Busman’s Holiday

Watching people learn as entertainment

Sean Pertwee. India Fisher. Two names which stick in my head not only because I love their voices but because I’ve read them innumerable times over the years. These are the two narrators of MasterChef and this is where I admit my love for this long-running television programme.

I’ve always enjoyed cooking and by extension, food and cookery programmes both on radio and television. The reason why MasterChef has been even more entertaining to me wasn’t completely obvious to me until I made an offhand remark to a colleague a couple weeks ago. The reason stems from an innate flaw in my brain chemistry: I love teaching.

Teaching? Yes, really. One thing that MasterChef does well in all its incarnations – Amateur, Professional and Celebrity – is take good cooks and make them better. To do this, it seems that the producers have designed the rounds to push the contestants into a zone of proximal development (ZPD), where the cook is just far enough outside their comfort zone that they easily build upon already acquired learning. This makes the challenges neither boring or known, but neither too radical or unlearnable. They increase in intensity, testing the limits of the ZPD, as the competition progresses.

All this makes it sound like watching an episode would be a bit of a busman’s holiday. It’s not though, really. Because I’m not doing the teaching myself, I can enjoy the act of watching people learn and grow whilst also tasting their fascinating creations vicariously. What’s more, unlike some ‘unscripted’ content, the inter-personal competitive aspects are, if not absent, tastefully understated.

Cooking and learning – I can’t help myself.

24 February 2019