Even so, none of these talent searches attracted me. In fact, I quickly switched channels instead of seeing the trumped up, false drama of the auditions and the nasty aspects of the selection processes. It didn’t matter to me that famous celebrities were serving either as the contestants, or as the judges. Reality shows, I thought, were fake representations of society. They just weren’t real.
All of that changed with Master Chef.
Auditions attracted housewives and househusbands, religious and secular, young and old. Presentations were made of tasty dishes that could have been served in gourmet restaurants and some that embarrassed the viewers, more than the contestants. It also was nice to see that a former coworker of mine advanced through the early rounds of selection with a salmon dish that she prepared.
As the final lineup of contestants began cooking through tasks requiring them to show their creativity and presentation skills, we began to accept them as regular guests in our homes, urging them along and being shaken almost to tears if their dishes didn’t turn out right, or if the judges criticized them too cruelly. When words of praise were awarded to the best efforts, we couldn’t help but share in the pride of these truly talented chefs.
What raised this program to a level higher than other reality shows was the fact that all the participants, contestants and judges alike, came across as being very human. We felt deeply for them without the need to dig to actually taste their culinary skills. We began to really know these people, ordinary Israelis like ourselves, as we welcomed them into our living rooms week after week.
We cried with the elimination of Gili, a doctor who was the last woman contestant on the show. We encouraged Emanuel, an El Al pilot with extraordinary skills in the kitchen. We rooted for wedding gown designer Elihab, as his creative cooking imagination nearly gave him the title. But more than anything, we applauded Avi, the 35-year-old reformed drug addict from Jerusalem who managed to turn his life around and who found renewed love for life in the Moroccan cooking of his mother’s kitchen.
When Avi became Israel’s next Master Chef, we couldn’t help but cry with him, feeling that in a very real way, we were part of his family as well.