Home > Entertainment, Food > Masterchef SA and the Abilene Paradox

Masterchef SA and the Abilene Paradox

First published in Bolander Lifestyle & Property, April 11 2012

The Masterchef SA judges, Andrew Atkinson, Benny Masekwameng and Peter Goffe-Wood.

Ever had that bizarre experience where you’re part of a group of people who decide on the spur of the moment to do something crazy, but only later discover that nobody was keen on the idea in the first place, but didn’t want to “rock the boat” by saying so?

In management science terms, this is known as the Abilene Paradox, first postulated by George Washington University professor of management science Jerry B Harvey, in a 1988 Organisational Dynamics  article. It amounts to a form of groupthink, whereby individuals in the group feel that their negative response to the suggested course of action is contrary to that of the majority. Since most people are disinclined to “rock the boat” they remain silent, and the whole group ends overtly supporting a course of action that they individually, privately do not support. Once somebody has the courage to voice their true feelings about the matter, others tend to follow with alacrity. All it takes is one person of courage to open the floodgate of truth.

Watching the comments unfold about MasterchefSA, which premiered on MNet three weeks ago, provides one of the finest examples of the Abilene Paradox I’ve ever encountered.

Contestants frantically chopping onions in episode one to secure place at MasterchefSA Boot Camp.

After the airing of the pilot episode, social media platforms, on-line and print media uniformly praised the show. Granted, some of the commentators spoke on behalf of the headline sponsors and MNet itself, so they were hardy likely to be critical. But the bulk of the food and wine media were also strangely – albeit somewhat cautiously – adulatory about the show, almost as if they were afraid of speaking negatively about something that was touted in the lead up, to be an equivalent of the massively successful Masterchef Australia.

The show was dogged by some controversy when the exclusively male judging line up of Pete Goffe-Wood, Benny Masekwameng and Andrew Atkinson was announced. The braver souls asked questions about why the likes of Justine Drake or Margot Janse didn’t make the cut, but were generally shouted down for being too “politically correct” – so be it.

It wasn’t until one brave – albeit anonymous – soul had the courage to fly in the face of convention, and write an honest appraisal of just how bad the show really is, that people began to realise that they weren’t alone in their criticisms, that in fact they were in accord with many people. And the honest opinions are beginning to emerge.

Maybe people felt that it would get better over time, that if they gave it a few episodes for people – judges and contestants – to get into the swing of things, it would improve, but after three equally embarrassing episodes, it is quite clear that is unlikely.

And that is a great sadness, for the headline sponsors, for the judges, for the contestants, for the viewing public, and for the reality TV genre in South Africa.

Considering the resounding international success of Masterchef Australia, upon which the local show was modelled, it was entirely reasonable to expect that we could make a local, albeit shorter version (the Australian version aired six nights a week as opposed to once a week), particularly since the show is in its fourth season in Australia, and the lessons learned there could be adapted for our local conditions. But alas, that does not seem to be the case.

We have a vibrant and growing food culture in this country, and as we emerge more into the light, and absorb more international flavour and texture into our food culture – courtesy of the flood of foody television: Food Network, BBC Food on the BBC Lifestyle Channel and the DSTv Travel Channel – so the breadth and range of what we do in our home kitchens will grow. MasterchefSA ought to reflect that enriched food culture in what the contestants produce, and for that matter, in the reflections and expectations of the judges.

All stakeholders in MasterchefSA – contestants, judges, sponsors and the viewing public – deserve better. Let’s hope they get what they deserve.

  1. dionysus
    April 11, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    Hi Norman

    I kind of agree but I also disagree. Does that make me a fence sitter? I agree the first two shows were crap. I think that is because the judges were the stars of the show. And lets face it they don’t make for great TV. Judge Andrew…the less said the better. He is less exciting than watching paint dry. I have been impressed with PGW. He is, as he is, in real life. The contestants as characters really don’t exist yet, It still to early for that. But as the show develops so will their characters or the plot come to the fore. I am not saying it going to be a great show. I just think it is a little to early to judge. Maybe after week 6 or so. I haven’t been too impressed with the talent either. Surely there must be better amateur cooks in SA?

    Cheers Dionysus

    • April 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm

      Having read your post, I’d say you agree with me.Having said that, a couple of points if I may.
      I have issue with your suggestion that it’s too early to judge the show until possibly 6 episodes have come and gone. Masterchef Aus was outstanding from Episode One; why couldn’t MCSA be the same? Next time you go to watch a movie, and it only starts to become worth watching one third of the way through, wouldn’t you feel a little bit cheated? I certainly would.
      What I’ve also come to realise after listening to Bennie Masekwameng talking to Udo Carelse last Sunday on CapeTalk/702, is that all 18 episodes were edited and in the can before the first episode flighted. MC Aus worked very differently. At most, the episode was flighted two weeks after it was shot, which gave the producers and director audience feedback as the show progressed, allowing them to respond to audience feedback. If the local bunch had done the same, they could have taken feedback into consideration and adjusted the show from episode to episode.
      If I was producing or directing, I’d have fallen over myself for the opportunity to get audience feedback, and adjust the show as it progressed.
      Your point about PGW is well taken: he is EXACTLY as he is in real life.
      And of course your comment about the talent selected says it all: either there isn’t terribly much out there (which I heartily doubt) or the judges wouldn’t know talent if it jumped up and bit them on the nose. After all, who selected the initial 50 who appeared in episode one, then whittled it down to 25 and finally 18?

      • April 12, 2012 at 7:57 pm

        Couldnt agree more about the selection of the candidates. I felt they were selected more for a cross section of our varied population than their cooking ‘skills’ We have yet to see much of it. Or are they saving the best till later?

