It’s interesting to note that The Weakest Link and American Idol are both British imports, and both shows star acid-tongued Brits (Simon Cowell on American Idol) who deliver insulting put-downs to contestants, which would seem to indicate that a British audience enjoys the put-downs and insults.
Another British import that aired on Fox was Hell’s Kitchen, starring Gordon Ramsay, a popular “celebrity chef” in England. Hell’s Kitchen was all about humiliation. The contestants were your standard-issue reality show bunch, and the show followed the basic reality show template, involving various competitions and the elimination of a contestant in each episode.
The prize on Hell’s Kitchen was a restaurant. When the show started, Ramsay claimed his methods could make anyone a top-notch chef, and what progressed was a sort of boot-camp format, with Ramsay acting as drill instructor (he’s accompanied by two other chefs in this task). Contestants were awakened at 5:00 a.m. by Ramsay’s chefs banging metal lids and quickly forcing the contestants to meet with Ramsay for that day’s festivities.
The last part of each episode played out with the opening of the Hell’s Kitchen Restaurant to “diners” while the contestants worked in the kitchen to prepare the dishes. In the first few weeks of the show, Ramsay screamed at contestants, hurled obscenities, and would even take a prepared dish of food and slam it into a contestant’s chest. Ramsay called an overweight contestant “Fatboy” - some of the contestants were driven to tears by Ramsay’s bullying. It’s hard to imagine that winning a restaurant would be worth the national humiliation of appearing on the show.
Curiously, the final two remaining contestants were chefs in “real” life. So much for Ramsay’s claim of turning anyone into a chef, as many of the contestants were not chefs but rather folks with an interest in cooking.
Tomorrow: PBS enters the kitchen.