What It’s Like To Be On Reality TV

(This blog post has now been picked up on Reddit and other sites, so it’s important for you to know before you read this that this post is made in defense of those on reality TV who are attacked for being villains, racists, etc.  On my season of the show, I was treated like a god in the editing room, and I could not be more satisfied with how I was portrayed.  This blog is in defense of those who are being attacked at every angle on social media, based on how they are represented in the editing room.)

Since so many people are in uproar over MasterChef’s Krissi talking about punching people, I thought I’d do a quick blog post on what it’s actually like being on MasterChef, or any heavily engineered reality TV series for that matter, so that you can all try to get in a similar mindset to the contestants.

First, I want to perform an exercise.  I want you to think back to the time in your life when you were MOST in crisis.  Maybe it was the middle of a divorce.  Maybe it was the foreclosure of a home.  Maybe it was the death of a parent, and the feuding of siblings over funeral plans and estate settlements.  Perhaps it was finalizing and defending your thesis or dissertation…prepping for the bar exam for the third time…or starting your medical residency in an inner city hospital.  Maybe it was war in a strange country.  Maybe it was discovering that you had cancer or another terminal illness.

I want you to think about your physical and mental condition during that time.  The laying awake and staring at the ceiling because your mind was racing.  The fitful sleep, when it finally came, and horrible dreams.  The obsessive eating.  (Or complete lack of interest in food.)  The binge drinking, and perhaps drug use.

Do you have that time period solidly in your mind right now?  Did you ever snap at someone you cared about?  Or maybe there were endless bouts of red-faced screaming?  Was your temper shortened?  Did you sometimes feel cornered?  Like everyone was against you?

At this point in the filming of MasterChef, these contestants have little resemblance of their sanity left.  Because they’ve been in Los Angeles for 6 weeks without the ability to contact their spouse, children, parents, or friends.  Because they couldn’t tell their employer where they were going, only that they might be gone for up to 2 months, many of them are currently wondering if they have an income to go back home to.  That compounds into questions about whether or not they’ll lose their home.  (Several homes have been foreclosed on in previous seasons.)  And that certainly compounds into questions about how they will continue to support themselves and their families after 2 months without income.  That gives rise to questions about how they can afford to capitalize on their exposure after the show finishes airing.  (It takes money to make money, and turning reality TV exposure into cash or career requires that you hire a publicist, at the very least…which averages $2k a month.)  For the record, I have a day job and virtually every penny of that day job has been spent keeping myself “visible” to the public in various ways since MasterChef finished airing.  I have spent FAR more on keeping myself a public figure than I’ve EVER made from opportunities stemming from MasterChef.  And I don’t have the kind of funds to afford a publicist.

At this point, the contestants have been eating, living, and breathing MasterChef 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, without cease, for 42 days.  Their day usually begins around 5 or 6am, when they chug down a yogurt smoothie from the hotel fridge and stumble down to the lobby to get on board a chilly van to head to the set for a day that alternates between excruciating boredom (ie, waiting 4 hours in a holding area in forced silence before filming begins) and intense stress (cooking challenges, then more waiting for hours, regretting mistakes and choices from the challenge).  Then an elimination.  Which, despite what you might think from the editing, is very depressing and deeply unsettling for EVERYONE.  But it’s not over.  More waiting, and then 2 hours worth of interviewing about everything that happened that day.  And it’s not a “Tell me how you feel” interview.  It’s an invasive interview with questions drafted by a psychologist who watches your every move all day on camera, delivered by an expert story producer to raise within you the same emotions you’ve been experiencing all day.  If you’re lucky, you got one horrible meal that day…one classic lunch from my season is one I’ll never forget: day-old leftover tater tots wrapped in puff pastry and deep fried.  Staled tater tots en croute.  The lunch of champions.

If you’re lucky, filming wraps in time that the van can stop at an actual restaurant on the way home, so you can buy yourself a decent dinner, rather than ordering cold french fries from room service back in your hotel at 1am, or relying on your little room fridge, your little microwave, and, for the more resourceful, your clothing iron, to whip up something meager before collapsing into fitful sleep.

Then you are awakened at 3am by a loud, rude knock.  And it’s time to switch hotel rooms.  Pack up your room…ALL of the stuff you brought for 2 months of filming…and move to a room on a different floor.  Inexplicably.  (Because they want you to be confused and stressed.)  And maybe you’re settled back in by 4:30am, just in time to catch 30 minutes of sleep before you have to be up to do it all over again.

Repeat this for a month and a half, and THAT’S the mindset that these contestants are in right now.  Of course, the show was filmed in winter and is just now airing…but the increasing tension and fighting amongst the contestants that you’re seeing on screen is a result of all this.

So next time you get offended when a contestant lashes out at another one, before you decide to criticize, I want you to think about everything I’ve just narrated.  And I want you to hearken back to your own most-stressful era of your life, and ask yourself if you’d be handling it any better.

Psychologists say that reality TV has a similar impact on the brain that going to war has on soldiers.  (I know that will offend some people, but that’s not MY opinion, it’s the opinion of some experts who have researched it.  Please DO NOT decide to attack me over this.  I have never been to war, and I realize some people will be supremely offended on behalf of veterans over this comment.  THIS IS NOT my opinion.  I have discussed this matter with 3 psychologists who consider themselves experts on reality TV, 2 of whom work exclusively in the industry, and 1 of whom counsels reality TV “survivors.”  They all affirm that PTSD is a very real condition in the aftermath of reality TV, the suicide rate among reality TV survivors is similar to those returning from war, and that the impact on the mind is similar.  Again…NOT my words.  So please don’t attack me over them.)  There is EXTREME psychological and emotional manipulation from all sides.  You don’t know who to trust.  You don’t know if your “best friend” on the show is talking bad about you in their interviews.  (Because you know for a fact that the story producers are trying to get YOU to talk bad about THEM in YOUR interviews.)  You don’t know if your sick mom back home got through her surgery okay.  (That happened to me.)  You don’t know if your child is being well cared for.  You don’t know if your spouse has reached the breaking point, having tolerated this ridiculous, childish desire of yours to jaunt off to Hollywood and become a TV star.  You don’t know if your electricity bill got paid on time by your neighbor.  You don’t know if the judges’ critiques are honest…if they REALLY liked your dish because it was good, or if they liked it because the story arc of the show needed you to be triumphant that day.  To say nothing of the fact that you don’t know if you can go back to your normal life and live it the same way you once did, or whether you have to give some or all of it up to follow your dreams.

So let’s cut the contestants a little slack here.  Let’s not rush into judgements about what you hear them say.  Let’s sit back and watch MasterChef as if it was strictly a scripted entertainment show.  (Because it mostly is, to be honest.)  Enjoy it.  Learn from it, in the odd event that the producers ever actually feature cooking information or techniques.  Connect with the contestants if you like them.  But don’t expect them to be the same in real life…just like you shouldn’t expect the contestants you dislike to be the same, either.  I’m sure MANY of my fans have been surprised and occasionally offended when they’ve learned some things about me that they certainly didn’t expect from watching my character on MasterChef.

There’s a LOT MORE going on behind the scenes than you can possibly imagine.  A veritable army of production staff, psychologists, story producers who write the show, executive producers directing the overall arc, network executives poking in to discuss the impacts of different elimination scenarios, focus groups watching pre-edits, graphs and charts and statistics to predict how YOU, dear television watcher, will respond to the show, and how they can make sure you keep tuning in each week.

DO NOT make the mistake of thinking that any of this is Reality.

