Masterchef: Homophobic? No. Racist? No. Ageist? Maybe

In this guest posting, Tactical TV’s Tony Richardson argues that Masterchef shows Australian TV audiences are ready for multiculturalism but not older faces

When the popularity of a TV show bumps the prime minister and the leader of the opposition to an earlier time slot, you know you have a phenomenon.  

Only 12 months ago I wrote that the Masterchef franchise is a marketer’s research study made in heaven. Without spending a cent every marketer in Australia gets to see the sort of people that Australians like to see. Researching a quarter of the population would normally be impossible.

Former blockbuster TV shows like Australian Idol let the viewer decide who stayed and who went. That meant handing control over to the 13-year-old girls who could be bothered to vote. This skewed result gave us a view of who 13-year-old girls liked. Fine, if that’s your market.

If MC1 was an experiment that worked beyond all expectations, MC2 is a far more controlled offering – in terms of contestants. And if you think it’s a cooking show where the best cook wins think again.

Rather than let the punters stuff up the ratings, Masterchef executives held an iron grip on the talent. Initial selection threw up a bunch of 24 ‘made for TV faces’ and personalities.

For marketers Masterchef 2 became an exercise in demonstrating Australian diversity, or more importantly what TV viewers will now accept as diverse.

Isn’t it great that in one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world, we can see on commercial TV, a few people whose name isn’t Smith or Johnson.

Indeed, compared to most Aussie TV fare, Masterchef is positively multicultural. We had contestants with ethnic links to Japan, Malaysia and India. We had Greek and Italian surnames. Heck, we even had a contestant with Arabic heritage.

The final six included an openly gay man (Alvin) and a ‘sort of, for the moment’ gay woman (Courtney). Talk about real life. Not so long ago this would have been a subject for intense media scrutiny. Now it’s just … there.

General attractiveness almost goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. On Australian TV ‘pretty’ is normal and ‘average’ is ugly. The poms can handle crooked teeth and wrinkles. It would seem we can’t.

‘Personality’ seems to be better differentiated this time. In MC1 the final three consisted of Chris the villain versus pretty, creative Po and/or homely mumsy Julie. Chris was never going to win.

This time round we seem able to accommodate more dimension of personality. Callum was nervous and earnest but a surprisingly good cook. Claire was a perfectionist to the point of breakdown. Adam, a slow starter, sprinted to the finish. And Jimmy cheerfully (and unaccountably) created a curry for every occasion.

So it’s all multicultural, accepting of different sexuality, friendly and fun. Right? Not so fast.

Age continues to be a barrier to on-screen success. There were admittedly two over-40s in the gang of 24. A genuine slice of Australia would have had 12! But of course that would never happen. And predictably the token oldies were quickly eliminated.

It seems young Australians like to watch young faces and older Australians do too. If you want old faces watch Midsomer Murders over on the ABC.

The first Masterchef ended a year ago. But it seems like last century. Back then we found out the homely and mumsy were attributes Australians liked.

This time round Australia’s TV consumers have voted for:

Adam – Creative without being zany, adventurous without being foolhardy, unusual without being threatening.

But they also really, really liked:

Callum – Youthful without being brash, keen without being a crawler, hardworking without being a bore.

A focus group of 4 million Australians has spoken. We’d be mad not to listen.

  • Tony Richardson is the Creative Director of TacticalTV

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