Get ready for some serious food puns here, people.
I love a good cooking show. I’m not the most technical or methodical person out there, but I like watching the processes of cooking and baking. They can be surprisingly relaxing, and seeing what people make gives me ideas for things I want to attempt at some point. I’ve been baking cakes and cookies from scratch for a couple of years now – just for fun, not for any kind of competition – and my boyfriend taught me how to cook and experiment with spices early on in our relationship. My food tastes great, but it tends to lack finesse in the looks department.
So I love a good cooking show, but what you probably never asked to know is this: what don’t I like in a cooking show? Well, I’m glad I asked!
The stale ingredient is jerk contestants.
Drama is the eternal friend of television shows everywhere. Even the happiest program needs conflict and challenges in order to hold our attention.
Alton Brown’s Cutthroat Kitchen takes usual cooking show drama to a whole new level, encouraging chefs to turn on each other with creative, silly, and downright inhumane sabotages of Brown’s own design.
This show gleefully, unapologetically torments its contestants, but here’s the thing: you know that as soon as you go into the show. It’s baked into the premise, so to speak. You can’t get mad about it anymore than you can fault Wipeout! for subjecting people to giant rubber balls and boxing gloves.
Plus, it’s really, really funny. And cheesy.
What does irk me, however, are the jerky contestants on shows in which the competition is simple, straightforward, and non-aggressive. Come on, you know the ones; those people who smack-talk one another, argue constantly with the host and the judges; and then stomp all the way home, whining about how they should have won. They carry a smug, obnoxious attitude about them that’s great for stirring up trouble, but not great at inspiring the audience to root for them.
This is why I find shows like The Worst Cooks in America and The Great British Back Off so refreshing: the contestants just enjoy being there, and the focus is clearly on their journey and improvement. It’s sad to see many of these people go home, but it’s also nice that they are so humble and gracious about it, promising to continue doing what they love and to take the lessons they’ve learned home with them. And, unlike some other contest shows, they don’t prey on hopeful people with sob stories. It’s mostly Average Joe’s and Josephine’s.
Sadly, this is rare in cooking and baking competitions. Many of them would rather have us hate and laugh at arrogant, childish characters, and yes, we feel a strangely vindictive pleasure when (if) they’re sent packing.
But guess what? Anger is not the only emotion that gets me invested.
It’s one thing to have clashing personalities collide in an episode. It’s not bad to have “go hard or go home” types. I’m also fine with the judges and celebrity chefs being prickly; more than likely, that’s what they’re famous for.
But to have a bunch of arrogant contestants come in thinking that they’re hot stuff is predictable, if not tedious. If the jerk in question wins, it then becomes infuriating, especially if they’re really spoiled and hateful. Poor attitudes make poor winners and poor losers.
What I’m trying to say is that competition can be good-natured and have suspenseful moments. We don’t need so many pompous, defensive contestants who sling insults across the aisle anytime that something even remotely stressful happens to them. It used to spice things up nicely, but now it’s just trite. Until we can come up with some new and interesting gimmicks to replace that, I’m happy to stick to shows with reasonable people who can actually take a lick of criticism.
…Or downright crazy ones like Cutthroat Kitchen. Because if you don’t want to shoot for middle ground, aim for full-on EXTREME.