Reality TV or stress pornography?

At one point or another we’ve all had some interaction with the pervasive reality television series Masterchef. Some of us follow it religiously, some occasionally while others simply chime in occasionally to comment on the ridiculousness of it all. It’s inescapable, and after 6 seasons of hopping between all three we’ve noticed some gradual changes in the nature, or rather, focus of the series.

It seems that every season the challenges become slightly more difficult, the time constraints slightly less realistic and the resulting tears more frequent. But more importantly it seems an increasing proportion of the show focuses on the stress, panic and anxiety of the contestants…and we’re choosing to ignore the ever-present sob story. With the recent announcement that the show will be back for a seventh season in 2015 with an average of around 900,000 viewers per episode, the gradual evolution of the show seems to be well received.

So what compels us to watch the inevitable crisis moments, the failure and the misery? Why do we enjoy watching the contestants suffer? Could it be a very mild form of sadism? Perhaps there is something cathartic about coming home from a long day at work to watch others flailing about in a state of panic. Unlike some other reality television shows in the last decade Masterchef isn’t overtly mean. Yes the judges can be unbearably smug and a little snide at times but that’s not where the cruelty lies. Contestants are simply set up to crack and fail through the design of the challenges and when they do, the cameras don’t miss a beat.

Former 2013 series contestant Jules Allen recently spoke out about how contestants were encouraged to crack open for the cameras. It’s no secret that the immersive nature of the show is designed to produce high emotion but is this level of drama-come-stress-pornography necessary to maintain an emotional connection with the viewer?

Sadly we’re not above it all either. Lunchtime conversation in the office reveals that we’re all somehow fairly up to date considering no one claims to be a regular viewer. We’re reminded of a clever skit by English comedians Robert Mitchell and David Webb.  Whether you’re watching ironically or watching sincerely, you’re still watching.