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Masterchef U.S.A. vs Masterchef Australia

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Masterchef is a cooking competition where the contestants – generally amateur home cooks with some other professional background – compete against each other in various cooking challenges over several episodes. The focus of the cooking is generally high-end “refined” cuisine, and the standards for such are relatively high, although any kind of basic or elementary test can take place. In each episode (or at the end of a series of challenges) a “pressure” or elimination test sends home the least successful contestant in that test, as judged by the show’s hosts, until by the end only one remains: the season’s Masterchef.

This article is about the American and Australian versions of Masterchef. I’ve been watching both of these shows recently, and have done so for quite some time. As reference (the shows might be farther ahead in your country than in mine) at the time of this writing the American season 4 is being broadcast, while the Australian is near the end of season 3. While both shows follow roughly the same format, there are many differences to them.


The three main Australian hosts and judges,  Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston, can at times be loud, pushing, tough motivators, and harsh judges – but, nonetheless, they are essentially very sweet people. They give tips to the contestants mid-challenge, and on occasion may actually help them in moments of crisis, when the situation is desperate and demands so.

In no other situation is their true nature more glaring, than in the judging and the elimination itself. When it comes to revealing the outcome of the tests and who has been eliminated, all hosts in any Masterchef show purposely pause and delay the announcements, or otherwise speak with some flair and drama (it’s either performed that way on purpose, or done in editing). But, the Australian judges do to take a lot of tender and care when speaking out that someone has been eliminated, often asking the eliminated contestant his positive experiences in the competition, and mentioning good things they tasted and saw from him.

When speaking about a less successful (or failed) dish, at least one of the judges will attempt to soothe the disillusioned contestant with a positive aspect of his end product, his idea, or effort. I feel they understand that, while it’s a show based on eliminations, and the intention of it is to feed off the emotional drama somewhat, I also sense that they are fundamentally compassionate people, and that don’t really derive pleasure from rubbing failure in someone else’s face. The American version, on the other hand…

The hosts of the American Masterchef, Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot, are sometimes very keen on gorging in drama wherever and whenever they can – especially Ramsay and Bastianich, Elliot oftentimes playing the ‘nice guy’ to balance things out. Bastianich has a trademark douche move: throwing a particularly failed dish at the trash bin with some force, making a loud bang and sending pieces of food and dishware flying across the air. Ramsay… well, Ramsay has a lot of good things about him, but I feel these kind of competitions, and especially in this show, bring out the worst of him and of his ego.

Ramsay never misses a chance to mess with the contestants. On more than one occasion I felt it was Ramsay who truly had the de facto final world on who stays and who leaves. He almost always uses curve balls when announcing who’s eliminated and who’s safe, for example saying “it’s time for you to go now… upstairs”. I personally feel this is particularly indelicate and disrespectful to the contestants, who are already wreck balls of nerves for being tested on a television show.

The Shows’ Mindsets

The American version consistently tries to pit contestants against each other, into the down and dirty of competition, and feed off the drama. Ramsay may often explicitly suggest a contestant, who has been given some advantage or power for winning a contest, to harm or impair its adversaries in any way they can, on purpose, for the sake of strategy.

As the judges go around the stations mid-contest and speak to the busy and trying-to-focus contestants,  you’ll consistently her them ask “who do you think is going home?”, or “who do you think doesn’t belong here?”. Obviously if you do engage with that line of questioning you’ll inevitably create hurtful, caustic remarks that will brew petty bickering and conflict. Calling anyone out in this manner is disrespectful and indelicate, borderline bullying. This is the environment fostered in the U.S. version of Masterchef.

This is something you don’t see on the Australia version. The question you’ll hear asked the most will be “is this the dish that will take you to the next round?”: always about yourself, never about someone else. Ethically delicate situations, such as a contestant deciding to save himself or an adversary from a tough situation, tend to be dealt much more sensibly, often giving more time for the contestant to think. And above all else, never (that I’ve seen) actually suggesting someone to purposefully harm another. Even if a contestant is given a strategic choice, and takes an option that benefits himself while making life more difficult to another, this is rarely rubbed in anyone’s face or blown to the wind. At most, it’s observed or commented in a cautious manner.

Contestants in the American version, in mid-game interviews, will consistently brash about who they’ll take out next, who is their biggest competition, or otherwise who’s their animosity directed to. Just how much of this results from deliberate editing, I don’t know. Nevertheless the questions asked by the interviewer off screen (not shown) will have a significant role in setting the tone for the contestant’s attitude – and this is the tone set for the U.S. show.

Despite still being a competition, Australia’s Masterchef will very rarely foster any sort of explicit rivalry, instead focusing on the task at hand. Contestants know who they’re up against, and recognize the strongest cooks – but the energy of animosity is fairly low. Winning or losing, contestants are fairly focused on their own plate, on their own challenges, and behave honorably towards each other (and are allowed to do so). You’ll see them often treating each other in a friendly, warm manner, backstage and in the house they share outside the competition.

Grace, or Lack Thereof

In Australia Masterchef, there’s a specific challenge where a contestant faces off against a professional chef. The prize for this, should the amateur win against the professional, is an immunity pin, which he can be expended at any point in the competition to evade any one future elimination challenge altogether the contestant finds himself in. The American version has nothing of the sort. But what I’d like to observe is that, the amateur cook is more or less allowed, and expected, to ask for advice and learn from the adversary professional, including during the challenge itself, and the professional usually and graciously helps out the amateur, since they’re usually cooking one of the professional chef’s signature dishes, or otherwise something related to him.