  2. April 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm

    The mere fact that you feel compelled to open your position by quoting a paradox, first postulated by George Washington University professor of management science Jerry B Harvey, in a 1988 Organisational Dynamics article, indicates to us that you have absolutely now idea about having fun.

    Have you also considered that fact that the reason what so many people are raving about MasterChef is because they are actually enjoying it.

    You don’t have to like the show and you certainly do not need to be quoting Abilene Paradox theory to justify your view and to infer that the majority of people watching the MasterChef SA secretly aren’t enjoying it.

    In your favour however it must be said that you are not anonymous and Andrew “Mr Min” Atkinson can rile the viewer every now and again with his bulging eyes and desperate search for superlatives. But that’s all part of the show.

    Best Regards
    Andrew Lieber

    • April 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm

      Dear Andrew,
      Your conclusion that, because I quote the Abilene Paradox, I don’t know how to have fun is a non-sequitur, but you are of course entitled to your own opinion.
      As to so many people raving about it…. Yes, well you obviously move in circles different to mine. I certainly haven’t heard terribly many compliments about the show.
      I don’t like the show, you’re right, but my quoting of the Abilene Paradox was not intended to justify my dislike. It was done to make a point which you clearly didn’t get. But that’s your problem, not mine.
      And from your final paragraph reference to Andrew “Mr Min” Atkinson, I gather you think I’m the author of this article about MCSA but you would be wrong: I’m not Baz.
      But all said and done, you’re fully entitled to your own opinion, so watch the show and enjoy it.
      In conclusion allow me to suggest that you divulge your relationship with the series: were you or are you in any way involved with MCSA, or are you just an interested viewer who is enthralled by the unfolding (melo)drama in each tedious episode?
      Best regards,

      • guyvexrt9
        April 12, 2012 at 2:38 pm

        MCSA is a poor excuse of a show when you compare it to its international cousins. Anyone who doesn’t acknowledge this fact is either blind or somehow directly involved with this sub par crap.

      • April 12, 2012 at 2:51 pm

        which is the point I was rather unsubtly trying to make in my reply to Andrew just now….
        And by “relationship with the series” I mean not only direct personal involvement, but also having a friend, colleague, family member or acquaintance who is in ANY way connected with the series or any one of its sponsors or the various companies and/or people involved in the making of the series.

    • April 12, 2012 at 2:52 pm

      Oh, by the Way, Andrew, who is “us”?

  3. April 12, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    No conspiracy theory here. Gourmet Guys are in no way connected to the show at all. No sponsors, no advertising, no family members and no friends.

    We simply do not agree with you.using the Abiene Theory to imply that the majority of people are only saying they like the show becasue it is the in thing to do.

    And as for guyvexrt9 medieval ‘if you don’t drown you’re a witch and if you do you aren’t’ argument the less said the better.

    Like I said, you don’t have to like the show, horses for courses and all that. Just don’t insult the integrity of those that do buy subjecting them to “groupthink”, “blind” or “paid”.

    • GuyverXT9
      April 12, 2012 at 3:17 pm

      Andrew, read twice, type once. It has nothing to do with me liking the show or not. The fact is, that the show is sub par compared to its international counterparts. You can’t dispute facts. And i’m not insulting the integrity of the people who actually like the crap, I’m just calling them moronic sheeple, plain and simple.

    • April 12, 2012 at 3:52 pm

      Like I said Andrew, you are fully entitled to your own opinion, but as Guy says, the show is enormously poor in comparison with its Australian, British and even dare I say, it’s American counterparts. My question to you is just this: do you not feel that praising something that is clearly not praiseworthy simply because it is locally made, reinforces the perception that we just can’t do anything to an international standard in South Africa? I don’t see the show begin picked up by BBC Lifestyle or Food Network, do you?

      • GuyverXT9
        April 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

        Norman 1 – Andrew 0. Round 2. START!!!

  4. April 12, 2012 at 4:49 pm

    Liking or not liking the show is not the point guys (read pervious comments which are in English, I checked). Insulting those that do is. I thought the Amercian show was dreadful, after two episodes I stopped watching. It was the Gordon Ramsay show and the other two judges were simply irritating. No further psyco babble analysis was required nor a need to call those that watched it sheep.

    If Guy is so keen on keeping score I’d like to add the several thousand people who were searching for a koeksister recipe on Wednesday morning to my team. They obviously enjoyed the show so much they were inspired to head into the kitchen and make one of this countries national desserts.

    What you don’t seem to grasp about the bigger picture is that 10’s of thousands if not 100’s are taking a real interest in food and what they put on their plate. They are experimenting with new recipes or even cooking properly for the first time.

    And all you can do is call them morons and sheep.

    This show has done more to advance the national culinary cause than anything that has ever come before it. The best thing about it is that there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.

    The show is brilliant, the judges know their stuff, Andrew Atkinson is particularly entertaining and has been able to generate emotive responses. The production quality is world class, the location is the most beautiful setting that any MasterChef show has ever been filmed in. Some of the recipes that the contestants have produced have been superb while others not, that is the same in every show.

    I doubt that you ever wanted the show to be a success and now that it is, it has simply made you both even more grumpy and irritable. If M-Net ever do decide to make a version of the BBC’s Grumpy Old Men I’ll be sure to put your names forward.

    Best Regards

    • GuyverXT9
      April 12, 2012 at 5:10 pm

      Nope, Ultimate Braai master will be a lot better than this, as it’ll actually be an authentic production. What they’re trying to do with MCSA is take an existing formula that works, and give it a South African spin. As with Survivor SA, this is the embodiment of FAIL. Saying the show is brilliant is an outright lie, you liar. Mediocrity cannot be put on the same pedestal as brilliant, and judging from your website design alone, it is something you’ve yet to realise. Still waiting on Norman’s response, but thus far you are still on a rock solid 0. At least you’re consistent.

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