MasterChef is coming to Singapore, and we have questions

By now, you’ve probably already heard about the MasterChef Singapore debacle. On Wed, Feb 21, Beach House Pictures announced that the hit reality television cooking show would be arriving on our shores for the very first time. A casting brief calling for applications was circulated, to find the most talented home cooks “the ‘Little Red Dot’ can offer”.

It all sounded fantastic—until a tiny detail at the bottom of the casting brief revealed that the show, which would commence filming Apr 26, would be aired on MediaCorp’s Channel 8 later in the year. Would contestants have to be fluent in Mandarin? Do Singaporeans even know what smoked salmon is in Chinese? screamed outraged netizens. According to MediaCorp representatives, no; and translation services would be provided if needed. It honestly made the whole situation more perplexing.

An ad in Mandarin calling for applications for MasterChef Singapore

This isn’t the first time introducing an international TV franchise in Singapore has come close to backfiring. In May 2017, the announcement that The Voice would arrive in Singapore and Malaysia received flak after a press release revealed that candidates auditioning would have to be fluent in Mandarin. The show would later be aired on Singapore’s StarHub and Malaysia’s Astro, both channels catering primarily to Chinese-speaking audiences.

And even when these imports decide to practice inclusivity, they’re a far less shiny version of their original counterparts. ‘90s kids will remember when the Idol franchise was imported here for the first time in 2004—complete with a surly Simon Cowell type in the form of Ken Lim. Till this day, we’ll never quite understand how Dick Lee made a suitable Randy.

More importantly though, the success of the Idol franchise never fully translated in Singapore. The turn-out of “stars” produced from the show, which lasted for a grand total of three seasons from Aug 2004 to Dec 2009, included a handful who released below-par studio albums, and a handful more who went on to pursue careers in radio. If you were lucky, you might even have had some sort of singing stint affiliated with National Day celebrations.

And who will forget the string of other TV flops—ranging from 2007’s Deal or No Deal to the 2005 Bachelorette spin-off Eye for a Guy? They were fun while they lasted, but let’s face it; they didn’t last long.

Today, perhaps the most successful of international franchises to land in Singapore is Asia’s Next Top Model, which even then has fallen in viewership from its initial 39 million viewers during Cycle 1 (2012) to 15 million TV viewers in the most recent Cycle 5 (2017).

One possible reason for the lackluster response could simply be the smaller demographic in Singapore—which might explain why MasterChef Singapore chose to go with Channel 8. According to Marketing Interactive, MediaCorp said Channel 8 was chosen to “reach out to the largest audience base in Singapore”. In 2016, an annual report from the Media Development Authority revealed that Channel 8 has the highest reach for its local programs—approximately 3.7 million, in comparison to Channel 5’s 3.1 million. Going by the numbers, perhaps it’s all a calculated attempt to swing non-Chinese speaking viewers over to what is already Singapore’s most viewed channel; MasterChef Singapore will have subtitles in English.

Either way, we’ll be keeping a watchful eye on the developments of MasterChef Singapore (and whether it keeps to its promise of taking on contestants who aren’t fluent in Mandarin). Till then, we leave you with some burning questions of our own: Why does MediaCorp keep letting its audiences down? Will the experience here be as toxic as the one in the US? And who will be Singapore’s Gordon Ramsay equivalent?

If you’re still keen on applying, entry closes midnight Mar 25 here