Tim Dunlop laments Masterchef’s return of the eliminata

Tim Dunlop is one of the granddaddies of Australian blogging, and I’m not just saying that because it was his “Blogrolling” column in the Fairfax press that made me decide to go and investigate these “blog” things six or so years ago. He’s a serious home cook, and his current gig is writing Crikey’s excellent music blog Johnny’s in the Basement, where he has recommended music to sharpen knives to.

So the producers of the hit show have done again this year what they did last year: given a bunch of contestants who were eliminated a second chance to win the crown.

However, unlike last year, (where, as they showed in Monday night’s show) the returning contestants were welcomed back warmly, this year’s contestants were not happy to see four losers from earlier rounds reinstated. In fact, the decision went down like a cup of cold sick (or one of Joanne’s sauces).

As this is the most important thing in the world, let me offer a few thoughts.

It sucks. No way should eliminated contestants be allowed back in.

I think this is especially the case when the entire show is predicated on, not just going through the normal rounds of competition where, at various points you risk elimination, but because one of the key rewards in the show, once you win a particular challenge, is the chance to wear the immunity pin. Short of the title itself, that is, being crowned Masterchef of Australia, the immunity pin is held up as the ultimate accolade and symbol of achievement.

Under such circumstances it makes no sense to allow those who were eliminated back in. It completely devalues the reward and advantage that comes with winning an immunity pin.

In effect, the producers are giving a one-off immunity pin to people who have lost challenges.

Allowing the eliminata back, to my way of thinking, is not only a breach of faith with contestants who have got to this point in the challenge, it’s a breach of faith with the audience. Are we playing by the rules and spirit of the game or aren’t we? Apparently not.

I also think it was borderline cruel to make the contestants themselves the vehicle for the return of the three smallest losers. This just seemed a sneaky way to co-opt the contestants in their own tragedy, as if the judges/producers were implying, hey, even you thought they were good enough to be here.

Beyond all this, I think the producers are playing a dangerous game. It was clear from last night’s previews that they intend to play up the fact that those already in the house are unhappy about the failed four returning. In other words, the whole thing is being played for its controversy value in order to increase ratings.

Now, I’m not so dumb as to not realise that this is a commercial venture hellbent of maxing out the number of bums on seats watching, but there comes a point where such manipulation can become counterproductive. They are already pushing their luck with the ponderous pauses before every winner/loser/momentous development is announced, not to mention stuff like Matt’s ridiculous plate-throwing moment. It won’t take much more for them to be crossing the bridge too far.

Having said all that, I would probably be less concerned if Skye was one of those who got back in. I reckon she is better than all the eliminata and most likely better than at least Callum amongst the other remaining contestants, and probably Aaron too. In other words, part of the problem with letting people back is that those they let back really aren’t as good as the ones already there.

No matter who they have let back in, I’d guess it will end up as a showdown between Jonathan and Marion, though it depends which Jonathan shows up for the remainder of the season.

There seem to be two of him, Michelin Jonathan and McDonalds Jonathan. He either comes top or he comes bottom.

The other contender is Adam. I guess Claire is too, though she looks a bit fragile (as a cook). She is consistent, but it is consistent at a fairly middling standard. She rarely looks like she will hit one out of the park and no doubt that is what will be needed.

Anyway, bottom line is, I’m enjoying the show, but the return of eliminata is a bad move. Channel Ten need to be careful not to undermine their credibility with ill-judged gimmicks in the name of short-term ratings.

22 comments ↓

#1 Zoe on 29.06.10 at 9:53 pm

I agree completely! I’ve always liked Sundays on Masterchef best, and having Return of the eliminata night on my birthday, where I’d called in privileges and my partner was shooshing the kids off to bed was really disappointing, leading me to tweet that “Disgruntled Masterchef fan is disgruntled.”

If I were Marion, and had given up an immunity in a challenge that (in retrospect, of course) she’d have creamed, I’d be very upset. That Skye is not there, despite her obvious ability, mocks the process. That Kate was anywhere near the joint, evah, after her previous performance is a tragedy.

I can cop the WALL OF FIRE [many ads] with a mute button and twittercourse, but you wonder who this move appeals to?

#2 Injera on 29.06.10 at 10:04 pm

The return of the eliminata bothered me, too, but I hadn’t put it into the context of the immunity. The advertised “twist” was exposed fairly quickly by viewers from last year as being a return of the fallen contestants, as the same thing happened last year, but immunity wasn’t part of the mix in the first season.

The show has a fairly loose grip on being a food program – at heart, it’s a classic reality/competition show – and seems to rate well doing just that. A pity. The dramatics are wearing thin.

#3 mummycrit on 29.06.10 at 10:29 pm

Dramatics are really pissing me off, and have been since I started watching…. could definitely use more cooking on the show though.