I find this aspect wonderful, harmonic, because not only are you giving the amateur cook more of an equal footing with the professional, but you’re being gracious and gentle, in a way that it conveys that, ultimately, the learning process and the person’s path is what’s truly more important, rather than one single challenge. While the professional is quite obviously putting his reputation on the line by risking losing with an amateur on television, still, there’s almost always total absence of that hard-as-nails competitive-negative attitude towards each other. Gracious comes from Grace, a subtle yet powerful energy.

A proper victor should win because their dishes were better. Not because he was able to “take out” an opponent, or made someone else’s life more difficult. Even in a competition, you can either focus on your strengths and in yourself, or you can try to take away the other contestant’s energy. One is positive, the other is negative, and there’s no way around this. The more a show tries to add drama and pressure by generating conflict, the more the level of energy drops. And this is something I don’t like to see.

Drama is totally unnecessary in life. Drama is an energy of bathing yourself in filth, of walking in circles feeding on someone else’s energy, but never actually progressing yourself. Any environment that feasts, encourages, and purposely goes after drama, drops its vibration considerably. It may seem that it’s toughening up people by giving them hard lessons – but it actually takes you away from peaceful, calm, focused energy, that intents to actually get things done individually.

The principle of adding pressure to bring out the best of someone, or to see “who’s the best”, is always negative. It may be a part of lesson on Earth, but it’s just that: the bad part of lesson. An experience might allow for lesson; but the lesson does not justify the experience. Being drafted as a World War II infantry soldier would have undoubtedly provided an intense opportunity for growth and maturing – but that doesn’t mean we should foster war. Or even so much as tolerate it. Rather, we’d be better off by preventing war altogether, and invest in peaceful solutions for personal growth instead. I don’t wish to compare cooking with war; but I hope you get the gist of what I mean.

I acknowledge and respect the value of hardship. However lessons are meant to end at some point, and after that, one becomes intolerant to the lesson’s catalyst. In this sense, I am intolerant to this negative form of competition in the U.S. show. Life may be tough; but ultimately life is something you direct and navigate through with no need to this added negative stimulus. I don’t see any necessity for a pressuring competitive environment such as this, and I wish for this perspective to disappear as quickly as possible.

Contestants’ Learning and Progression

I don’t wish to convey the black-and-white picture of the Australian version being 100% rosy and perfect and the American one being utter filth. I watch them both and I can enjoy their multiple facets. I don’t expect “perfect”, simply because that doesn’t exist. But, in comparison with its American counterpart, the Australian show it’s miles away and above in terms of energy and “goodness”.

A season of the American show lasts around 15-25 episodes, while the Australian counterpart lasts for about 60 – 90 (!). Too much? The Australian show takes its time, but without becoming boring. While if you pay attention to the American episodes, the overall editing, background music and effects, camera shot transitions, and so forth, all instills a high level of anxiety, stress, and hurry. Everything is very stressful, very important, and very fast. The Australian ones, while there’s also some of that, there’s also have plenty of pleasant and cool-down moments as well. During the cooking challenges the contestant can take the time to explain to the camera what’s happening, or talk to the judges. There’s sometimes blind tasting situations, where food is served to the judge panel in a different room than the challenges’s main kitchen area.

I assume that in both programs the contestants are given off-screen some access to a diversity of culinary books and information – if not even training of some sort –  that they can study in their spare time behind the scenes and between episodes. If nothing else, surely they’ll have time to study by themselves in-between episodes. But the evolution throughout the show of the home cooks over time, is by far more visible in the Australian program than the American one. There’s a greater degree of learning, of care, and of finesse. In Masterchef America, the good contestants will always be good, and the mediocre, mediocre. There’s always a relatively fixed rate of success/failures from each person’s deliveries, which remains fairly constant as long as the person remains in the contest.

Masterchef Australia is a marathon. You will know, by the sheer length of it and its multiple types of challenges, that the people that reach its final stages will be the real deal. And indeed, after a point you’ll see them cooking some incredibly fancy and refined stuff by themselves – to the eyes of a layman anyway. Contestants learn a lot during the show, and with an incredibly long and demanding contest, you can clearly notice it by the end of a Masterchef Australia series.

Some episodes of the Australian version are entirely devoted to a Masterclass, an episode where the judges teach recipes and techniques to the contestants, by demonstration, with no judging or challenge whatsoever taking place. The American one has nothing of this either. U.S. finalists can sometimes deliver complex dishes by the end of the show; but because the show is much shorter and haphazard, and it wastes so much time on bickering and conflict, I consider their evolution much less visible overall.

Boot Camp vs Culinary School

The American show is more like a military  boot camp, a rough and potentially humiliating obstacle course, with a everyone-for-themselves and everyone-against-each-other mentality. All the while, the Australian show looks, sounds, and feels, much more like a mentoring training ground, a competitive and harsh, yet fair and honoring, culinary school.

Masterchef Australia showcases every contestant in a cutesy pose on the show’s opening sequence, while the American one… doesn’t show anything at all. The first show updates the audience on the current life situation whenever a contestant is eliminated, while the American one… nothing.

The contestants are respected and honored as individuals in the Australian show, while the exact opposite happens with the American one. The U.S. version, at least compared to the Australian one, comes across as a stripped down, fast-paced, yet frugal and much more violent version of the latter.

The overall consciousness level of the Australian Masterchef is much higher than that of the American one.

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