126 Responses to What It’s Like To Be On Reality TV

  1. Thanks for all the background information, that stuff is really interesting! :)

  2. Hey Ben…I asked before if you ever watch “Chopped”. Have you ever watched “Next Food Network Star” or “The Next Iron Chef”? I am just wondering if the same kind of thing you describe for Master Chef goes on there. It doesn’t seem like it but of course they both are reality shows. The last time they had Next Iron Chef, Alex Guarneschelli beat out Amanda Freitag but we thought Amanda had better food the whole time and it had seemed like she was the favorite. It seemed like they only took into account the final dish and not what happened during the whole competition which maybe is just how it is. As far as reality TV goes, I’d much rather watch the cooking “reality” than Honey BooBoo which I have never watched. From what I have seen in promos, that show is what is wrong with reality TV.

    • Liz, ironically Honey BooBoo is on my TV right now. One of my fans said the new season was actually very warm and uplifting, and there’s apparently a marathon right now, so I turned it on. I tried watching Next Food Network Star this season (primarily because they asked me to audition), but none of the contestants are very interesting to watch, so I lost interest very quickly.

      I’ve never watched The Next Iron Chef, but I LOVE watching Iron Chef and Iron Chef America. My favorite food television besides Good Eats and Cheese Chasers/Cheese Slices on Wealth TV.

      • Having caught Honey BooBoo a few times while channel surfing I found her and her family to be warm, loving and downright funny. Quite a change from Jon & Kate Plus Eight.

  3. It’s funny because my friend got me to watch Siberia and I thought it odd that now we are watching a fictional show pretending to be a reality show, but now after reading your insights, it sounds like that’s how they all are!

  4. When I first started reading your blog I remember whenever you’d say “Christian’s not bad, he’s just edited that way” I would think “Yeah but he had to say things that gave the editors something to work with.” while I knew there was staging and editing, I, like most people, was totally ignorant of the fact that they literally created sound bites out of stitched together words and just took things so totally out of context. It should be called surreality tv. And the way you were treated is just appalling. If you were animals, an activist group would be all over that. No one deserves that. I don’t care if you signed up for it. Starving and freezing you and depriving you of sleep? Denying you access to family? That is Not OK.its like you were kidnapped! (apologies for poor editing, my phone is lagging)

  5. Wow Ben what a bummer to hear. I can’t believe they can’t call home on cell phone and at least say hello. I thought they fed you really well also. Why would anyone want to go thru this. Is the UK one like this also? There doesn’t seem to be the drama within the UK show.

    • Lee, there are limited opportunities to connect with family in VERY short duration, spread far apart, and someone is on the line with you listening to what you say.

      • that is some 1984 ish right there. why so controlling?! is it to ensure you don’t violate their contracts?

  6. just know ben starr that if you EVER open a restaurant or bakery, i will be there to hang around you, chop up stuff, and help you be successful in anyway i can. love your insights and weekly updates. love them.

    • Awwww…thanks so much, Lise! You DO know about FRANK, right?

      • thanks for the reminder, i just signed up for the mailing list, haha, i get out to Dallas for work sometimes (I’m going in August) and would love to go sometime…the whole concept is amazing to me and I say that sincerely :)

  7. After reading this, Ben, I suddenly appreciate my country’s version of Masterchef, Masterchef Vietnam. I don’t want to me mean or anything but I don’t think they have enough resource to hire a psychologist (this job is not too popular in Vietnam to begin with anyway) and all those stuffs you said. And watching the show until now, you don’t see anyone “back-stabbing” anyone else, and for that I really believe that they are genuine.

    I’m really suprise when I learned that contestants are not allowed to contact their family, I mean seriously, even contestants in America’s next top model can phone their family member from times to times, it’s like they are holding you captive or something!

    • Tee, there are some opportunities for you to make contact back home, but they are VERY limited in terms of time, and they are not private…someone is on the phone with you listening.

  8. After reading this, and knowing you lived through this, all I can say is that you are much, much stronger than a lot of people, considering that you were essentially sunshine in the middle of the storm called a reality (unreality) show.

  9. omg i would drown myself

    well maybe not. but that sounds awful and kudos to people who get out of it relatively unscathed. it sounds like a giant ball of stress and it’s not like the most talented cook wins anyway so your only shot of achieving your dream is what, if the producers like you? or in the case of masterchef if you’re a cute girl? (I’m sure the past winners are very talented but i doubt someone who isn’t conventionally pretty would ever win, is all i’m saying)

    it seems like life in general is full of stress and uncertainties and mind games, why on earth would you introduce that into your life?? (general you)

  10. Wow! Thanks for the insight. And all of this for a cooking show. I feel that you really raised the bar on your season. Do you believe that your kindness had an impact on how they edited the show Ben? Or is it coincidence that it has only gotten meaner and nastier since your season?

    My heart goes out to Krissi by the way… I hope people don’t remember her as the villain back in real life. I couldn’t imagine having to go through that!

    • Amy, I doubt my personality had ANYTHING to do with how they edited the show. I was valuable to them the way I was edited, and I was lucky for having been edited that way. Not everyone is so lucky.

  11. It sucks that it cant be based solely on who is a better cook. Thats much more compelling to me. Its al so part of rhe reason i like The Ultimate Fighter show despite the talent from season to season getting worse (aside from being a fan of the sport). They can play up the drama all they want but at the end of the day, it comes down to who wins the fight.. Manufacturing a winner sucks. ‘m not doubting Christine Ha’s talents at all nor implying that she didn’t deserve to win, but from episode1 last season I had her picked as a front runner based just off the fact that she’s blind. Hate to say it honestly. The show played her up to be a great cook.

    But all these shows seem to get more and more manufactured as the seasons pass. I watch Hells Kitchen with a group of people on an internet message board and we all have fun trying to predict what ACTUALLY happens in the next episode compared to what they depict in the preview for it.

    • One other thing I’m curious about. Since you said you and Christian became great friends in the time since the show, what were his feelings about being portrayed as the villain once the show aired? I was a big fan of his on the show, since he put out food that looked good to me. Him coming off as arrogant didnt mean squat to me. I try to avoid buying into the personality crap when I watch.

      • Dave, Christian tried to pretend that he didn’t care that the country disliked him. But I had a few very genuine conversations with him about it, and it REALLY did bother him. He’s a dad. He has 2 kids. He didn’t want his kids wondering why the country hated daddy. Christian grew up in a REALLY rough town, so he knows how to stick up for himself. But he’s one of the most genuine guys I’ve ever met, and it was refreshing to see him truly upset that people didn’t know what he was really like…and also really hard to watch, since I loved him so much and knew who he TRULY was.

  12. Mindy Ellen Behrmann

    Oh my! I had an idea of how grueling the experience was, but I never really knew it was this tough. I’m so sorry that you and the other contestants had to endure all of this. Despite all of the negative feedback, the haters are not the ones you should listen to. It’s the ones you love, the ones that know you for who you are not because of a comment you made on tv. Extreme stress and fatigue can cause anyone to say anything they don’t mean. After watching Masterchef, Hell’s Kitchen, or any other competitive show, I pray for each of the contestants. I pray that none of them are terribly hurt by the negative comments or aftereffects of being on a reality show. I always say an extra prayer for those that are “villainized.” It goes, “I may not know you, but I won’t judge you. I hope that you continue being you and not let the negative comments hurt you.” I am appalled at what I read on Krissi’s and Natasha’s pages. I know their seasons have passed, but I would like to apologize for Esther, Max, Christian, Ryan, and David Martinez. I hope that they have dealt with the negative comments. Whether they have or not, I hope they accept my prayers, love, and support. Same goes for the other contestants like the ones that were hardly featured until they were eliminated, the contestants that were critiqued negatively for every dish they put up no matter how good it was, or the ones that were held with high expectations.

