Who will become the next MasterChef?
Although only the first episode of MasterChef Season 5 has aired, I’m willing to go out on a limb and make my prediction for this year’s winner. I don’t have any “inside information” or access to spoilers, but based on the editing, the contestants focused on in the premiere episode and other factors, my bets are on Elise Mayfield getting the title.
Let me tell you why.
The first episode introduced us very quickly to the 30 contestants that made it into the MasterChef kitchen this season—although 8 got the axe right away. Still, 22 people are a lot to start the season off with and some we barely saw at all except as a glimpse in the background. While there usually are a few chefs who emerge from “the pack” as the season progresses, I have to believe that the editors were going to want to give the eventual winner some serious screen exposure right from the beginning (keep in mind that the show has been completely filmed and the winner determined before any episodes have aired.)
So, who were the contestants we saw the most of this episode? Of the people who received aprons right off the bat, after the signature dish challenge, there was Courtney Lapresi who got a lot of airtime: the “aerial dancer” from Philadelphia who worked her way through college as a Gentleman’s Club entertainer. In fact, it seems she has a bit of a following and name in the city, being spotlighted last year for “Your Daily Cheesesteak”—and apparently was a winner of Delilah’s Entertainer of Year Award in the past? She’s also apparently friends with Season 10 Hell’s Kitchen winner Christina Williams. She’s cute and came across positive, perky and likeable in the first episode…but is middle America ready for a MasterChef winner with a past in erotic dancing? That’s a question the producers may be asking themselves when at the end of the day, they want to market a cookbook that people are going to want to buy because they like the winning chef. Also, she seems to be coming from an Italian cooking/heritage background, and we just had an Italian chef win last season, Luca Manfe. I also found myself wondering how passionate/experienced Courtney really is when it comes to cooking? I could not find anything online, outside of her now official MasterChef Facebook and Twitter accounts, where she talked about food in the past. (Okay, there was a vimeo video uploaded four months ago of her “eating a hamburger“, which has since been locked down as a private video.) In judge Joe Bastianich’s post-episode blog, he comments on sensing “a lack of passion for food” from her despite her excellent-tasting plate, and that “It seemed like maybe she was still performing, albeit for a much different audience.”
Then there was “Big” Willie Mike, the Choral Music Director from Texas. He also seemed likeable and upbeat, but does he really have the cooking skills and finesse to go far? His signature dish of chicken with white wine and apricots, quite honestly, looked extremely pedestrian to me. It may have been tasty but I don’t know if he has what it takes to make it through too many elimination rounds. I also can’t find any social media/web background on him online—which you’d think a winner or serious competitor in a show like MasterChef would have if they want to prove their “cred” as a serious cook. Victoria Scroggins had what looked like a great plate and got an apron quickly, along with a little screen time. She has a catering business (website launched just last month on April 14, 2014—soon after, I believe, MasterChef would have ended filming for this season), and also does open mic performances in the NYC area. I have a feeling she’ll go far in the competition, but based on the premier episode editing I don’t think she’ll be the winner. We didn’t really see a pitch about her personal life, and we know the MC editing gremlins love to make the show all about personal drama!
Tyler Viars got some screentime and drama for initially messing up his chimichurri sauce, but he pulled it together and got an apron quick. But I don’t sense a season “winner” in him, at least not in how he was presented in the edit. He could be someone like last season’s Jordan Roots or Bethy Rossos—a clearly talented chef who makes it reasonably close to the end but may have a “meltdown” in the kitchen eventually. Or, simply is seen as not marketable enough to push through to the final few at the end. Dan Wu seemed to have the best plate of the night with his ramen that Joe said “blew us away”. But we saw and learned almost nothing about him in the premier episode. I think he may be a come-from-behind chef that gets more screentime as the show goes on, but doesn’t seem to be marketed as a final winner.
We saw a lot of Elizabeth Cauvel and her “elevated” comfort food, a concept I’m rather tired of from over-exposure on the Food Network. Her website, created at the beginning of this year (according to whois), is pretty much just a resume/portfolio of her advertising/writing work—nothing about food except that her clients have included On The Border, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, and Burger King. (OK, update as of May 30: I’ve now found she has a private dining/cooking lesson website launched the day of the MasterChef premiere, Elizabeth Cauvel Cooks.)
Of those who had to fight for (and received) one of the final aprons, we saw a lot of Astrid, Francis L, Elise and Leslie. Astrid LaVenia got a serious tongue lashing from Joe about her sloppy work station and turned off some viewers with her comment afterward about thinking there would be someone to clean up after them. She was spotlighted in 2011 as one of New Orleans’ Top Female Achievers, notable for her well-liked restaurant Meson 923. But the restaurant closed and a dispute over ownership resulted in a 2013 lawsuit with Astrid as one of the plaintiffs. My hunch is that she’s going to get an unfavorable edit, if she makes it far, to be played up as one of the possible “villains” of the season.
