Bantering judges, wielding “yes” or “no” verdicts? Expectant friends and family waiting outside? Triumphs? Tears? Yes, it can only be – oh.
No, it’s not The X Factor – it’s the latest series of MasterChef, with a new auditions stage in which a roomful of aspiring chefs compete for just 20 coveted MasterChef aprons.
These precious pieces of BBC merchandise (also available on Amazon for £15.95) confer entry into the next round (where, presumably, the contestants will be styled up to look like little Lenny Henrys, before being thrust into a deafening arena to cook).
After a brief audience with John and Gregg, in which the judges unveil their new catchphrases – “let’s find some cooks!” and “let’s get fatter!” (no, really) – the contestants begin preparing their ingredients. They’re then ushered one at a time into the judging chamber by a deputy headmistress wearing a microphone headset.
There, they add a garnish and present their dishes to John and Gregg. After the first immaculate offering, the worry is that this new format is going to starve us of the laughable failures we so enjoy. But don’t panic, there are still some deliciously disastrous attempts, most notably a “deconstructed trifle” that looks like the egg and ketchup smears left on a plate after a full English.
Other well-loved MasterChef motifs that survive the reimagining are the break-beat soundtrack, punctuated by synchronised chopping and whisking, and narration courtesy of a supermarket self-service till.
Further new additions include the hallowed “Lifeline” (one judge creates “tension” by delivering a “no”; the other says “yes” and the contestant lives to cook another day) plus some incidental music snapped up in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire fire sale.
You can see where the producers are coming from – they’ve dispensed with as much of that superfluous cooking palaver as possible in order to squeeze in more “entertainment”.
But when I’m sitting down in front of the TV with a microwave dinner, I want to at least watch some real cooking. Hopefully the later stages will provide it. On that basis, I can’t yet give the new series of MasterChef a “yes”, but I will throw it a Lifeline.