  13. Thank you for answering many of my unasked questions about the taping of the program. My respect for every contestant grew ten fold after reading this. I can’t imagine the stress of worrying about one’s home/family/job while competing in this type of contest. I couldn’t do it and I think many viewers have the misguided notion that it’s easy to compete.

  14. The producers have preemptively disqualified Krissi from any chance of winning. Even if everyone of her dishes are stunning and amazing, they will never choose someone who talks about beating up other women as their brand representative. Regardless of what Krissi actually said, despite any pressure she is under, despite how her words and actions are edited, the villain (there’s one every year) never wins.

  15. Brad Cunningham

    The scenario you described is one I’ve learned to suspect from your hints in previous posts, and why this is likely my last season of watching Masterchef. I can’t handle the lack of reality anymore, pun intended. I’ll keep reading up and following your wisdom, humor, and wit, so it was worth it in that regard! Keep on rockin Mr Starr, and thanks for sharing your experiences!

  16. Fantastic article Ben, but Krissi remains a rather unlikable character due to reasons beyond stress. It’s one thing to be labeled a bully by other contestants, but when you frequently boast about how “tough” you are and how another contestant reminds you of “girls you used to beat up all the time in high school”, stress becomes a little less excusable for her heinous behaviour. Hell, it’s on a whole different level of comic villainy that contestants like Ryan brought – as in, it doesn’t seem as if she’s doing it to purposefully ride on a wave of negative attention.

    However, it makes me kind of happy that despite all of the conditions you listed, you managed to maintain a positive demeanor. Aside from the culinary talents that each contestant brings, a huge part of the Masterchef viewing experience comes from rooting for the contestants. On one hand, there’s the humble and cheery chef that viewers gravitate towards, and other the hand, well, there’s Krissi…. Dichotomy sure as heck makes for great reality TV, and no one ever remembers a neutral competitor.

    Masterchef has become one of my favourite shows, and I’m glad you’ve kept writing about it. I was a huge fan of yours since Season 2, so keep it up, and best of luck in your future endeavors!

    Sincerely,
    Justin from Toronto, Ontario.

    • My wife and I do not like the negative DRAMA on MC nor the foul (bleeped ) language on both MC & Hells Kitchen. MC UK Pro. Is a much better cooking show!

  17. Ben! Let me first say you are an inspiration.
    I work in reality TV, so it shouldn’t surprise me to hear about producers behind the scenes analyzing the dynamics of the cooks personalities and plotting their trajectory on the show. As an avid foodie and aspiring chef, it breaks my heart that perceived notions of what will garner the highest ratings trumps the cookery every time. I was holding out some hope that it really is based on the food- (my love of food and desire to learn completely clouding my judgement on this – I very well know what goes on behind the scenes). Nevertheless- I will still continue to watch, (I’ve watched season 2 about 4 times!) Let’s hope that Masterchef may remember it’s roots (home cooks can be heroes) and remembers that a lot of viewers tune in to learn and replicate recipes, not to watch people fight.

  18. Stop making excuses for her. Out of all the contestants she’s the worst. All of them were subjected to the same conditions, she’s the only one who comes off as a bully. Conclusion: She’s the worst and a bad person overall. I may be subjected to anything but it won’t make me want to beat up people weaker than me.

    • I am approving your message only because I want other people to see you saying things like “She’s the worst and a bad person.” You lose your humanity when you start passing judgement on others.

    • Gregory Wright

      Krissi is one of the few contestants who is who she is. She spews out whatever she’s thinking at the time without thinking, Without worrying about how it might be perceived later. She’s a tough lady from Philly. She says stuff like ‘I’m gonna punch you in the face.” How many of us under stress, or when mad have said the same thing, or worse. I can see how some folk may not like her on the show and in real life. But really, calling her a bad person and the worst based on a TV show isn’t cool. None of us know the context of what has happened. Several other contestants have also said nasty things on the show, on twitter and on FB about each other. Some are pointing out things other contestants say elsewhere. I’m not fond of a lot of this behavior, but unless I’ve had some personal interaction with them I can’t really say anything about them with any certainty. I know if any of us out here passing judgement had cameras following us around while we were stressed and in a bad mood, we’d be shocked at what total lousy people we could appear to be. And if you follow Krissi in twitter, you will se that she takes ownership of everything she does and doesn’t make excuses for what she said. And she is friends with far more contestants today than you would imagine.

    • Exactly how do you know she’s the “Worst”? Because of what the CAREFULLY EDITED show chose to show you?

      As someone who was there, I can tell you that Krissi is FAR from the worst person who was there. She’s not even the worst person LEFT.

      But hey, go on and get all wrapped up in a sensationalist “reality” show, to the point where you’ll insult and attack people you don’t know, and really don’t know anything about. You know, as YOU are passing judgement about the character of OTHERS.

      • I’ve been wondering… is it James who is the ‘worst’? On James’ FB profile, he seems to act like a misogynistic douche, criticizing women for not wearing their hair back or about Eva Longoria wanting his ‘D’. Am I wrong?

        • D’Andre, I’m not following any of the contestants Facebook accounts very closely. I haven’t met James yet, but Christine Ha, who won last season, has become good friends with him and I trust her judge of character. I think James just has a very unique sense of humor. But again, I don’t know him, so I can’t comment. (Though criticizing ANYONE for not wearing their hair back in a kitchen environment is TOTALLY acceptable. I didn’t just wear hats all season for the fashion statement! Ha ha ha

  19. allison proctor

    Don’t the contestants get practice time cooking? HOw do they know what to do when we hear ” I don’t even know what that is?”

  20. Hey, i’m just curious that when the judges say they need a moment to decide who to be eliminated, are they really discussing based on the dishes or are they getting input from the producers?
    Anyway your writing is beautiful! Always love to hear your take on different issues:)

    • Alicia, the sequence you see isn’t what happens. Eliminations typically aren’t announced right after the challenge. It just gets edited that way.

  21. Ok, this is just wrong. I know reality tv exploded during the writer’s strike a few years ago. And the ability to produce shows without union actors. I know contracts were signed. But this just seems like … it’s very wrong.

  22. In part because of what MasterChef and other ‘surreality’ shows have become, I disconnected my TV service. And I couldn’t be happier that I did so – just sorry I hadn’t taken the leap sooner. The energy in my house is much lighter without the emotional residue of intense drama spewed out by just about all current programs. Now, when I do watch TV, it’s DVDs I’ve borrowed from our amazing library system – stuff I really want to watch and am able to learn something, instead of just seeing what I can catch whilst surfing.

    After hearing about the torture and abuse heaped upon survivors of these heinous ‘reality’ shows, I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be on one of these televised nightmares. It’s a lot like the Hunger Games, but here at least folks get to choose if they want to subject themselves to such trauma. I have PTSD and I’m sure just about everyone who’s been on one of these shows does, too. It takes a long time to recover, and you’re never the same person again. My body is still in crisis after five years from the initial traumatic event, and I know some of these people will probably never be the same as before they volunteered for this nightmare. There’s a lot to learn here…and not anything remotely considered to be beneficial. What has this country become with it’s addictions to violence, bullying and abuse?

    Just my two cents….

    Keep up the great work, Ben! I love your blog posts even if they’re about the negativity of TV, because hopefully this should help wake up some people stuck in their mind-controlled televised dramas.

