This is a show that has always embraced a global spirit, but this year it’s a smorgasboard of diversity.
Amongst the 22 finalists are faces with heritage from Indonesia, India, Italy, Laos, Thailand, and Pakistan. There are gay contestants, single mums, Muslims, senior, an opera singer, carpenter, stockman, personal trainer, and student.
Things get underway at the MCG (where the first Amazing Race Australia also began). Those three amigos, Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and a super-slim George Calombaris welcome them to a scene of great sporting battles, dividing them into men vs women teams. Unlike the reception to the show’s promo, it’s all laughed off and embraced by those at the centre of it. If they’re not offended, then maybe this won’t be so sexist after all.
After a bit of team bonding in the locker room they race onto the MCG turf -yes, including through an AFL-style flag- where they are given their first team challenge. That will involve them leaving the MCG, buying ingredients from Coles, and cooking a three course meal. But first there’s a small matter of some eggs to be sorted, in a challenge not dissimilar to a previous season.
In the supermarket we get all the Coles branding, while tempers begin to rise amongst contestants under pressure. One of the female team is a current Coles employee (now that’s what I call product placement) and has a clear advantage in snaffling her ingredients in no time. A promo that included this scene concerned me for its subtle shift in tone, but again in context it’s not quite as stark.
The Masterchef kitchen (now housed at the Melbourne showgrounds) looks warm with more trimmings than its former abode in Sydney. During team cooking, the contestants overdo the goading of one another. Either they are overly-enthusiastic, or being prodded by producers. It’s a bit hard to know if the Boys v Girls challenge will wear thin across the two weeks it appears or whether it will ramp up the jeopardy.
As is the MasterChef style, we learn more about the backgrounds of each contestant via video packages.
Samira loves her shoes and bags. Noelene is the offal queen. Michael is annoying me already but Daniel C is distractingly good looking (move over Hayden).
In the second episode you’ll peek into the new house, no clues yet on its location.
The next challenge will see them serve up a range of dishes that range from excellent to gross. There’s not much cohesion yet, but it’s early days.
There’s a good rapport between judges and contestants and this group is upbeat if not necessarily grasping the canyons they will have to cross if they have any hope of holding our attention and making it to the end.
Balancing the mix of drama, personality, authenticity and cuisine is the challenge for the producers.
MasterChef is like mum’s chicken soup. It will warm your insides just enough for you to think about asking for seconds.
Masterchef Australia airs 7:30pm Sunday – Wednesday on TEN.