I’m not entirely sure when I got hooked on to reality shows, but I have a feeling it may have all started with Temptation Island. I was in school, and somewhere on the other side of the world, four masochistic couples had decided to test their love by hanging out on separate islands with half-naked models, or half-naked potential models. Star TV Asia brought home a censored version, with very little of the loving and a lot of the fighting. I think everyone ended up cheating on everyone else, and then wailing about how they were all so sorry.
But then, there were all those boring shows about lazy people getting folks with OCD to enter their homes, throw a fit, and clean up for them; or, random people with inferiority complexes getting stylists to plaster their faces with makeup and put them in expensive labels they would not be able to afford once the show ended; or, people looking for houses and somehow assuming the world would be interested. I was temporarily de-addicted, but mainly because watching someone making faces while scrubbing a sink only shows me firangs need servants, and there’s nowhere further to go once you’ve made that obvious deduction.
However, all that changed when I moved to the UK to study, work and bolster my CV so I could come back with a mongrel accent and command a higher salary. Trash TV in the UK is in a league of its own. Over the course of two years, I watched a woman try to find a husband on national television; I watched something called ‘Wife Swap’, which – while being less interesting than it sounds – still has people traumatising families; I figured out how stingy people could have lavish weddings; I followed some bizarre Lord of the Flies-inspired show called Boys and Girls Alone; I revelled in D-list celebrities trying to climb the red carpet ladder by eating insects and scaling cliffs; I followed the stories of cokeheads trying to sober up, and teenagers trying to lose their virginities.
[quote]When you grow up watching cricket, it doesn’t occur to you that there is even a remote possibility of Australians being nice[/quote]
Most importantly, I watched in fascination as Shilpa Shetty – hitherto most famous for being Akshay Kumar’s ignominiously ditched ex-girlfriend, and the girl who was murdered by a psychotic Shah Rukh Khan in Baazigar – became a celebrity for weeping on Big Brother. My most abiding memory of the show is Shilpa saying soulfully to a roomful of scornful people that she could not sleep with her feet facing South (or it may have been North, or East, or West) because of “Indian feng shui.” I had no idea that there was an Indian feng shui.
The nastiness had me hooked. When I came back to India, I kept up with reality shows. America’s Next Top Model has tens of tall, thin women being criticised for their noses and teeth, and made to undergo surgery for a shot at winning. All those shows with Simon Cowell smirking at the judges’ table became immediate favourites. I had no idea “darling” could be an offensive word till I heard him say it.
When I was freeloading off some friends, on a trip to Bombay, I got addicted to Masterchef US. I don’t think three mean men have ever been judges on the same contest before. This was a gem. Just once, when a blind contestant managed to plate a delicious dish, one of the judges welled up. But, save for that one slip, they haven’t let me down. Over two seasons, I have watched them destroy the confidence of anyone who dared to say they could do better than make Maggi noodles.
Recently, though, my world has turned upside down. I have found Masterchef Australia.
When you grow up watching cricket, it doesn’t occur to you that there is even a remote possibility of
Australians being nice. When you spend years watching reality shows, it doesn’t occur to you that there is even a remote possibility of judges – okay, judges who are not Paula Abdul – gushing over the brilliance of contestants.
These three guys – Matt, George and Gary – sent a woman into the Top 24 for making a dhokla. I mean…a dhokla. Worse, they took a selfie with her and the dhokla. Man, if I made gol gappas, they’d want to marry me. When a contestant screwed up a pie, they called in his grandmother, to ask why they should pick him. “He really likes cooking”, she said, in a shaky voice, and he got in. Everyone shows pictures of their sick babies and ex-girlfriends for sympathy. Everyone has a sob story about how their families don’t think cooking is a better career idea than, say, investment banking.
“I’ve never been able to find love, so I pour all my unrequited love into food,” you could say.
“I tayll you, you keeyp cookin’ like thayt, and you’ll find love all right, ’cause it’s true what they sigh, you know, the wye to a maen’s heart is through his stowmach. Give us a hug now, love,” they’d chorus.
Worse, the contestants give each other hugs, cooking tips and general encouragement.
Why the hell is this show even on television?