What If MasterChef Junior, But More?
Borrowing a page from its parent show, MasterChef Junior stretches out the number of contestants that we're supposed to care about and (not really) keep track of.
I have bad news.
MasterChef Junior has opted to kick off its season by borrowing the showdown format its parent show implemented a few seasons ago. So we're starting with forty kids who are going to be winnowed down to twenty, instead of just starting with twenty.
And when I say "going to be," I mean that it'll happen eventually. By the end of this first hour, the show has just eight of the Top 20 in place. There is at least a second part to this pre-competition selection, and for all I know a third and fourth part, because very few people who work in television are familiar with the fable of the goose who laid the golden egg.
Yep. Season 5. Officially entering the "Wearing Out Its Welcome" years. I don't understand introducing us to forty kids when half of them are cannon fodder for the other half, especially when the padding lets you focus on the other things that are starting to grate, like misspelled, I mean, "creatively" spelled names. Sorry, Cydney and Justise!
Making things worse is that none of the problems with the show are the kids' fault; they're being told by producers (and parents, surely) to talk about themselves (mainly, how they're "not like other kids") in a way that, if they were a few years younger, might be precocious and cute, but now comes off as boastful. I'm happy for Donovan that he prefers salmon and squid to chicken nuggets, unlike other kids, but some of these mini-chefs could use a lesson in how that doesn't make them better than others (and, at some point, a lesson on how lucky they are salmon and squid are more feasible options for them than chicken nuggets).
And also, how dare you denigrate chicken nuggets, Donovan.
The good news, though, is that even too-special-by-half sincere kids are still much more fun to watch than adults with a more sophisticated grasp of how you're supposed to act on reality shows, so the good stuff about this show returns with the bad. I feel like Gordon Ramsay would be insufferable at this stage of his pop culture celebrity if he were only the angry, yelly chef, but the way he clearly loves working with the kids continues to be utterly charming and the heart of the show.
Tonight's episode features the kids being sent into the kitchen in batches of four to vie for the white MasterChef Junior apron that is their ticket into the competition proper, and given a challenge: bake a tart, cook some seafood, recreate Gordon's scallops, see who can keep their hands on a stove burner the longest as it heats up.
So, let's rank some things! Maybe not a lot of contestants, since WE DON'T EVEN KNOW HALF OF THEM YET, but from worst to first, some aspects of the Season 5 premiere. But first:
Thing I want to eat now: Logan's salmon tacos with heirloom cherry tomatoes, pineapple salsa, guacamole and chips.
I know he left the stem on a tomato, but I look forward to seeing what else he comes up with this sea- OH WAIT HE'S ELIMINATED.
- Kids And Their Trademark Things
Somehow, when we're introduced to a kid who has a backwards baseball cap, or a floral hairband, or a leather jacket, you just know that you're never going to see the kid without it. The more it happens, the more it feels like a cynical branding exercise to make sure we know particular contestants. We're already invested in these kids! They cry for real when they're eliminated!
- Christina Tosi's Overreactions
I know I probably harp on this possibly every episode, but when she points out a contestant has, say, had a tartlet in the oven for only six or seven minutes...
...she says it with a demeanour the rest of us would have upon learning the local children's hospital had just blown up.
- Gordon, Beloved By Children
Mentioned earlier, but I really do love the way the kids respond to this gruff adult and eat up his praise. When Cydney serves up a dark chocolate tartlet with coconut whipped cream, Ramsay leans in and whispers to her, "Christina Tosi should be worried because that is absolutely delicious."
He's mastered the art of not talking down to children while still remembering they're not adults.
- Fundraising Elisabeth
There's no getting around the fact that cooking can be a hobby that favours people with more disposable income, meaning that you don't see a lot of hard-luck stories here, unlike a show like So You Think You Can Dance, where contestants need just their bodies, talent, and determination. Not a lot of "I learned to simmer a lovely bolognese with my friends on the streets of Atlanta" here.
So that's why I'm initially rooting for Elisabeth, 9, of Sweetwater, Texas, who tells us that her family didn't have the money to get her to an audition for the show, so she cooked and cooked to raise money to pay for it.
Also, she explains that she's one of "five whole children," and then pauses before emphasizing that she and her siblings are not half-children. Then she cracks herself up.
So, with the first episode of the fifth season in the books, we now have 40% of this season's contestants identified! They are: Madison, Mackenzie, Axl, Q-Bert, and, oh, let's say, Chip. ...Okay, the real list of kids moving forward are Elisabeth, Cydney, Sydney, Donovan, Mark, Jasmine, Justise, and Gonzalo. See you next week for the next batch!