First appeared on Food Riot, by Kit Steinkellner
Here's the thing. I don't think MasterChef Junior is the best reality television show of the year. I think it's the best television show of the year period. This is really hard for me to say because I am twelve different kinds of obsessed with The Good Wife/Parenthood/ Scandal/ Ja'mie: Private School Girl. But a winner must be declared. Every year has its queen. And this year's queen is MasterChef Junior.
It's a little bit hard to get people to watch MasterChef Junior. Even though it's only six episodes long. Even though it's all on Hulu. It's still hard. I know because it was hard for my parents and siblings, who were on the bandwagon weeks before me, to get me to jump aboard.
ME: It's a show about little kids cooking?
PARENTS AND SIBLINGS: Yes, but they cook like real MasterChefs, they cook better than MasterChefs, Kit, you need to watch this show.
ME: But I don't watch regular MasterChef.
PARENTS AND SIBLINGS: That's okay, you don't have to, MasterChef Junior is better anyway.
ME: But I don't watch reality TV.
PARENTS AND SIBLINGS: Kit, stop being difficult, don't you want presents for Christmas?
So I started watching MCJ, AND I FELL IN LOVE FOREVER.
My family was right, the kids (9-13) are child prodigies. They're Mozarts with food processors. What's so wonderful about this show is they're completely professional and completely children. This dichotomy plays out in every single episode. The kids make roulades and macarons and run restaurant kitchens like adult MasterChefs, they discuss reality television strategies during their talking head interviews like adult MasterChefs, and yet, when Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot send kids home (two kids go home every episode), not only do the kids going home cry, which is to be expected, no, every time kids get sent home ALL THE KIDS CRY. I'm serious. Every kid cries in every episode whether or not they're going home, because even if they're staying, they're going to miss their friends they're saying goodbye to. The kids also cry during episodes when they're stressed out about not having enough time to finish a recipe, or upset that a team member isn't listening to them, or just so happy that they nailed a meal. There is so much crying. These kids are so raw and human and so passionate about what they do and strive so hard to achieve excellence. If that doesn't make you believe in the future of the human race, I don't know what will.
Those kids aren't the only ones crying. I usually cry at least once an episode too. Whether it's the kids admiring and praising one another (in MSJ, the word "talent" is almost never mentioned, the kids salute each other for hard work and experience, these children have their heads on so much straighter than so many adults I know) or Gordon Ramsay running around to help one of the kids finish at the last minute (If you're a regular watcher of MasterChef and Kitchen Nightmares, you won't even recognize this Ramsay, on this show he goes from being the Simon Cowell of Cooking Shows to the Atticus Finch of Reality Television. He's such a good dad. I'm crying typing this sentence) MSJ is reality television that doesn't celebrate the worst of humanity, but rather the best. Determination, humility, the ability to learn from one's mistakes, and genuine kindness are the traits most rewarded on this show.
Also this show inspired me to start cooking again!! These tiny chefs are better chefs at the age of ten than I will be EVER but still, there is something about elementary and middle schoolers getting it done that made me feel like I could get it done too. Also their passion and enthusiasm was so infectious I just had to light up my stove again.
I have NOTHING bad to say about MasterChef Junior except that it was too short. I would have watched a hundred eps back to back. I know the show got a second season pickup, so hopefully they'll lengthen out the season with the second go around.
MasterChef Junior, you guys, get it done.
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