Masterchef is a different, kinder, type of reality TV that we have needed now more than ever – Stephen Jardine

I’m not sure I’m ready for lockdown to end. After 12 months, the idea of going out into the big bad world again is pretty daunting.

John Torode and Gregg Wallace are always on hand to offer reassurance and encouragement to Masterchef contestants (Picture: BBC/Shine TV)

Sure it will be great to socialise again and escape from the same four walls but sitting upstairs on a 23 bus full of people coughing and sneezing is going to take some adjustment. Plus Masterchef is back on TV and being locked down is the only way not to miss an episode thanks to its bizarre scheduling. An hour at 9pm one evening, half an hour at 8pm another night.

When I say back, it never seems to be off these days. Masterchef rolls into Masterchef The Professionals and then Junior Masterchef. I think there might even be Drunk Masterchef, and if there isn’t, then there certainly should be.

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With languid Aussie chef John Torode and cheeky chappie market trader Gregg Wallace still at the helm, this claims to be Series 17 although some believe Mrs Beeton presented the first series in 1862. It certainly feels like it has been around for an awfully long time.

When Franc Roddam came up with the original concept, it must have been a tough sell.

A bunch of ordinary people get together in an industrial warehouse and cook food. Some are good and some are rubbish. Those people go home then someone wins. Why would we want to sit and watch that just a couple of hours after we have cooked, eaten and washed up our own evening meal?

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In fact, that is the key to its success. When you’ve just burnt the fish fingers for the kids’ tea, it is comforting a little later to watch a visual artist called Bryony spending two hours making a panna cotta that ends up all over the floor.

Most of us know our limitations in the kitchen. But on Masterchef there is always someone who says their ambition is to open a Michelin-starred restaurant but cannot poach an egg or boil a kettle. As a format, the show is now on TV screens around the world and if the German version isn’t called Schadenfreude then they are missing a trick.

The finalists can be spotted early on with their espuma guns and deconstructed crumbles. They are always self-effacing and low key. The real joy comes in the ludicrously ambitious who have delusions way beyond their ability. They set out to serve a full English breakfast as a dessert or prove aubergines are just as tasty as steak and always fail spectacularly.

No matter how bad things turn out, John and Greg are always on hand with reassurance and encouragement. I can’t remember the last time a contestant cried. In a world where reality TV shows push people to breaking point and beyond, Masterchef is different.

Even if your lamb comes out of the oven blacker than a meteorite, the hosts will make everything better, John with a twinkle of his eyes and Gregg by selling you an old MG.

This year we need it more than ever. With restaurants still in lockdown, Masterchef is a reminder of a wonderful world of food and drink that will hopefully open up again soon. Until then, my money is on Tom this year.

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