  23. I had guess there was some scripting involved, but this is way beyond what I expected. What type of people, much less psychologists takes part in this type of treatment of human beings? Real life is stressful enough without the added faux stress. I’m too old to put up this that kind of nonsense and surely would get kicked off of the show for telling whomever tried to move me out of my room at 3:00 am to blank off, I’m not moving. And day old tater tots in puff pastry? You don’t even get to eat well? What a foodie nightmare!

  24. Bill Sauerbier

    Thanks for writing this, huge insight into what the contestants are dealing with. It’s funny I just finished watching your season on youtube (catching up as I just learned about the show a few weeks ago) and what you say rings true. Christian was not focused on being egotistical or arrogant until the episode after Max left the show, It’s like they needed to create a new villan.. I hope everyone who thinks about doing a reality show reads this post before signing up, cause it is a wonderful interpretation of the process.

  25. Gregory Wright

    I do have disagree a bit about people on the show being so much different. Maybe it’s luck, maybe I just don’t fall for the edited version of things, but every contestant that I have met and gotten to know are pretty close to who I thought they would be based on the show, and in every case, I enjoy them as my friends far more than the “character” from the show. Even those who I’ve yet to meet but have developed an online friendship with are much cooler off camera. And some of those who never got camera time or very little…are so awesome. I think that’s why I do get irritated by all the hate spewed at contestants who’ve given up so much to basically be entertainment for US.

  26. Hmm. By discussing Krissi so much (is she a villain or isn’t she), we may be falling into the producers’ trap, doing exactly what they want us to do: Talk about the personalities rather than the rest of the show. Maybe we should stop doing that?

  27. I want to tell you how much I enjoy your blog, your insights, dreams, and everything. But this one is perhaps the most important one I’ve read yet. You told the truth about what it is really like. My eyes are open wide. Thank you. I’ve been in the process of getting to this point. I gave up watching Hell’s Kitchen. I’d like to share why. It comes down to that I was being manipulated too and not just the contestants. It was the season before last I believe. HK had sunk further into the same repititious formulas of every competition being a tie, lots of screaming, and ultimately starring in one person, I think it’s so far has always been a woman, whose role is to sabatouge, being annoying, incompetant, lying, and the focus of everyone’s anger — as portrayed on the show. There was a moment where it was at a fever pitch and I immediately imagined myself on the set. I wanted to pick up a frying pan and smash her in the face. I wanted to brutely hurt her, destroy her, in short, kill her. Interestingly on the boards, everyone else used those words all the time. But I felt them. I wanted to act on them. It was a flash point of total rage. I’ve experienced those moment only a few times in my life. It was visceral in its intensity. Immediately I came out of it in shock at what I had just imagined and wanted to do. I realized that the show had managed to push all of my buttons and I was ready to go. Worst, I realized that the show didn’t create those feelings in me. They were already there from past experiences of being helpless, powerless, and angry. However HK provided a means for them to come out on parade. I realized I had to let this show go. It was almost near the end of the season and the following week or two, just before this character was eliminated, she did something that was actually sensible and noble, and I marveled at why we never saw this part of her before. The answer is that this character was spliced together and portrayed as the villain of the piece, as you’ve explained. At least she did leave on a decent note. But anyway, I dropped HK. I cannot afford to allow any show, or situation for that matter, to so engage me as to release my inhibitions that way. Yes, the station might say they are providing a valuable service by allowing me to vent at a contestant of their creation in a “controlled situation.” But if I can “vent” at a TV character, it’s not too far to vent at anyone else. I’ve fallen into those moments of unleashed rage before and it is not pretty. I know my stressers and triggers better. The best way is to walk away from those situations. This is the insidious power of reality tv. It does not just manipulate contestants, it manipulates viewers.

    Thankfully I’ve not had such moments with MC, but I can see in this season, more than ever, the heavy hand of manipulation. It is all too crudely obvious. Past seasons, like yours, I enjoyed the comraderie of the contestants. How almost all of you showed dismay or unhappiness when someone got cut. Above all the compassion and sportsmanship behavior that always struggled to get through. I enjoy the cooking techniques that have been shown. Those have been educational, enlightening. I’d like to see more of that. This season already started off with a feud and no explanation of even how it happened. MC can’t even tell a good story any more. Maybe I’ll switch over to watching MC Australia and those like it that put the cooking first, that you can learn from, and appreciate the contestants.. I dread what Fox might do with MC Jr. Can you imagine them doing to kids what they’re doing to adults? And doing this with their parent’s permission?! I simply shudder. This is my last season of watching MC. My wife, daughter feel the same way.

    I hope this blog article of yours is spread far and wide. Thank you for writing it, and for allowing me to share.

    • Frederick, what a POWERFUL message. Thank you so much for sharing, I was really moved reading this. I’m hoping MC Junior will be an entirely difference show from MasterChef. I can’t imagine that it will be anything other than an adorable love fest. Nobody in this country wants to watch kids screamed at and demeaned, while plenty of us apparently want to see adults in that situation.

  28. Ben this is so true, – you would think you have been in their shoes! LOL.

    For what it’s worth I can remember being so sleep-deprived and ill that I had almost completely lost my voice by the second week of filming. I was forced to communicate with Perry and the other wranglers by banging my shoe on the receiver of the room phone in a morse code-fashion.

    At first I thought it was a blessing but later I realized it was a curse – a very evil curse; I was the only contestant with their own room. I could run around in nothing more than my birthday suit if I wanted, but it also meant there was no one to talk to when I was cooped up. Granted, Luca was in the next room, but he usually had his head buried in cookbooks (smart). So I was trapped by myself without an ipad, laptop or smartphone, and didn’t even have access to free adult pay-per-view. Nothing. I was crawling the walls. And then, I skipped a precious run to the grocery store and mentioned to a couple of wranglers that I just needed to nap because I was sick. An hour or so later I got a call telling me I needed to have all my stuff packed and that they were coming by in a couple hours for may bags. So I packed everything- clothes, food, wine, books – everything. When they finally showed up (it was a fellow that reminded me of mazuka from Dexter, he asked me why I had packed up my stuff. My jaw dropped. I was tired and sweaty and hoarse and had been rushing to finish. Apparently they were only dropping off luggage tags. I blew my top. I mean I seriously went American Psycho for a few moments and threw a Ferragamo shoe so hard it made a hole in the wall. I had lost hours of valuable sleep packing and would loose more time unpacking- all because of a mis-communication. Am I normally like that? Hell no. That’s what reality can do to you.

    I really feel for these folks. The characters portrayed are not what they seem! They are (or were) tired, short-tempered, socially isolated, and unlike most situations where you can avoid someone you dislike, if you do not get along with your fellow contestants, you’re screwed. I don’t know Krissi so I have no clue how far she got or even if she won. Her character seems a little abrasive at times, and everyone seems to rub everyone the wrong way from time to time, so I really sympathize with her; she seems to be stuck in a bad spot. Few if any friends, seemingly marked by the producers for failure, and grumpy. It makes for a bad mix. When I was kicked to the curb I was completely torn – should I be happy or pissed? I was glad to go home and see my family but I was also pissed, frustrated and felt cheated because it had become so obvious that much of the show was being scripted by the higher powers. It seems Krissi is in the same boat – she’s being written off and she knows it’s coming.

