When you need a break from reality, and as of late, that's probably most of us, spend a little time with Gordon Ramsay and his kid chefs on the reality show MasterChef Junior. Reality television is often deemed a guilty pleasure, a chance to escape from your own life and immerse yourself in someone else's existence — often a life that makes yours look pretty great in comparison. But Masterchef Junior is just a pleasure, nothing guilty about it. It's a show with a sunny disposition that encourages its coming of age contestants, and its viewers of all ages, to reach for the stars and hope for something more.
It embodies the feeling of the Barack Obama era in the Donald Trump age, which is likely how they got Michelle Obama to appear on its latest episode, where she asks the kids to create a healthy dish with ingredients that can be found in the White House garden. It's very on-brand for the former First Lady but it's also very exciting to see these little kids, who grew up only knowing an African American president, light up. At a time when people are feeling like there's a lot to be worried about, this is a show that gives you something to believe in.
The Fox series, which is now in its fifth season, enlists 20 talented home cooks between the ages of 8 and 13 from all over the U.S. to duke it out for the shiny MasterChef Junior trophy and $100,000 grand prize. To win, they must show off their cooking prowess, coming up with recipes on the spot that dazzle the judges. Their knife skills alone will put you to shame and have you working on your chopping, mincing, and back-slicing.
Where most reality shows feed off of controversy and conflict, this one wants you to fill up on good vibes and a can-do attitude. It's a show where kids get as excited to see Big Bang Theory star Mayim Bialik as they do to see James Beard Award-winning chef Aarón Sánchez, the chef and owner of Mexican restaurant Johnny Sánchez who is also a judge on Chopped.
Once, they were forced to solve the problem that is making corn dogs. It's that challenge that had the impressively confident 11-year-old Georgian, Justise —who will be a CEO some day, mark my words — offering her partner Evan, a quietly fierce 10-year-old from Chicago, the advice: "Stay calm, don't spazz." This seemed to work since these two totally killed this one. #Teamwork.
They cry when they drop their finished meal on the floor with only two minutes to go (we've all been there right?), but soldier on to put something on that plate because that's what they have to do on this show and in life. They hug it out when their friend gets kicked off for making a less-than-stellar dish, because the I'm-not-here-to-make-friends attitude of most reality shows is frowned upon.
When Gonzalo, an 11-year-old from Whitestone, New York, got kicked off for getting a bit too shouty during a team challenge, his teammate Adam, a 12-year-old from Sacramento, California, told him he loved him. Not for the cameras, but because they had been through something life-changing. Losing isn't the end on this show and failing isn't the worst thing that can happen. These young cooks lose with grace and a maturity that not even most adults have.
Disappointment is real, but no one truly walks away unhappy, and I can't help but be tickled by the positivity of it all. It's sweet to watch these kids work toward their dreams of being the best kid chef, only to realize there's so much out there for them to still achieve. It's a sign that the future of America isn't as in trouble as the generations before them want to claim. Even as an adult, you can't help but feel inspired by these wunderkinds. Watching them try so hard makes you want to try harder.
Sure, MasterChef Junior is an hour-long distraction, but it also puts a few things into perspective. You're never too old to do things that make you happy, and there are still things in this world worth believing in. MasterChef Junior allows you to root for something, instead of against it, and doesn't that feel nice for a change?