundaries. Despite being slammed by the judges at the finale for playing it safe and producing very simple Mexican dishes rather than blowing them away like Derrick had done, Claudia ended up winning the season. This came just moments after Claudia received criticism for serving a tamale in the same round that Derrick produced a stunning braised pork belly. The edit that the show presented the viewers was that Derrick had outclassed Claudia in the finale, just like he had done all season. Yet somehow Claudia still won. Her win sparked confusion and outrage among the fan base, with a countless number of articles calling the season “rigged” and a multitude of petitions going live to “make the show fair.” Although Claudia was a very talented home cook, she had not performed better during the season nor on finale night and Derrick deserved to sweep away the title. But the suggestion at the time was that if Claudia hadn’t won, her daughter would go hungry, while drummer Derrick would be fine and continue to have a good, privileged life. She also as one writer put it “had a natural built in sob story”, because of her background and single-mom status, whereas Derrick winning may have been less easy for casual fans to empathize with.
This has been the major controversy with the show over the years and although there are laws permitting reality game shows from being rigged, it seems MasterChef continues to skate by through some suspicious acts.
Although an amazing television program, MasterChef continues to disappoint fans with its scripted eliminations and unjustified winners. Unfortunately for the successful show, it pales in comparison to other reality television productions and even Top Chef, which focuses almost entirely on making a good competition, has the potential to produce a better product.
So what do you think? Is MasterChef rigged? Is it fake? Let me know your thoughts in the comments section below. See you next time!
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To read the follow-up piece to this article see ->
Why I Wrote ‘Why MasterChef Is Fake’