  29. First off…wow Ben…some of the stuff that you (and Tommy W) described sounds like stuff that would be against the Geneva Convention. I’m glad that you got out of it ok though I have to say that I never really liked “reality” TV that much from the start and it has gotten worse over the years. I liked Hell’s Kitchen in the first beginning seasons but then the show became too formulaic and more heavy on the drama than actual talent. I was starting to like MC and was really impressed with Christine last season but I see that they are already starting the drama with season 4. This is why I call so-called “reality” shows: “dramality shows” It’s all about drama and they have made Krissi into a target, why? Simply because she is someone who will say what’s on her mind, she has an abrasive personality and is fat and unattractive. That last part really is something that I think is behind her being cast as a villian given the so-called “obesity epidemic.” Krissi is playing up (to the editors’ eyes) the stereotypical “rude, ugly fat woman.” in MC and that is one of many, if not, the only factor why the drums of hate beat for Krissi.

    • I beg to differ. Krissi is not unattractive. And why is it okay to insult her for her weight but there is nary a word said about the bodies of the male contestants. Oh right, I forgot, women on television are supposed to look like models so the viewers aren’t offended.

  30. Hi! I am an avid follower of your blog and of master chef, despite it’s unfortunate decline. I too have been frustrated by masterchef’s gradual transformation into something that more resembles hell’s kitchen focusing on turning people into caricatures rather than actual cooking. In case there are other people out there looking for a show with a better ratio of cooking/drama I thought I would share that I started watching the end of the latest season of top chef masters and was very pleasantly surprised! In the episodes I’ve seen, there seems to be a lot of mutual respect between contestants as well as some interesting food. I’d also recommend the documentary Kings of Pastry (it’s on netflix) which focuses on a longstanding pastry competition in France. It’s a bit slow but everyone involved is amazingly talented and again it is lacking in all this nonsensical fabricated drama.

    • Kelsey, thanks so much for these recommendations! I actually don’t really have time to watch television…the ONLY reason I watch MasterChef is because of my fan base. When I can make time for a show, it’s usually Bordain’s Parts Unknown, or the cheese shows on Wealth TV, which are as boring as they can be to most people, but I can’t get enough of them.

  31. But some people (like you) always had a good behaviour during the show, so it’s possible! :-) But probably it’s difficult…
    However, I understand what you mean…if I think to my most stressfull periods, it comes into my mind that, when I see people in the same situation who gets angry with others without a reason and aren’t very nice, I don’t understand how other people can criticize them, when it’s CLEAR that they do that because of their stressfull period…and probably it’s the same for you and other reality shows contestants.
    Baci! :-)

  32. Was the food really consistently as bad as the tater tot puff? Or was that just a horrid outlier? You’d think they’d treat the contestants with some respect and give them a decent lunch- after all, it’s a show about food.

    That being said, I think I’ll try the tater tot puff. Dipped in cheese sauce it might turn out tasty.

    • Zeal, the food was consistently horrible. Gordon used to giggle and say, “If they fed me that sh-t every day, I’d riot!” Of course, the judges got a totally different set of food than we did, but we ate the same stuff the crew ate. (However, the crew also got to eat OUR challenge food, so at least they got SOME good stuff!)

  33. Ben your blog was very helpful in understanding what a very difficult time it is for all of the contestants to go through. Thank you for writing it. Dale K in Az

  34. Amazing blogs Ben – just FYI nearly two years ago, Leslie told me about your blogs on MC and, as I loved the concept of the show (and, of course, cooking) I read all of your words with fascination!………..FIVE times!! I couldn’t get enough of hearing your exploits first-hand. I can honestly say that you were my inspiration for heading down to Austin to the auditions. Everyone fully supported me in my quest to get on the show, and I was obviously disappointed at not being chosen.

    I have since thought a couple of times about re-applying, but during the last few weeks of reading your un-edited blogs, I feel that you have done myself and probably many others a huge service in getting out the truth of the show. I can now see that it would have been a HUGE mistake to have been selected and I am truly grateful that it didn’t happen – another mid-life crisis avoided!

    Thanks for your enlightened words regarding the truth of the show – and I hope it serves to protect many others from making a misguided mistake of entering a ‘competition’ where people were used and abused just to earn another buck for FOX.

    • Any idea Ben if MasterChef UK Professional has all the same crap behind the scenes as the US MC has? It seems calm, the contestants seem respectful of each other. Just seems like what I would expect of this type show. 2011 show was excellent!

  35. Do the contestants really compose all of their dishes on the whim as it appears? Once you are finished cooking do you compose the aesthetics of your dish or do they have food stylists to make some of the dishes appear very professional and others not so much?

    • Ellen, the contestants really do compose all their dishes on the spot. (Though there is a 5 minute break between the announcement of the challenge and the moment when we can “go shopping” or begin cooking with mystery boxes, and while we’re supposed to be listening to legal stuff during that 5 minutes, we’re actually thinking about what we’ll be cooking.) Contestants must plate their dishes before time is called, there are NO food stylists, and if you’re not done when time is called, your dish is judged based exactly on what you were able to plate and what it looks and tastes like.

  36. You’re really a very good writer! BUT YOU CANNOT (SHOULD NOT) compare going to war or having a graveb illness to being on a reality show. I shuldder to think of how hurtful and insulting this woreuld be to people who have suffered that. I’m sure reality/unreality tv is crazy-making but the scenarios you describe are trauma of a much different kind. BTW, I enjoyed you on the show. I thought you were totally and legitimately sweet. Take care, happy writing, and happy cooking!

    • Kay, I disclaimed this VERY specifically in the same sentence. This is NOT MY opinion. This has been told to me by multiple psychologists. MANY things can trigger PTSD. It’s not limited to war. I realize some people may be offended by that comment, but it was made by those who make a living studying the human mind.

      • Ugh. Sorry, I can’t help but say that, in basic philosophy, is a logical fallacy known as “the appeal to authority.”

        • Guess I overcooked my post above, because I just lost a ton of text. I’ll try to try again later. Thanks for responding. Peace.

  37. Talk about a depressing read! I knew there was a reason I never liked reality TV. :P I’m watching MasterChef more to spend time with my lovely mother, and the more time passes and the more I think about it, the more I suspect I would’ve gotten tired of it ages ago otherwise. Hearing about this stuff is just one part of my ever-growing eye-rolling cynicism with the show, and there’s definitely been some of that going around on this blog lately.

    I think the root of everything is just that TV has such a high barrier to entry. As long as making a show is a tremendous investment, and there are limited positions available for the people responsible, they’re beyond terrified of failure. Which means identifying something that’s worked in the past (in this case ugly drama) and doing everything humanly possible to make it happen again, no risks allowed.

    This is all the more true now that TV has an increasingly viable competitor in the internet. And I think that’s where we’ll ultimately have to turn if we want the things shows like this are moving away from. It’s still not exactly easy to put together a webseries and find the loyal niche audience that’s out there, but it’s a hell of a lot more doable than broadcasting!

  38. Krissi has gone far beyond the usual stress of a reality show contestant, She has shown herself to be a nasty and prideful bully of the worst sort. That said, she alone has made it guaranteed that she will never win Masterchef as they could never have that sort of a wildly unpredictable,loud mouthed person represent their brand. Remember their ‘brand” is worthy millions and they would never risk sullying their image with someone who could go off the tracks at any time.

    NO, Krissi is the villain of the season and as reality shows need at least one of those in their cast of tens, she meets the bill quite well. She keeps many watching just to see what she will say next.

  39. Ben,

    “I’m sure MANY of my fans have been surprised and occasionally offended when they’ve learned some things about me that they certainly didn’t expect from watching my character on MasterChef.”