I’m still wondering about Jonathan. I think he’s too patchy to cut it, the whole top/bottom thing is totally him, which he lived up to tonight.

#4 Helen on 29.06.10 at 10:42 pm

could definitely use more cooking on the show though. Zing!

#5 Helen on 29.06.10 at 10:45 pm

Oh! Oh! I just found my much loved Hungry Tiger in your blogroll. I’d thought it had closed down b/c I kept going back to stuttercut.org the old domain, but I see it’s a different address. What with this and Link blogging again (new horse, same colour ;-) ) my cup runneth over!

#6 Dr Sister Outlaw on 29.06.10 at 10:46 pm

Great post Tim, welcome to PDP! Quite right – I too thought that the return of the eliminata was dodgy, although even my 9 year old pointed out that last year they brought back eliminata and the way they did it this year was a bit fairer.

I’m wondering about Jonathan too – when he blows, he blows bad. But like I tweeted, he had the biggest right to be pissed off, because he despatched most of them!

I don’t like it because it does feel like it’s just prolonging the agony even further and I’m kind of into clean kills. You know, Julia versus Kevin style.

#7 Zoe on 29.06.10 at 11:26 pm

I read a Matt Preston IV in some terrible magazine where he rated the top 12. He said that Marion had been under pressure to excel, but not really under pressure to be eliminated. Jonathan is really practised at that. She may be a better cook, but he is very, very good and he knows how to keep popping up like some bizarre bobblehead. It helps situate him as having struggled, having the skills because he has done a kind of apprenticeship, which is in part why the professional chefs on the show respect each other.

In short – I would like Marion to win, but I think Jonathan will earn it.

#8 lisa on 30.06.10 at 11:36 am

Michelin Jonathan and McDonald’s Jonathan – ha ha! Dr SO – agree, if I were Jonathan and had defeated all the eliminated people I’d be pissed that they were coming back in! It was funny when they were in the kitchen making Jonathan jokes as he ate their food.

I don’t mind the return of the eliminated so much – it’s par for the course with reality shows, and it gets people talking which is of course the point.

I am still gunning for Adam and Marion because of their aforementioned hotness.

I really want to see Claire go, could there be a more boring contestant? Seriously. I always think that eating food by Claire would be like eating white bread – bland city!

#9 FDB on 30.06.10 at 2:42 pm

Point of order.

Are we talking about a singular female person-who’s-been-eliminated, or an aggregate of objects/substances eliminated?

Assuming not, eliminati is the plural form you’re after.

On the substantive point – eliminating something is a final act. If they want to let them back in on some capricious whim or to piss off those who’ve earned their place, they should call it ‘sidelining’ or something insipid.

#10 Steve on 30.06.10 at 2:52 pm

Hi Tim & Zoe-at risk of sounding like a wowser and you could question why I am even commenting on your post(nicely done BTW!) but I am over the show!

Your point about them pushing the boundaries of what we will sit through is one I started to observe at the end of the last series.

I just can’t get over the fact that the contestants are just after a fast track to fame.

Conversely I conceed that it had been a real eye opener for many viewers into the pressures of the kitchen and serving meals in general.

But I despair at the Coles and apparent Macca tie ins during ad breaks.

Where are the ethically raised, free range, sustainable, organic. regionally specific foods in the show?

I know I sound like a whinger but I’ve chosen not to buy into this ersatz drama ‘Big Masterchef Brother’

Finally though and this might sound a bit sucky but anyway, I admire and like Matt Preston, Gary is amiable and a fair judge and George is a very talented and ambitous chef/restaurateur.

If any of these contestents were really serious they should seek the council of these judges to help them secure a place in a recommended commercial kitchen, after all, it is master Chef not master cook

#11 Tim on 01.07.10 at 10:01 am

Thanks for this, Zoe and thanks, everyone, for the comments. Having watched the post-eliminati shows, it looks to me like the move has zapped some of the energy from proceedings. Maybe I’m imagining that…

Also, what did people think of the CWA recipe show? No doubt the outdoor setting and the (probably) unreliable ovens had an effect, but I was wondering how good those recipes are (that is, in terms of their instruction). Anyone seen the official versions? Seems weird that so many contestants buggered up their dishes.

Though it did remind me of a tute I ran at Uni once. Did the usual thing in the first class and got the students to introduce themselves and say something about their backgrounds. A woman who was, I’d guess, in her late fifties, spoke and she said that her passion was cooking cakes. My ears pricked up, of course.

I asked her what the most difficult cake that she had ever cooked was and she mentioned that she did a Greek syrup cake that involved many layers and some very careful timing to bring the elements together.

Then she added, “But you know, just cooking a good sponge is pretty difficult.”

