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When it comes to reality TV, the only one I follow is Masterchef, both the American and Australian editions. I am more partial to the latter version mostly because there are hardly any toxic contestants there.
It's a cooking competition televised for the world to see so I can only imagine the kind of stress contestants are under in each episode. Not only do they have to create excellent dishes that meet the brief for the day, they must do so under klieg lights and before a camera where their actions, reactions and behavior are magnified for an audience.
Add to that is the fact that as they advance in the competition, the longer they have to be apart from their loved ones since they're locked-in together in one accommodation (this has always been the arrangement even before the pandemic).
So having contestants who can be testy or abrasive is not going to help reduce tension during the actual cook, especially if there are group challenges. And a friendly atmosphere is more conducive even for viewers. This way you can better appreciate the creativity and excellence shown by amateur cooks.
Still, it's a contest and nerves are part of the whole exercise and being away from home for an extended period can get to contestants and add to the pressure.
The pandemic, however, plus the extended lockdowns, have made it extra challenging for reality shows on television. If a participant has had the beginnings of mental health disorders prior to making the cut in Masterchef, the multiple pressures each will be subjected to as they progress in the competition will really take a toll on them.
And it is having witnessed one such incident where a contestant bravely came forward with his mental health issue in front of the cameras that I base my post on.
The stigma that comes when admitting to grappling with mental problems is what keeps people from being able to properly address the issue in the first place.
Who would want to come out and tell the world their mental state was very fragile when the response to such admission is getting branded as a nut case, or worse have everyone dismiss your depression as just acting out or seeking attention?
Whether we admit it or not, most people are suffering from some form of mental disorder as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having our mobility restricted or limited, losing jobs, the fear of being infected with the virus and contracting the severe respiratory disease will certainly wreak havoc with our brains!
Perhaps one good thing that resulted from all this is raising more awareness about the importance of mental health and how we each need to be sensitive to people's feelings and what they're going through.
While it make take a while before the stigma is finally removed, acknowledging the reality of mental health problems, and that everyone is at risk for it, is a huge step forward.
Now back to Masterchef... with the number of contestants down to 13 from 24, the pressure is more intense to stay on for at least another week until the finals.
It was an elimination night. One contestant, Tommy, had won the immunity challenge and would watch the proceedings from the gantry. The 12 others would be paired up randomly and compete head-to-head during the first phase of the cooking challenge.
Those who lose in the first part shall again cook and do their best to avoid getting booted out. The twist is that they were given 90 minutes at the beginning of the cook, and whatever time they have left from the first part will be their only time for the second cook, should they have to.
Part of the footage shown in the episode had Brent already admitting he had been struggling days before. And we did notice that the quality of his cooking was declining, based on the judges' comments after tasting.
He's not a fancy cook, but he always presented delicious and well-thought out dishes that met the daily brief. And he was a real friendly bloke, well-liked by both the judges and his peers.
Needless to say, Brent did not win the head-to-head. As he was cooking, and saw the others completing their dishes, you could see him panicking, especially since he had used up more minutes than he planned to.
When the lineup for the second cook was announced, Brent was beside himself, worried since he only had 35 minutes remaining to complete a new dish.
Just when the mechanics were to be announced, he quickly raised his hand and told the judges that he "can't cook." Asked to explain, Brent said he wasn't in a good place and would be unable to focus on cooking.
Chef Jock Zonfrillo, one of the judges, pulled him aside and spoke to him. During their emotional conversation Brent said the pressure had been getting to him and that being in the Masterchef kitchen, however a privilege, stressed him out and no longer fulfilled him.
He missed his wife and child, and felt that going home to them was the only way for him to find himself again and be happy.
With a heavy heart, Jock made the announcement that Brent was no longer continuing in the competition, and by default, all the other five cooks would be advancing to the next level.
What Brent did took enormous courage. Not only was he admitting his problem before the close-knit Masterchef family he was part of, the man was also announcing his condition to the world.
But as he walked out of the kitchen for the last time, there was a sense of relief in his face and in his last interview clip, there was already a hint of a smile.
How many people could be as brave as Brent? Yet it was this courage that will hopefully encourage those suffering the same problems as he was to also come forward to seek help as well as be understood.
Did Brent have a chance to win the Masterchef title, trophy and quarter of a million dollars? Perhaps. But what he did already made him a winner, in the minds and hearts of those who witnessed his brave exit. He left on his own terms. And saved his co-competitors from having to cook for a chance to stay on.