Comfort Zone


“It’s the Celebrity Masterchef Final … I have put absolutely everything into this competition – everything … THESE CELEBRITIES ARE ALL PASSIONATE ABOUT FOOD! … I’m not going to give up; I will fight to the very end for this … WE’RE LOOKING FOR THAT EXCEPTIONAL COOKING STYLE! … SOMEONE WHO’S MORE THAN JUST A GOOD HOME COOK! … SOMEONE WITH THAT EXTRA SOMETHING SPECIAL! … This is it: winner takes all! … It’s Judgement Day!”


It’s been a thrilling competition, shot through, as ever, with the usual cliches: going on a journey, of course, but this year, an awful lot of being out of your comfort zone too. Iwan Thomas, the runner, was the most irritating of the three finalists, in that his brazen sportsperson’s desire to win – and to state that aim, over and over again (“I’m here to win, did I mention that? You’re either a winner or a loser, and I am not a loser”) – strayed into psychopathy. (He was “gutted” to lose, of course, and – certainly in the edit – had nothing congratulatory to say about Jayne Middlemiss, no “the best woman won”, no “I was beaten by a better cook, and I did, after all, fall to cook all of my Mediterranean vegetables properly.” But hey, that’s sportspeople and their inhuman drive.)

Wendi Peters, previously a Battersby on Coronation Street, was a much more human, mumsy finalist, although seemed to enjoy the glamorous Moroccan stage of the tournament less than the others, with her downturned mouth fixed into that position. I must admit, I was gunning for Jayne all week, as the final three were “put through their paces” and made to cook in gruelling conditions, including a van in a car park – maybe because she’s the only contestant I have met and talked to (when she was on 6 Music), and liked. Also, I felt sorry for her to initially be captioned “Ex-Top Of The Pops presenter” – that was about ten years ago! Why not just put “presenter”? (Also, since Top Of The Pops no longer exists, Tony Blackburn and Noel Edmonds are ex-Top Of The Pops presenters. They all are. Everybody’s an ex something if you want to imply that they’re in some way washed up. Not very nice.) Anyway, Jayne and Iwan came the furthest over the weeks, whereas Wendi was an accomplished “pudding cook” (to use John’s words) from the start. It’s good to see people improve their licks.

Downsides of the programme? Too much repetition of footage throughout (it’s on on consecutive nights, we can remember what just happened!), and far too much “throwing ahead”, requiring judicious fast-forwarding if you don’t wish to see the best bits before the programme starts – but these are not crimes exclusive to Masterchef. Clearly, there’s too much SHOUTING by Greg and John, but I’m afraid they are locked into these caricatures now, and we can never go back. The editing of their judgely conversations is still done with a blunt spatula – a disjointed collage of statement and reaction, with even the interaction with contestants clearly shot afterwards – it makes you wonder if these two ever have a normal chat. It would be disarming to witness. And you might argue that flying everybody out to North Africa to cook a tagine was a profligate use of the licence fee, but thinking about it, they probably got put up in Richard Branson’s posh hotel for nothing.

Also, I’m not sure why they still get contestants back from previous series to have another attempt (this year including: Tony Hadley, Rowland Rivron, Linda Barker, Jeff Green, a scary-looking Marie Helvin, and, yes, Wendi) – surely they must be able to recruit some new “celebrities” if they’re prepared to call an actor off Hotel Babylon one. As ever, I wished I was on the programme, and spent too long wondering how I would cope in the heat of the professional kitchen and what I would do with the random aubergine, seabass and cherries. And then wondering if I would be comfortable being captioned, “Ex-features editor of magazine.” (And what if I accidentally spoke of leaving my comfort zone?)

This time last year, when I expressed my unconfined joy about Celebrity Masterchef, one bright spark was moved to comment, “Who cares?” Well, clearly, if you didn’t care then, you won’t suddenly start caring now. I still find it a compelling format: 24 amateur cooks from all walks of the media and sport having a bash at some cooking, with two men on hand to bark timings at them (“15 MINUTES LEFT, PEOPLE!”) and then tell them that their dish is well seasoned, well flavoured and that the duck is cooked to perfection (if you’re lucky).


And, lest we forget …

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