    Really, like what? I realize this is an acutely personal question, so I won’t blame you if you choose not to elaborate. But this remark piqued my curiosity, so I thought I would at least ask the question in case you don’t mind sharing a bit more.

    There have been a ton of comments already, so I’ll just make two quick points:

    First, I am extremely grateful to you for spelling this out. MC is the ONLY reality show I have ever watched. I really only enjoy watching the contestants create dishes on the spot (I skip past things like team challenges entirely). I myself am just as hit or miss when it comes to trying to create things in the kitchen (even without the pressure of a TV show, which is to say I’m really not very good!), so I guess I like watching others both succeed and fail because it’s something I identify with. Plus, you guys have a lot of great, wacky ideas! Like bananas and scallops, for example…

    But I’ve always had my suspicions about what the show is really like. Obviously it’s heavily scripted and the rivalries are mega-contrived and/or blown out of proportion. But I never dreamed the living and working conditions were that horrendous, really bordering on torture. This season especially, I had begun to wonder just how awful it might be for the contestants. Like several other people here, I think this may be my last season watching MC. I don’t want to get all high & mighty about it. I’ll probably still finish this season at the very least. But next year? Mmmm, not so much. Especially not with the whole Wal Mart infomercial thing going on, which has just about gotten on my last nerve by now

    Second, notwithstanding your well reasoned and heartfelt plea for a little bit of sympathy for Krissy, I just have to point out her comment about having beat up girls like Bri in High School. I consider myself a fairly judicious person, so I was already inclined to cut her a little slack before I stumbled across your blog. But I kind of wrote Krissy off at the moment she uttered those words. She seemed to wear it like a badge of honor or something, and I don’t have respect for someone who is proud of having hurt people in the past. It really makes me concerned for her son.

    Sincerely,

    Another Ben (not a Starr)

    • You need not be concerned for Krissi’s son. He is a very bright, respectful and sweet young man who is very much loved by his mother as he loves her. Krissi has raised him by herself without a father in the picture. BTW Krissi is a wonderful person who will give you the shirt off her back. It is those who trash her and her son that we should be concerned about.

  40. I enjoy watching shows with Chef Ramsay in them. One of the biggest problems though is, he had run into financial problems and restaurant closures in the not too distant past so I’ve always wondered if he is ever honest with his judging on his various TV shows. I’ve wondered in the past if he ends up eating a dish that tastes like canned dog food, would he say so or would he just go along with what the story tellers want him to say. There is a disclosure in the Masterchef end credits that even admits that the producers are in on the judging.

    If you look at his show “Hells Kitchen”, the cooks magically go from being incredibly incompetent to all of a sudden the best thing since sliced bread come finals time. The proof is in the pudding as they say though. Some people who have won past HK shows were never even actually hired to work at his restaurants. There was always some half-arse excuse as to why they didn’t/couldn’t.

    Fortunately “reality” TV is on a downswing. For better or worse, the genre is here to stay. They are on the whole cheaply made and as such can still turn a profit even if certain shows do not do so well in the ratings.

    I almost forgot to add, I love how Masterchef got caught photoshopping the size of the crowd waiting to audition not too long ago.

    Like I said, I get a kick out of watching Chef Ramsay, but I do take everything he judges or says in his shows with a grain of salt knowing that he is very dependent on his shows for money and continued notoriety and personal fame.

    • James, the photoshopping thing was actually leaked intentionally to cause a buzz. That stuff happens ALL the time. Networks LOVE a scandal over their shows, because then everyone tunes in to see what’s up. I’m sure Fox is REALLY excited about all the Paula Deen buzz, and I guarantee you that episode of MasterChef will outrank ANY episode in history.

  41. Wow. Thanks so much for the insight. I knew that much of it was scripted, but I’ll be watching MasterChef with new eyes from now on. I have a question, though- are the judges similar in person to what they appear on TV? They appear to be caricatures as well… Thanks!

    • Holly, the only judge that’s similar in real life to his character on the show is Graham. Joe and Gordon are both TOTALLY different when the cameras are off. Friendly, likeable, and chill.

  42. What a long journey just to get to “it’s all manufactured.”

    • Well, if I had simply typed “it’s all manufactured” as my blog post, you wouldn’t have necessarily believed it…unless I followed it all up with everything I wrote! Ha ha ha… Sorry…I know my posts can be tedious. But that’s the kind of writer I am! I hate what the internet has done to our attention spans. *sigh*

    • Santi, I think it was more about describing what it is like to be on reality TV. There appears to be a subtle clue in the blog title: “What It’s Like To Be On Reality TV”.

  43. Finally! Finally someone speaks out on what reality tv is like. I’m surprised they haven’t tried to sue you for speaking the truth. Thanks for having the balls to speak out.

  44. I know that for the most part the contestant interviews and behavior is edited. But Krissi does seem more anger than tough, and we are ignoring the fact that she did post heinous things on her twitter. My dislike for her doesn’t come from the show but how she portrays herself in the real world.

  45. That must be grueling to say the least. However, just a note, the true “spirit” or inner person comes out under stress. When one is a nasty person and one isn’t, that has to say something for that person. Don’t you think?

  46. Timothy McHenry

    Really? That’s just…man, people get up in arms about anything, don’t they? Then again, Confirmation Bias. People will look for things that support what they already believe while ignoring things that go against it.

    My suspicion is that Krissi is a very Philly person. She’s blunt, very tough, and has a bit of an abrasive sense of humor, but overall will go to bat for people she cares about

    • Timothy, it sounds as if you are from Philadelphia or are fond of some Philadelphians, lol.

      Krissi’s personality is typical of the women from the gritty streets of South Philadelphia. Having grown up in the suburbs it took some time for me to get used to that “in your face” attitude when I moved to South Philadelphia. They’re nosy and get in your business, they’re loud and yes, the sense of humor can be abrasive. But they are the best neighbors anyone can hope for.

    • Your suspicions about Krissi are absolutely correct. BTW Krissi will go to bat even for those she doesn’t care about. She has more friends on MC and off than you can possibly imagine.

  47. Timothy McHenry

    Actually, I’m from California. However, one of my classmates is from Philadelphia, so I guess that’s where my impression of “Philly people” came from.

  48. Though I appreciate your explanation of what goes on, the fact remains that a person’s true character does show in moments of stress.

    That being said, I have been looking for your sherpard’s pie recipe everywhere (the one you did on the show). Where can I get it??

    • Denyse, the Shepherd’s Pie I made on the show was the first and last Shepherd’s Pie I ever made. I tried to recreate it when I got back, but it wasn’t the same, so I didn’t feel comfortable posting a recipe. I’m sorry!!!

  49. Ben,
    My wife and I argue about this: are the contestants given a “how-to” on elimination challenges? Or a basic rundown? She doesn’t believe that everyone in the challenge would know how to make the item. Example: everyone knew the basic idea of how to make a Éclair this week.
    Side note: we both really loved you on the show and wish you the best of luck with everything!

    • Hey, Joshua! This is how I like to explain what happens in pressure tests: If the show is going to force you to cook a specific dish, like a lemon meringue pie or a souffle, it will NOT be the first time you’ve ever cooked it. There is a LOT of education involved on the show. In other country’s versions of the show, they include this education in the show so that everyone can benefit from it. On the American version, they like to make it look like the contestants already know everything.

  50. So why does it take six weeks or two months or however long it takes? It sounds like you record an episode every day. Is there ever any down time? Did you ever get a chance to read recipes or try to cook stuff in the “test kitchen”? I think someone else mentioned this, too, but how did people cook stuff they’d “never heard of before”? I find myself blown away by how many recipes people must have in their head to do this show!

