Wake me up when the Masterchef judges spit out the food they’re fed

Without the TV chef’s soul-crushing banter and gratuitous theatrics, Masterchef will be yet another TV franchise that comes to die in Malta

Hungry and fancying Masterchef Malta? Another TV franchise gets the Maltese treatment
Hungry and fancying Masterchef Malta? Another TV franchise gets the Maltese treatment

At one point during the endless showcase of TV ads on Masterchef Malta, I was jolted awake from a dream in which award-winning chef Victor Borg was projectile-spewing undigested prawn cocktail into a contestant’s face. Instead, it was another pretend-chef being kindly told that they had just served up “disaster” salmon.

A sigh of relief. For it seems nobody on this island can conjure up the dark energy and winds of ill-will that are needed to despatch the pretenders to reality TV fame. Once again, another global TV franchise has come to be disembowelled by its Maltese spin-off.

Scripted thought it may always be, reality TV has always thrived on a formula that gave us heroes and villains, dark horses and princesses, idiotic bunglers and arrogant wizards. Take Big Brother: in the late 90s, 12 strangers were cast into a world of boredom as we watched them claw out the eyes from each other. Repeat, repackage and reissue to all four corners of the world. When the judges of reality TV started coming into their own, it was with pop vampire Simon Cowell eviscerating the musically ill-starred. Then it was knives out with human-devourer Gordon Ramsey, feasting on toothy-grinned Americans in Masterchef (the steroidal spin-off of the refined UK version). And then came the dragons and the sharks, in a frenzied massacre of the chancers begging for gold. And then it was back to basics with human barbie-and-kens on Love Island preying on each other.

So where is the masochism, the schadenfreude, and the morose delectation in Maltese reality TV? Where’s the ruthlessness that shatters long-held dreams and starry-eyed kids?

There is none. And maybe Malta is the kind of place where reality TV comes to die, for neither judge nor contestant here comes armed with either the necessary degree of conceit and hubris that fuels this format. It’s just small-island life: the contestants are well-meaning, friendly amateurs, and the judges have a reputation to curate. The kids on Love Island Malta were just lovely guys and girls. The Shark Tank Malta supremos can only inflict gummy nibbles on failed prospectors. We’re all friends at the end of the night, and so be it... so why keep pumping money into expensive TV franchises that will not entertain?

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I don’t expect Masterchef Malta’s chefs to necessarily spit out the shit they will be fed and slam the plates into a stainless-steel waste bin (and surely, there is a debate to be had on why toxic television tropes appear to have replaced the reassuring, if soporific Masterchef UK, whose contestants were deign aspirants to culinary supremacy). But then producers should be aspiring to some kind of degree of quality that respects our expectations from the gladiatorial format that reality TV has been turned into.

Yes, there were some moments from Masterchef Malta, where the heat should have been rightfully turned up. There was the former mayor’s carved-tomato garnish (the doting wife praised his deft handiwork by remarking how pretty it looked) dumped on unseasoned white rice and a curry sauce – to the Mandoline slicer with him, and post him back to the 1980s! A disastrous eggs royale from the eager events organiser: drown him in a tab of frothy Hollandaise! And for all those who had the temerity to serve up raw duck to the judges? Dr Lecter, the blender please...

It was the banter and theatrics of course – the lack thereof – that left Masterchef Malta wanting on Sunday. Excellent chefs though these judges are, they are not masters of the entertainment format. They judged the hapless dishes just like ITS examiners (“this is disrespectful to our profession”. Your profession mate, not ours). And it was on the whole, just too ‘balanced’ and mediocre, lacking the bite of the bloodthirsty Masterchef judge as we know it, apart from the paucity of the Maltese contestants’ creativity. Maybe mismatched too, for some very amateur home-cooks were selected to be judged by Michelin-starred chefs (in the UK version, the chefs judge the professionals, and the TV presenters judge the commoners).

It was all the more impoverishing for a TV franchise partly funded by film fund monies (your taxes) and broadcast on public TV (your taxes, again), to be once again plagued by poor word power and mindless code-switching (from the contestants mainly). It was the irony – as pointed out by Il-Malti Madwarna – that basic Maltese could not be used for what was once derided as the undesired ‘language of the kitchen’. No papra, ħaruf, salamun, klamari, spnott, or tonn – “all you had to do was remind the contestants that the programme is in Maltese and that it will be watched by Maltese viewers. Frankly, the same had to be explained to the judges. It’s not a difficult language. It’s basic Maltese.”

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Maybe mine is only a premature rant that will be put paid once record TV audiences tune into the grand finale. But I wonder what Screen Malta will be funding next from this line-up of reality TV brands. There’s one good home-grown franchise with a very specific demographic that I’d like to propose: ‘Mintoff/Fenech Adami voters with a Facebook account living in a three-bedroom Msida apartment turned into a 12-bed dorm’. Pure TV Babylon!