There’s a reason this is the best season of Masterchef

Spoiler alert: it's not about the hibachi.

I still remember watching the first season of Masterchef Australia at a time when twelve-year-old me decided that Julie Goodwin was a legend and Poh Ling Yeow had the coolest hair ever. Eleven years later, I am happy to report these conclusions have stood the test of time — and so has Masterchef.

Sure, the series went through a bit of a rough patch over the past few years. Viewership dropped, the format became a bit tired, and a change was needed. But the announcement of an upheaval so radical that the three core judges were swapped out for entirely new faces was a bold move. Fast forward to the pressure point of the 2020 season and it’s fair to say that gamble has well and truly paid off.

Everyone is talking about Masterchef: Back to Win. If I miss the live show and find myself watching the catch-up episode afterwards, staying off Twitter and Instagram is a must. Social media simply becomes a minefield of spoilers. Every headline, every tweet, every hibachi meme is circulated with a rapidly growing audience. The consensus is clear: the country has fallen in love with this cooking contest all over again.

But is it too easy to say the updated judging trio is the reason for Masterchef’s renewed success? Is it a cop out to place its comeback solely on the shoulders of the cooks, chefs and fan favourites of past seasons who are back to win? 

Frankly, the answer is yes. There are a hundred things I could point to in an effort to explain exactly why this season is superior to all those that came before, but I won’t. In the end, what it boils down to is this: Masterchef has finally discovered the Great British Bake Off secret to enduring, memorable, and absolutely addictive reality television.

The secret? It’s a little thing called kindness.

Of course, it would be woefully ignorant to pretend that Masterchef hasn’t carried itself proudly for the past eleven years, complete with a dash of drama added to the script here and there. To say it has walked blindly through the perils of reality television and emerged on the other side through pure, dumb luck would be doing the show a disservice. These producers know what they’re doing, and they do it well. It’s lasted this long for a reason, but it also dipped in ratings for a reason. You could attribute the shift in its popularity to any number of factors. In my eyes, what it boils down to is this: the landscape of reality television is shifting. Perhaps not for the drama-fuelled programmes, where instant marriages and love on islands appears to have found an eternal appeal, but in the world of cooking competitions, it’s a whole new ball game.

We’re no longer craving the kind of content that sees contestants butt heads, shout redacted obscenities and engage in passive aggressive arguments for the better half of an hour-long rollercoaster of television. In 2020, what we want is something to root for — and Masterchef offers this in spades.

The contestants are friends. Real life, proper friends; not a group of people making false acquaintances for the sake of television. Reece and Brendan have referred to each other as “bestie” so often that I’m ready to write a script for their inevitable buddy-cop film. Jess didn’t hesitate to offer Amina instruction when the loss of a recipe caused chaos in the kitchen. The amount of times I’ve seen contestants ask to use ingredients from another person’s bench and that person easily hand over said food warms my heart. 

This is not a contest; this is a community.

At the end of the day, cooking is about teamwork (unless you’re Reynold, in which case I would trust you to create a three-course meal for 100 people entirely on your own). It’s about working together and learning from one another. It’s the practice of trusting someone’s judgement and bringing a shared vision to life purely for the love of what you do. There is something special about watching this unfold on your TV screen five nights a week. The fact that we’re invited to watch this camaraderie without the usual mandatory squabbles and drama intersecting every heartfelt moment is so wonderfully refreshing.

Masterchef is my happy place. When I want a slice of drama, I’ll happily binge a season of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. But when I’m looking for comfort and kindness, for mateship and joy in its purest form, you can bet I’ll be turning to the achingly familiar on-screen kitchen each week. 

And I’ll be loving every minute. 

Image via Network 10/Masterchef Australia.

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