    • Lori, it generally takes 3 days to film a 1-hour episode. Never more than 1 challenge per day. You’re typically at the studio for 12-14 hours to film a single challenge. There are days when you don’t film a challenge, but you catch up on “confessional” interviews, or you have cooking classes. There is a LOT of education involved with MasterChef, which is why these home cooks all know how to make a souffle or a meringue pie. On other country’s MasterChef shows, you see the classes, but in America they like to make it look like us contestants know EVERYTHING.

  51. I’m surprised to see that they won’t let you eat what you’re cooking with all day! Is it absolutely prohibited for you to nibble after you’ve taken your dish up to the front and they’ve done their tasting? How about the extras that you make that’s still at your station? Broken sausages, sides, all that — just shoved into the trash? That’s some psychological manipulation to present you with $100/lb ingredients, only to tell you you can’t have any of it!

    • Rianna, the stations get cleaned up by the crew, who typically devour every edible thing. So THAT food doesn’t go to waste. The remaining food on the judging plate does get tossed.

  52. Ar least one contestant who comes up with the truth behind it. Due to some research I had to do for university papers I know most of the stuff but still feel dumb because it seems to be more harsh than imagined. Sadly many cooking show have very few actual cooking going on (for the viewer) and seem to concentrate on the “scandals”.
    I do not want to offend anyone but as a viewer I prefer the formats of other countries. Masterchef Australia seems to picture the contestants in a more neutral, friendlier style and with The great British bake off or menue you actually cann see more of the cooking.

    • Tom, you’re in the same boat as virtually everyone who reads my blog. My fans generally prefer MC Australia to MC US.

      • It seems to be the obvious choice if you want a more friendly atmosphere on your TV-screen. What really strikes me as an oddity is that MC US doesn’t air the master classes. I don’t think that there aren’t enough Americans who would like to watch that as well. Do you have any information on this matter. (maybe you have already written the answer on your blog but it will take me some month to get through all the articles)

        • The BBC America cable station carries the Pro MC UK and it is calm and very well done. Its is currently airing on TW.

        • Tom, MasterChef USA is made for the Fox audience. If it was airing on Food Network or one of the educational cable networks, the master classes would be included. But most of the people who watch MasterChef don’t cook, and don’t care about cooking. They are tuning in to see who gets eliminated next, how often Gordon spits out food, how often Bastianich throws stuff in the trash, and how conniving and crafty the contestants can be at dishing on each other and strategizing on how to get each other eliminated. Obviously, the show attracts a minority of viewers who ARE interested in cooking and food…many of them follow my blog and social media. But the majority of the audience turns it on to watch the train wreck, whether it’s about food or which chick gets to marry a millionaire.

  53. @Icromwell; thanks, nearly missed that. I really enjoy it!
    @ Ben, you have been a busy writer! Have started reading an article a day. Can it be that your overal tone has changed over the month. Your current articles seem to be more “harsh” in the whole subject of MC. :) ….

    • Tom, my articles are actually quite a bit LESS harsh than they were in the beginning of this season!!! But overall, this season has stirred up much more venom in my veins than last season. I don’t believe I’ll watch next season, no matter how much traffic it brings my blog. Watching MasterChef puts me in a horrible, pessimistic mood, and I don’t normally allow myself to be in such a mood!

  54. Sorry to hear MasterChef puts you in a horrible, pessimistic mood Ben. But there are a lot of people out here who have become fans of yours, specifically because we saw you on MasterChef. Most of us never would have heard the name Ben Starr. I’m glad I discovered you Ben. I’ve used your chicken brine recipe repeatedly. I’ve also made the best damn gingerbread I’ve ever tasted – YOUR recipe. thanks for being awesome Ben ;-)

  55. Incredible post! Thanks so much for prpviding us viewers a little (realistic) insight into the world of MasterChef. Sometimes we tend to forget the intense pressure these contestants are under.

    I’ve been watching reruns of MasterChef and I must say you, sir, are one of the most memorable contestants (in a good way). You always seemed so earnest and passionate about cooking. More power to you!

  56. I agree with others about this posting. I enjoy watching MC for the food and all. Sometimes the attempts at drama get so heavy handed and I find myself talking to my computer screen about this contestant/character or another. This is with me watching the series for the second time as I watched in real time as each season unfolded. I really liked you both times I watched MC season 2 from the crazy audition to your final goodbye. I get the feeling that I would enjoy most of the contestants from each season if I sat and shared food and drink and get the same feeling about GR, JB, and GE. Glad I found your blog and pretty appalled by the conditions.

  57. You have a very weak argument in that how do you explain Krissi’s behaviour when she tweeted the racist ‘N’ remark and also made the extremely derogatory remark about Black men assuming a certain sexual position otherwise it would be known as rape!

    These two very offensive remarks were blurted out over the twitter world before Krissi was part of Masterchef 4!

    Once these callous remarks were discovered, she was well into her role on Masterchef 4 and she simply put out a statement that she was sorry for the insensitive remarks. However, it appears she only apologized because she was caught and not due to true contrition. As well, she closed that particular twitter account and went with the Masterchef twitter account.

    Google Krissi + Masterchef + Racist, there are volumes of pages from reputable sources as well as her original tweets stating the ‘N’ word, et. al.

    As well, Ben – I understand your supposition that you are tempered as if you are soldiers readied for combat. I hardly think your analogy is appropriate as I doubt any reality show contestant suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome ( well, maybe those contestants and staff exposed to Krissi will suffer from PTSD).

    Nonetheless, your point is taken that the days are long and stressful; however, what did you think you were signing up for? Did you think you were going to stay at the Ritz and have a Butler serve you?

    Further, if your argument held any weight, we would expect more contestants to blow up under these extraordinary cruel conditions that you describe, yet there are plenty of contestant’s who maintain an air of grace and courtesy yet still manage to move at lightening speed to get a task accomplished. This is what separates the mediocre candidates from the highly skilled and this is why those shows have gruelling timelines.

    Ben Starr, Masterchef is not looking for a bumbling fool who cannot tie his shoelaces. They obviously have extremely demanding schedules and guess what? There are many occupations in real life that parallel exactly what you describe in your essay. These occupations also harbour the likes of people like Krissi: Krissi’s exist everywhere- she is undoubtedly a bully. There is no question she has a serious personality disorder(s) which hopefully can be corrected through intensive counselling.

    There is absolutely no good defence for Krissi’s behaviour! she has threatened to beat up other contestant’s and flipped her middle finger at Natasha, called Bimi ” a loser at life”, amongst many other statements and her eye rolling and body language, well…you get the picture I hope.

    I just don’t buy your analysis. I actually find it deplorable that you are defending a racist bully!

    • Bjorn… Krissi’s “racist” tweets were rap lyrics to a song she was listening to. She was pointing out that the song was racist. Please don’t get sensationalist. Read as much as you can about an issue before making up your mind, and never ever EVER condemn any human being you don’t personally know. Especially not on my blog, please.

      Regarding the PTSD, I clearly stated that was not my opinion, but one I have heard from multiple unrelated psychologists. I clearly stated some would find it offensive and I’m sorry I offended you with it. But some professionals believe the psychological impacts on the brain are very similar.

      • Of course these words were from a song she was listening at the time, how convenient – and I suppose her ‘intent’ is not to incite/spread hatred otherwise she would never have tweeted these hurtful and abusive remarks. But as likely maybe suggested, they are only ‘words’ and they have no power!

        I guess you are the only one allowed to condemn people that you have never met because you own your blog right?