A similar editing fate may await Leslie Gilliams, the so-called “stay-at-home” dad from Malibu already nicknamed “Malibu Ken” by some viewers on Chowhound. At first when the judges questioned whether he really “needed” this competition, I thought it was a comment about his age and being clearly settled into a comfortable life (yacht, happy family and all.) I didn’t realize that he was actually at least a sometime film producer and “television executive”, married to Paula Hart (mother of actress Melissa Joan Hart). What he’s doing on a show like MasterChef really is beyond me, and he didn’t seem to have too many friends among the competitors based on what we saw in the premiere, and previews for upcoming episodes. In my opinion he has no winning potential and is just there for the drama.
I liked Francis Legge, the music video director from New York City with a colorful fashion sense and a love for molecular gastronomy. But we’ve seen in the past that the judges aren’t too keen on that kind of science-oriented cooking (remember season three’s Tali?), and whether he can perform well when he can’t rely in wizardry and tricks remains to be seen.
That leaves Elise Mayfield, whom we saw quite a bit of in this premiere episode. The “plump pie baker” (as dubbed on Chowhound) was introduced to us quickly as someone who wanted to leave behind working in a cubicle to make cooking her real career and passion. What was never mentioned once on the show was that she’s also an actress—according to her website now entitled “Adventures in a Tiny Kitchen” which was created back in 2012 but only shows food-related blog entries dating back to April of this year. (You can see the May 2013 version of the site via the Wayback Machine that it was primarily about her acting career and education, although she does mention that “When Eli 4ce se [sic] is not working at her office job, attending class, or rehearsing, she can usually be found covered in flour and chocolate while baking treats for her friends.”) Does that acting background and training explain how she was able to turn on the water-works so quickly and easily throughout the episode, or were the emotions and tears truly heartfelt? She certainly seemed to be at the center of much of the dramatic action in this episode, and I just got the hunch of them marketing the eventual series winner from the edit they gave her.
Think about it: she seems to have a comfort food “schtick” like Elizabeth but that seems better suited to her style and appearance. She’s got the back-story of wanting to start a new career and get out of a boring cubicle job. She’s portrayed in a positive light from the start, someone to “cheer” for as she makes her “redemption pie” and gets the absolute last apron given out to the contestants—indeed, the rest are all asked to come down from the balcony to congratulate her, instead of going up the stairs to join them at the end of the episode. It all seems set up to make her stand out, right from the start. Groupon is already doing a weekly series called “Watching MasterChef’s Elise Mayfield Watch MasterChef’s Elise Mayfield” and Joe spent considerable time in his blog talking her up as “the underdog coming out of the gate…one cannot help being intrigued by her unyielding passion, drive, and sheer appreciation for her place on this show—not to mention her food. At this juncture her intentions seem pure—she is here for the right reasons, not for 15 minutes of fame. It was extremely endearing.”
I don’t have anything against Elise, mind you—it’s just pies, baking and “Southern Comfort Food” are not big interests to me and my foodie passions, so if she wins I doubt I’d be buying her cookbook unless we see her really being able to excel in other ways in the MasterChef kitchen. I just feel that the editing here is being quite blatant in setting up the likely winner of the series, and that MasterChef is really far from being about finding “the best home cooks in America”. It’s much more about picking and grooming someone who will be marketable to the masses and hopefully sell some cookbooks—and whatever other products get blatant placement on the series (I wonder how many episodes this season before we start seeing Walmart praised and promoted?) With Paula Deen’s fall from grace it seems like everyone is out there looking for the next Southern food “goddess” to promote and elevate—just look at Next Food Network Star last season winner Damaris Phillips—and with that in mind Elise Mayfield seems to be the most likely candidate to win the title of MasterChef.
At least that’s my prediction out of the gate. We’ll see come the end of this summer if I was right or completely off the mark!
UPDATE (JULY 23 2014):
Well, it seems my prediction has proven wrong; Elise was sent home at the end of episode nine (airing July 21). She proved herself to be much weaker than the rest of the competition pretty quickly and while I was still waiting to see if they’d pull a “redemption” storyline out for her like Luca last year, that wasn’t going to be the case after her continually pathetic performance (she really earned the title of the “Baker Who Couldn’t Bake”.
At this point it’s hard for me to say who will come out as the winner. From a popularity standpoint it seems like Willie has it in the bag. But his cooking skills still seem a little pedestrian and weak compared to the others. Courtney has definitely become the judge’s pet but she comes across as far too egotistical and unlikeable to be someone the powers that be will want to put on a cookbook cover. Christian could be a surprise come from behind winner, I think, and I still like Francis L although we don’t see enough of him most of the time. If I had to place bets it would either be on Willie or Christian, probably facing off against either Courtney or Elizabeth in the finale. But my guess is only as good as yours!
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sockii is just your typical Jane-of-All-Trades who never has enough time in her day for all of her projects. She has written for many websites online including Squidoo, Zujava, Yahoo! Contributors Network, HubPages and Wizzley. She has been attending and vending at science fiction and media conventions for over 15 years, and for several years ran an art gallery and jewelry store in Philadelphia. Today she is happy to be living in South Jersey with her partner David and their 6 cats. Sockii is a member of several affiliate sales programs including Amazon Associates and Viglink. Products from these services may be advertised on her posts and pages to generate sales commissions.
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