An audience’s relationship with certain reality-show contestants can be complicated. As with scripted programming, there are always going to be some characters who pop more than others, individuals whose very being are more resonant to viewers. Or in the case of MasterChef Junior, simply more adorable. And beneath that is the fact that producers (and their editors) know are well aware which of these contestants will most effectively tug at our heartstrings and consequently cut their footage to maximize any burgeoning audience affection. This isn’t news, but it neverthelss makes things trying to get attached to characters/contestants that are actually just small children performing under ridiculous amounts of pressure, only to eventually see them cut down one by one (or two by two, in this case.)
Which is all elaborate preface to say: It was a huge bummer to see Oona get eliminated.
But the flip side of rooting for a reality-show contestant is that inevitably there are contestants whom viewers don’t warm to. With adults, the best of these fill shows’ villain roles, but since MasterChef Junior exists exclusively in the world of precocious adolescents, that makes everything more complicated. Were he an adult, one would likely have no trouble calling Samuel a grating, affected fussbudget whose quest for “perfection” in all things would drive most people to drink. But spewing that much bile at an individual who was born in 2002 just seems gauche. This isn’t to say that children can’t be monsters who annoy at every turn, but rather that it’s just uncomfortable to regard them as such.
Alas, as often as the kids are the magic that make MasterChef Junior work as well as it does, they’re also the reason it occasionallys fall short. In addition to the lack of any real villian to root against, this is also clear when an episode’s challenge is too geared toward adult contestants, as though young scamps preparing restaurant-quality food was not impressive enough, the producers tend to make them run the exact gauntlet that felled even the most talented mature home cooks.
And there are some challenges the kids just can’t do. This week’s episode had the final six contestants splitting into teams and cooking for a pop-up restaurant, making both appetizers and entrees to order — and it was a complete disaster. One team had an 8-year-old as team leader, the other had a 9-year-old manning a deep fryer, and both teams had to be pulled aside and repeatedly shouted at by a Michelin-starred chef. This borders on sadism as entertainment.
This episode also featured Gordon Ramsay at his Ramsay-est. By having him expedite orders for both teams, he was able to shame the children with greasy appetizers and poorly seasoned ceviche and illogical plating methods, even finding time to throw his hands in the air and shout impotently at the sky. He was in fine form, proving that he is second to none when it comes to making chefs feel small, regardless of age.
What happened then, with the children so out of their depths, was underperformance across the board. As evenly matched as both teams seemed, the judges determined that the red team, headed by little Abby and consisting of Adaiah and Logan, were safe, meaning that out of the three remaining contestants — Oona, Sean, and Samuel — two would be going home. There was no question at that point that Samuel would be moving forward since Ramsay had already praised his leadership, and there’s really no doubt he’ll end up in the final two. But seeing Sean and Oona both get eliminated was almost unbelieveable.
As much as Oona had ultimately underperformed as the season progressed, she had such a friendly edit that she seemed destined to make, at the very least, the top four. And Sean’s elimination was outright shocking. This was a contestant who, outside of the first challenge of episode one and the last challenge of episode four, had won or gotten immunity in every other challenge on the show. His departure means that the true front-runner is gone and the winner’s circle is wide open. Except for the fact that it will almost certainly end up being Samuel versus either Adaiah or Abby. This is reality TV, after all. It is nothing if not predictable.