        Ben, I admired your time on Masterchef and thought you were great; however, I clearly do not agree with you on several of your blog writings and since you have an open forum and ask for a reply, don’t be surprised when somebody shares an adverse opinion, particularly when invited to do so!

        Tootles poodles!

    • Bjorn, neither you nor I know Krissi. However, I have met people who know Krissi. And they all say she is a wonderful, loving person. Who among us can say we are without any faults? We all have evil in us. I prefer to focus on the good in people. And I will ALWAYS defend ANYONE who is being attacked by someone who doesn’t know them personally. Neither you nor I have ANY position to make a judgement call on Krissi based on what we see on TV or read on the internet. Get to know her intimately first, and then if you feel she’s a horrible racist, you’re entitled to that opinion. Until then…you have no basis to judge her that way based upon information from the internet.

      I think I was VERY CLEAR in this blog post that the comparison between the aftermaths of reality TV and war were NOT MY OWN. I would never have drawn a comparison between the two, primarily because I have never been to war. These references and comparisons were made to me by 3 separate psychologists, 2 of whom work in the reality TV industry, and ALL 3 have clearly stated that PTSD is incredibly common in the aftermath of reality TV. The rate of suicide among post-reality TV contestants is also, apparently, very similar to veterans. I’m not an expert. I know nothing about psychology. But I was very intrigued by my conversation with MasterChef’s psychologist, so I continued to seek out psychologists who have experience in the field. DO NOT be offended by ME over these words. They are not mine. They are the words of professionals who study the mind. And I stated that VERY CLEARLY in the post.

      As for the contestants who constantly maintain an air of grace and compatibility…again, you’re seeing a HEAVILY edited, filtered version of everyone. Including them. I had my freak-out meltdowns while filming. I snapped at people. I cursed like a sailor CONSTANTLY. Did ANY of that make it to the screen? Not a bit. YOU ARE NOT SEEING REAL PEOPLE ON REALITY TELEVISION. You are seeing a very carefully manipulated, fictitious version of a person. You’re seeing a character based on a real person. It’s incredibly dangerous to draw character judgements on that real person based on what you see on television.

  58. Hi Ben!

    I stumbled upon your blog while googling how American reality TV shows are faked. Great insights you shared there, but i have 2 questions regarding MasterChef i hope you won’t mind answering.

    1) You mentioned the show was taped in winter, does this include the finale? Do we already have a winner at this point in time?

    2) Btw I don’t cook, i just enjoy watching MasterChef. So, for every elimination challenge, from the moment Gordon stopped the clock till the dish-tasting, is there a very long wait? I can imagine a period of waiting, especially if your dish is the last to be called…so won’t the food go cold? Do you re-heat the food before presenting them to the judges?

    Thanks!

    • Nick, the whole show is filmed months before it airs. Many of us already know the winner.

      Food is usually tasted an hour or two after it is made. It does not get heated up…the judges taste it cold and pretend it’s fresh.

  59. Seems like an awful lot of whining about a show you voluntarily signed up for.

    • Brittany, this whining is for one purpose and one purpose ONLY: to keep television viewers from making character judgement calls about people they’ve never met who are being deliberately misrepresented on television. I think you may have stumbled across this post on Reddit and have no idea who I am, which is perfectly fine, but you should know that I was treated like a god in the editing room. I could not have WISHED for a better representation of my character. (Which ended up being FAR nicer and more wonderful than I am in real life.) So my complaints in this blog are not for my own personal benefit. They are for those who are being crucified and hated upon by viewers…unjustly. And, for the record…anyone who “signs up” for reality TV has NO CLUE what they’re in store for.

    • Maybe when he signed up he didn’t know how it was going to be. Now he does so he is letting everyone know how much reality there is on “reality” TV.

  60. Dear Ben,
    I just spent several hours last night reading your blog (and Michael Chen’s). Thank you so much for your insights. As many others have said I know that the show intentionally manipulates the stories to invoke certain emotions, but I have to admit that from your post and those of other former contestants, I had no idea just how much. As I read more and more, I really came to admire Krissi and many things that didn’t add up (storywise) made much more sense. It seems like everyone, contestants, judges, and crew have been put in really difficult situations. I also agree that this season has gone too far. I am one of those people that watched the show to learn new techniques and try new recipes (for the season finale my sister and I are going to try to recreate a three course meal from the show just for fun!).

    Anyways, I have a feeling this may be my last season. It has become way too formulaic. I knew when Jesse won the mystery box that she was not going to make it to the finale. It seems like most people thought it would be Jesse, but I agree that they are probably looking for a male winner. So my bet is on Luca (who yes it totally adorable and always portrayed as such a good guy, almost oblivious to the ‘competition’).

    I look forward to more posts by you and Michael. You have a new fan! Thanks for all of the very useful tips, congrats on your loving relationship, and enjoy Burning Man!

    Luis

  61. Dear Ben,

    Thank you for giving us this insight. I really have a lot fo respect for all the contestants b/c I really enjoy watching Masterchef and will do so again next season. I am sure I would cut my finger off or have burns on the first challenge. Although I am getting a little tired of Gordon making it sound like it is one contestant who will stay in his results and then saying another name.

    I actually like the US version (never seen the others) b/c I don’t really want cooking instruction. I’d go online or watch the Food Network for that. I cook very little but really enjoy looking and tasting all different kinds of food. Food appreciation. I like the pressure tests and seeing how people can pull it together and produce something really marvelous in a short amount of time. I like just seeing edited footage of the process and wouldn’t want to see the dishes made in the entirety…yawn. Not a fan of the group challenges though. It gets me excited about cooking again, and that for me is more inspirational than a show on how to cook.

    As to Krissi thank you for explaining what so many viewers seem oblivious to. They are under extreme stress. I also highly doubt people who pass judgement on someone they do not know are paragons of virtue- especially since they are the ones posting hate-filled comments. She’s a fighter and that really came across on the show. I am particularly bothered by how people dismiss her because she cooks on a budget or laughs at her for not having ever tasted expensive dishes. The more I’ve heard her talk in interviews or made some of her recipes- the more respect I have for her. She doesn’t pretend to be something she isn’t. She’ll tell people what she things straight up. She’s tough and gave it her all. I’m picking up some cupcakes from her this week, and I imagine she is going to be just like a normal person and not beat me up. If she beats me up I will be sure to let you know.

    Her cooking style resonates with me b/c I want to make dishes that are affordable but can be classed up- as I lose interest quickly in everyday cooking when I have 20+ ingredients and have to go to 4 different stores. People can think her food looks or taste bad or even say they think she has a poor personality that doesn’t mesh with their own based on what they see on TV is one thing- but when they go so far as to say she is a poor role model for her son, a bully (hmm…that’s a bully? people must have easy sheltered lives), her son should be taken from her or she’s a vile human being- that just crosses the line. It is scary how people can just believe whatever is sensationalized on TV and have such an intense hatred or love for someone based on that. It’s a show.

    I did not know they were isolated during their stay. I thought the family visit was just for show and they had been in contact.. I’m really shocked they didn’t get better food. Tater tots in puff pastry….that’s horrific.

    I’m glad I came across your blog. There is so much material here. Your recipes look stunning. I’ll be trying some this week. I also really enjoyed you on MasterChef! :)

    • Beautifully written Tara. Knowing Krissi for 25 years I defended her every chance I could. It amazed me how nasty people were towards me for doing so.You will love Krissi and adore her son. Her cupcakes are to die for. A couple drove up from Virginia today to pick up a couple dozen. What loyalty!