I have disagreed with the judges’ decisions on MasterChef in the past, but never so much as in the last few weeks of this season, culminating in a finale decision that has many fans, myself included, outraged by the result.
Rigged? Possibly, but that’s not my main issue. Yes, it was suspiciously convenient that the winner was ultimately decided by the final vote of the final judge – and when that single point difference gets the winner a quarter of a million dollars, it’s a bit tough to swallow. But that’s the name of the game, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against Diana. She seems to be a fine cook and, like every other contestant, perfectly likable. Although I was rooting for Ben, this is not a case of me simply identifying with the runner-up and being a sore loser. It is, rather, a viewer (and home cook)’s indignation over the huge discrepancy between the judges’ comments on the final dishes, and the points they awarded the two contestants. And even more than that, it’s a case of obvious and blatant favoritism, for whatever reason, towards Diana over Ben.
Both contestants didn’t start to shine until well into the pointy end of the competition, but what quickly became clear was they were both in the running for a spot in finals week. But aren’t the judges supposed to award points for creativity and overall progress? How is it that someone who’s always cooking simple seafood dishes, that require little preparation and basic technique (and are, in their majority, just a piece of fish or crustacean with greens floating in broth), keeps getting such positive feedback, when they show very little evolution?
And, on the flip side, how is it that someone who didn’t even cook desserts before entering the competition, has proven to consistently make spectacular sweet dishes, especially ice creams, time and again, using unique flavors and showcasing incredible technique, and yet doesn’t get half the recognition he deserved for his progress?
For the last few days of MasterChef Season 9, it was apparent to me that the scales were constantly tipped in Diana’s favor, and I couldn’t for the life of me understand what, exactly, about her dishes wowed the judges to such a degree. Delicious though they may have been – and, sadly, I can’t really weigh in on the flavor – they just didn’t look finale-worthy dishes to me. How does simply braising a piece of (already delicious Wagyu beef) in soy and oyster sauce score extra points when there’s zero difficulty involved, other than covering a pan with aluminum foil and chucking it in the oven for a couple of hours? And how does painstakingly preparing several different components in unique ways NOT score higher?
Yes, everyone’s tastes are different, and obviously these judges are at the top of their game. But while I trust their palates and while I agree that it all comes down to taste, there’s definitely something to be said for variety and technique, not to mention improvement over the course of the competition. Ben ticked all the boxes, whereas Diana did not, if we’re to trust the judges comments: always focusing on the flavor of her dishes, never mentioning technique, often using the word ‘simple’ to describe them.
After several episodes of blatant favoritism, I almost didn’t want to watch the finale because I knew what was coming. I actually held off for a couple of days, in an attempt to go in with the open mind the judges seemed to lack.
Alas, my gut feeling was confirmed: Diana’s dish in the first round scored perfect 10s, leaving Ben, with his unfortunate injury, trailing behind. What was the amazing winning dish, you ask? Abalone fried in chicken fat, a piece of crispy chicken skin, and a green juice that was basically nasturtium leaves and chinese broccoli. Wow. Surely knowing how to use a blender to juice some vegetables deserves higher marks than making ice cream, baking shortbread, candying bacon, making mousse and preparing grapes two ways, while having your sliced finger bandaged and losing precious time, right? Can I get an eyeroll? (and by the way, it’s not like they had any complaints about the flavors in Ben’s dish – quite the contrary, in fact. But for some unknown reason, Diana just had to win that one).
Round two was even more infuriating: Diana dipped some shrimp in oatmeal and panko, fried them, and served them with pickles. How is that MasterChef finale worthy? Ben made ice cream, speculoos and butternut squash three ways, Gary said he’s never had a better dish featuring these flavors, and yet he doesn’t give him a 10. How is that fair?
And then, of course, the final dish in round #3: Kirsten Tibbals’ trio of ‘fruit’. I’ve always felt that these ‘pressure test’ dishes aren’t the ideal way to judge a cook’s abilities, but at least it’s as objective as it gets when it comes to judging, right? Well, not quite.
Both Ben and Diana failed at one component, so both started with a handicap. Diana’s dish looked sloppy, whereas Ben’s looked perfect, according to our judges and our eyes. Both nailed their flavors, but Diana’s layers inside the fruits were not as defined as Ben’s; her mandarin was almost impossible to cut through. Ben’s only mistake was a slightly thicker chocolate coating on his pear. So how exactly does Diana snag a 9 from the last judge, which was, quite conveniently, the points she needed in order to win?
To say I’m annoyed would be an understatement. And as much as I’ve loved MasterChef in the past, I don’t think I’ll be watching again next year. So very disappointing.
One last thing about how these competitions are judged: if you’re going to show favoritism and not be objective, in other words, not choose the winner who DESERVES it the most, then the least you could do is choose the one who NEEDS it more. And MC AU failed in that respect too.
It’s my main gripe about talent shows in general: I don’t care how talented you are, if you’re in your late teens or early twenties, you have your whole life ahead of you to try and make your mark in your field. You can work hard and climb the ladder like the rest of us, not cut corners, expect a head start and have success basically handed to you. Sure, no one will deny the easier way if offered, but who might actually benefit the most off such an opportunity: the younger, unattached professional who has all the time in the world to work in a kitchen and gain experience, or the older family man or woman, who has too many responsibilities to try and switch careers and work low-paying jobs while trying to support his/her family?
My point is, if you’re going to use double standards when judging such a competition, then at least choose the right contestant to favor. And, for fuck’s sake, try and have your critique of the dishes correspond with the points you award, or you’ll have plenty of fans crying ‘rigged!’ and boycotting the show’s next season, myself included.