The return of Seven’s reality TV juggernaut My Kitchen Rules can’t be ignored. Even if you’re not one of its many fans, its return to Australian screens in January is loudly heralded throughout the Australian Open tennis. An average of 1.8m people in the metropolitan and regional centres watched the first episode, according to OzTam figures released on Tuesday.
Even those who loathe the show are already intimate with MKR’s 2017 villain Tyson – dubbed the “angry angry man” by producers – and the increasingly tanned appearance of judge Pete Evans who has denied he spits out the contestants’ food rather than ruin his famous paleo diet. “I have never spat out food from MKR, and I have swallowed every single bit that I have ever had on the show,” Evans, who shares the role with fellow chef Manu Feildel, told the Herald Sun ahead of the show’s return on Monday night.
It’s become something of a sport on Twitter for people to “hate watch” MKR after getting a taste of its charms through the tennis.
My Kitchen Rules started life as an attempt to cash in on the success of MasterChef Australia which had taken everyone by surprise when it became a smash hit for the ailing Ten network. But it has ended up as a cash cow for the network in these challenging times for broadcast television, shown in more than 160 countries with at least eight local versions including the US, hosted by expat chef Curtis Stone, UK, New Zealand, Canada, Lithuania, Serbia, Belgium and Denmark. When Channel Nine produced The Hotplate, Seven took it to court, arguing the format was a copy; the parties settled with Nine agreeing not to rebroadcast The Hotplate.
The format involves teams of two from each state – friends, siblings, workmates – setting up an “instant restaurant” in their home complete with table decorations and a theme. Their meals are served to all the other contestants and then judged by the chefs and the competitors. The teams with the lowest scores are eliminated, leaving two teams to cook a finale meal in the MKR kitchen. Now MKR, which started off as a cooking show, has morphed into vaudeville with overblown characters slugging it out over the home dinner table.
And the 2017 version is true to form, with producers seemingly casting for strong personalities over cooking prowess.
First up was Tasmanian couple Damo and Caz who named their instant restaurant Sound Check because Damo the musician met Caz at a gig. They want to “do Tassie proud” and take home the $250,000 prize.
Their menu of truffle and cauliflower soup with rustic crusty bread, steak with duck fat potatoes, green beans and béarnaise sauce and apple crumble cheesecake with stewed rhubarb scored just 62 out of 100. Pete and Manu said there wasn’t enough truffle in the soup, the steak was overcooked, the potatoes didn’t have enough seasoning and the cheesecake was not light and fluffy. Ouch. It was quite painful to watch the ever-polite Damo and Caz take the blows.
But the real drama was not in the food but in the behaviour of the guests. “Mountain of a man” Kyle scandalously ate food from other guests’ plates after polishing off his own in between and flirting with fellow contestant Bek.
Will the budding romance between Kyle and Bek be enough to build the numbers this year with strong competition from The Block and I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out of Here? The 2016 finale of My Kitchen Rules had 2 million viewers in the five capital cities when Melbourne sisters Tasia and Gracia were crowned the winners, but the record was soon beaten by the finale of The Block on Nine.
Enter Amy and Tyson from Queensland who were described as the Addams Family by one contestant, while Tyson was dubbed #AngryAngryMan by producers.
Media commentator Steve Molk of DeciderTV.com says the Instant Restaurant rounds are by far the most enjoyable part of the show because “we love seeing people get judged, and with this we get the added benefit of it happening in their own home”.
“Manu is still delightfully French and nobody believes a word that comes out of Pete’s mouth unless he mentions the horrors of bone stew and the paleo benefits of activated almonds,” Molk says.
“It’s always difficult to judge a reality that promises big conflict and outrageous scoring on the first episode because we know the producers are keeping their powder dry for when they really need it. Seasoned fans will know this is only a third of the contestants anyway.”
But has the show become so recognisable, so heavily-produced, stage managed and laboured it is boring?
“The MKR team have followed their tried and true recipe to the letter and delivered a solid dish yet the flaws are obvious,” Molk says. “Everything is so cookie cutter. Bitchy couple – check. Flirty dude/girl – check. everyone’s playing the game from the first moment – check. Truffles – check.”