This week the latest run of MasterChef comes to an end. Thank God. It’s been dismal. And I say that as someone who used to be a big fan. The old Loyd Grossman-fronted format was jazzed up way back in 2005. New MasterChef was fresh and sparky, and contributed in no small part to people’s increased interest in eating well. But, just like the apocryphal saying that in London you’re never more than 20 yards from a rat, in TV terms you’re never more than a few months away from a new series of MasterChef. With its ‘Celebrity’, ‘Professionals’ and even ‘Junior’ spin-off editions, it has become as much a fixture of the BBC schedules as EastEnders, only without the murders and adultery to keep things interesting.
This recent run has highlighted just how tired the format has become. There is a ridiculous number of episodes (25 in all), which are so repetitious (cooking for critics, doing stints in posh restaurants, mass-catering assignments blah, blah, blah) and so packed with contestants as to be utterly mind-numbing. Part of the problem is also that the food we often see being cooked doesn’t bear any relation to the food most people will eat when they go out or cook when they’re at home.
The presenters have become an issue, too. John Torode seems utterly bored and vaguely melancholic. I’d be too if I’d eaten as many lukewarm duck breasts smeared with cauliflower puree as he has. Over the years, he has aged in that pitiful way Tony Blair did after his long stint as Prime Minister; sallow skin, grey hair and a haunted look in his eye. Gregg Wallace, on the other hand, has somehow managed to keep up that relentlessly chirpy persona of his (‘Wahey, look at that!’ is one of his catchphrases, like a Sid James who gets excited by grilled fish rather than busty nurses). I admire his commitment but can’t share his enthusiasm.
There are still a few things I’ve enjoyed in the show, but none of them are food related: Of the recent run, the football fan in me has liked how the contestants have been constantly referred to by their professions (‘Bank manager Kenny’) in the way plucky non-league players are talked about in the build-up to a big FA Cup tie. There was also a laugh to be had at one point at the cooks’ underwhelming reaction to the news that their food was about to be tried by none other than (wait for it)… BBC media editor Amol Rajan.
I’ve watched this series out of habit and a misguided sense of loyalty – as a Brentford fan, I’m used to sticking with lost causes. And because, with a new baby to look after at home, I’ve been in need of something mindless to watch. And, boy, has this been mindless. MasterChef, I’m sorry to say, has been well and truly overdone.