If there is one show that makes me feel like I’m underachieving in life, it’s “MasterChef Junior.” Entering its fourth season, the pint-sized spin-off of the hit FOX show “MasterChef” continues to present children of such culinary excellence that it puts most of its viewing audience to shame. I may be able to cook a burger, but I highly doubt I’ll ever make something that looks half as good as eight-year-old Kya’s Wagyu beef burger with two kinds of cheeses.
“I think it’s time for a girl to win ‘MasterChef Junior,’” contestant Avery says as she walks into the MasterChef Kitchen. For its first three seasons, male contestants have been the favorite sons of the series, with all three winners having been boys, along with two of the runners-up. This dominance stands in stark contrast to the adult-oriented “MasterChef,” which has boasted five female winners over the course of six seasons. However, the distribution of the final two contenders, seven females to five males, is far more balanced.
This dynamic between the two shows brings an eyebrow-raising dynamic. While the show seeks to share culinary knowledge with a young generation, it has become increasingly narrow in its selection of elite contestants. The lack of young diversity is a shame considering the wider representation present in the flagship “MasterChef” program itself.
By having one of its young competitors address the lack of female winners from the beginning, “MasterChef Junior” seems to be challenging itself to broaden its horizons as it looks for its next champion among a sea of bright young faces that burst with energy.
It’s this enthusiasm and wonder that carry “MasterChef Junior.” Representation and gender politics aside, the show is still, in many ways, a joy to watch. Gone are the petty rivalries and cynical reality show machinations of the adult alternative, replaced by the sincerity of childhood.
The common tendency of reality to turn characters that stand out. One contestant, Adam, emphasizes his Brooklyn origins and talks with the delivery of a stand-up comedian, while Avery, dressed in overalls, plays up her bayou roots with recipe a called the “Sportsman’s Paradise Burger.” These basic archetypes are common, but “MasterChef Junior” steers away from the negative tendencies that typecasting usually resorts to in competitive reality shows. No child is made out to be a villain or a jerk; they’re just kids that want be the best cooks they can be. Even though it’s been on for four seasons, the show’s pervading positive attitude still makes for a nice refresher from the inherent nastiness of several reality competitions.
The universal encouragement extends to the judging. Instead of resorting to put-downs and angry rants meant to artificially heighten drama, judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Christina Tosi (her first time on “MasterChef Junior”) bring valid constructive criticism. Tosi excels in the instance when presented with a marshmallow pie by contestant Alexander. The pie is, frankly, a mess and Alexander knows it, but Tosi searches for the good and offers necessary comfort for a young boy in a stressful situation.
This goodwill towards innocence fosters a show with a constructive atmosphere. As Alexander and fellow contestant Kade are eliminated, the rest of the participants gather around for a big group hug. It’s a common scene on the show, but the comforting sentiment continues to carry over across seasons.
“MasterChef Junior” still has issues of finding diverse champions; a challenge made even more difficult considering it’s hard for audiences at home to assess the abilities of the young chefs. However, the positive atmosphere continues to create a show that offers up the best in its young competitors.