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MasterChef Australia (2009)
Reality

MasterChef Australia is a Logie Award-winning Australian competitive cooking game show based on the original British MasterChef. It is produced by Shine Australia and screens on Network Ten. Restaurateur and chef Gary Mehigan, chef George Calombaris and food critic Matt Preston serve as the show's main judges. Journalist Sarah Wilson hosted the first series, however her role was dropped at the end of the series.

MasterChef Australia (2009)

The Monk’s Government

The basic idea here is that the fundamental story in life is as a contest. Everything is a competition, and every competition has a single winner. The intrigue in observing such a story is the level of character brought to the context. We are supposed to glorify the effort if we judge it worthy, comforting ‘good losers‘ as they affirm the honour of having competed.

With this notion, you can bring the idea of competition to the basics of life. So it was no surprise to me on a visit to Australian TeeVee to discover a contest brought to one of the most basic gifts in life: the ability to enhance the human encounter by preparing food. Yes, I know there is a distance when the process is industrialized, where the chef is a paid craftsman producing for anonymous eaters in another room. But even then, the values are to serve the experience of the people consciously gathering to share one of the three most intimate encounters we have.

What we have is a setup that shoehorns cooking into a competition. I understand these shows are popular worldwide, so that fundamental story of life a contest trumps all. We have exotic locations and challenges. We have a self-important ‘food critic,‘ carrying an obnoxious, superior attitude as if we could really trust him. His authority is shored up by real celebrated Australian chefs who are fine with the additional celebration and the role as winners in a higher level contest. The one I saw is someone whose food I have eaten.

This comment is on season three, episodes 11 and 12. In the first of these, contestants are flown to New York‘s Harlem to compete in cooking ‘soul food.‘ For international readers who don’t know, the role this food plays is identical to food in any other ethnic community; it binds tribes with the only metric being how ‘genuine‘ it is. It has to be prepared by black Americans using cheap, usually unhealthy, ingredients. Intuition and tradition are supposed to guide the cook, removing this food from any notion in a fine chef‘s world. In the same way that it is ‘genuinely black‘ to rely on folk wisdom instead of a college eduction, cooking soul food is something like teaching an elite physicist to dance. A soul food restaurant is supposed to simply be a wise old woman‘s kitchen.

So that show was weird, especially our bumpfy judge sitting amongst the now dead wise old woman‘s family, judging the food.

But that was tame stuff compared to the show that followed. The competitors were to present meals to the Dalai Lama for his judgment!

The disconnect here is amazing, and I spent a whole day wondering what this meant for the fabric of the universe. The tulku had recently ceded his political role to the thugs in Beijing, signalling the end of the only spiritual government left. He also had made some — to me — disturbing pronouncements on torture, human rights and his own anticipated future incarnation. Perhaps he had lost his mantra. Perhaps those of us who are not serious practitioners but who understand his world would not even have what he represents any more. Was he really committed to ending the dreams of a striving soul based on the relative lack of pleasure that soul could deliver on demand?

As it turns out, his presence so completely overwhelmed the trivial concept of the show that this was never an issue. He peacefully said that he was a simple monk, and all such monks were to be thankful for what was placed before him. He blessed the contestants and left. Apparently he was in Melbourne for some meeting of religious leaders, so some of them were his ‘guests‘ at the table, with no compunction about being judges. Their role in society is as sanctimonious judges and there was no problem satisfying the complex ordering: two best (one superior), two ‘safe‘ and three ‘at risk‘ one of whom would subsequently be ruled unworthy. However, one of those had a property inherited (I think) from Dungeons and Dragons: elective one-time immunity in battle. Will she use it?

The whole thing is disturbing. But I can see the appeal. The producers are happy for the main judge to be a man we despise, and they spend inordinate time presenting the innate goodness of the contestants, who we are reminded are ‘just like us.‘

Without much experience in sorting out which is the least damaging waste of time on TeeVee, I can report (as sanctimonious judge myself) that this was interesting if seen as a contest for finding the right form of contest. I am lucky to have seen how a great soul walked through this.

Posted in 2011

Ted’s Evaluation — 2 of 3: Has some interesting elements.

IMDB

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