It was such a telling comment from an obviously experienced cook. I hope she was watching Masterchef last night.

#12 Dr Sister Outlaw on 01.07.10 at 3:55 pm

This goes back to the basic skills thing – Adam had never made a cake at all! Aaron did not know to treat scones oh so gently!! Jimmy didn’t know to boil the shit out of the jam!!

But then Masterchef recipes are usually about quick fix pretty food, not slow cooking or patient technique. Fruit cakes cannot possibly be done in that time frame, and I’ve never seen a Napoletan cake and I grew up in the country, so yah booh sucks to Masterchef.

#13 dylwah on 02.07.10 at 12:09 am

Thanks for the post Tim. And thanks to all for keeping me posted on this show. I plead two kids under four is enough to keep anyone busy without a contest-drama to obsess about.

I cooked a lot of CWA recipes in the late 70′s and early 80′s, the cakes were a lot better after we moved 40km south of Orange and 300 m up and our house came with a wood stove. At the time I claimed it as proof of my developing skills as a cook, sadly i have never made cakes that good again and it was prob the way the stove held its heat. I reckon that wood stoves are for cakes as kettle stoves are for joints of meat, they kind of idiot proof the process as long as you can get the right amount of heat to start with.

I contemplated tiling one of my ovens a decade or so ago to try to mimic the stable heat you get from a wood stove but group houses are such ephemeral things.

#14 lisa on 02.07.10 at 4:05 pm

Was gutted when Adam said he had never baked a cake. Minus hot points for that.

#15 DameMintPattie on 03.07.10 at 1:02 pm

I don’t think we should be in any doubt – the winner won’t be the best cook (in the country or the show) but the wiliest and most lucky contenstant – previously eliminated or otherwise.

#16 mummycrit on 03.07.10 at 7:00 pm

CWA cookbook recipies are often fairly vague, but I was stunned at the total lack of ability/experience in all the contestants. It was really interesting. I’m even more pissed off about the dramatics thing after the other night’s ‘elimination challenge’ it’s all looking very very badly staged now.

#17 dogpossum on 04.07.10 at 4:22 pm

I started a phd project on the QCWA (>10 years ago, mind you), and spent some time around the badass CWA ladies and their recipes. Most of the earlier recipe books in particular assume familiarity with their approaches to measuring. And that there’s a consistency in types of butter/flour/etc. And of course that the cook is a full time wife, with lots of cooking experience (as provided by mother or sister in the pre-marital home), or with a bevvy of female relatives to call on for help. So I find the earlier recipe books difficult to use.
I think I remember that each local branch used to produce its own book of recipes, and then you’d buy them from other branches when you went to the annual state meetings or when you traveled and stayed in the CWA ‘rest houses’ or visited other CWA ladies. So you’d get regionally specific recipes (eg the one I use quite often has a lot of recipes for pineapple because of where it’s from in Qld).

So I’d be surprised if a novice cake baker could make one of the more obscure recipes work. The later recipe books can be quite posh – hardbound (rather than cheap printing and ring binding) with tested recipes.

I’m a bit tired of the contestants’ whinging on about how they’ve always dreamt of a being a chef. What they really _should_ be saying is, “I’ve always dreamt of being a _celebrity_ chef,” because it is actually possible to get cheffy apprenticeships, yeah? I mean, I’m not really buying the argument that some lawyer or financial adviser would actually like to abandon a well-paid career for a hardarse apprenticeship doing shitty jobs in shitty kitchens under sweary taskmaster chefs for years until they finally score a gig making parmas in a pub. I’m thinking that what they _really_ want is to be _just like_ Jamie or Nigella (or whichever celebrity cookbook tie-in chef MC has on this week), wearing low-cut blouses or expensive tracksuits and slapping prime organic british beef about on self-branded cookware.

The return of the uneliminated is a crock because it ruins the game. There has to be limits, or else it’s just dumb. There has to be some sort of challenge and consistent set of rules or the contestants will have to acknowledge that they really _are_ just tools in a more complex marketing project and that their work is really the _least_ important part of the entire process! And then, of course, the game is broken.

#18 Howitzer on 06.07.10 at 7:41 pm

Eliminata was okay IMO. But Skye and Marion is better and their actions disappointed me. masterchef is really a good show. Hope they feature some sort of Asian cuisine next time some Filipino recipe perhaps.

#19 dylwah on 08.07.10 at 1:41 pm

Used a CWA recipe, out of the ’76 edition of the commonsense cookery book, to make Dr Honey’s B’day cake yesterday, tried to follow it to the letter, well at least as far as “beat thirty times with a wooden spoon” and it worked well. Mummycrit is right that the recipe was a bit vague, but i kind of see it as lots of room to innovate.

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