Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: In defence of The Great Food Race

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Chris Philpott says The Great Food Race might just be the most underrated show on television.
The Great Food Race's Lorenzo (left) and Leonardo Bresolin and Zoe Marshall.
The Great Food Race's Lorenzo (left) and Leonardo Bresolin and Zoe Marshall.

It wouldn't be controversial to suggest that The Great Food Race has failed to capture the imagination of audiences. The locally-made cooking competition suffered from poor viewership on debut back in February, and hasn't managed to recover, averaging just 142,106 viewers (aged 5+, overnight figures only) over the last few Sunday nights - which is a damn shame.

I think The Great Food Race might be the most underrated show on television right now.

There are numerous reasons why the show has failed in the ratings. Probably the biggest reason is that TV3 scheduled it up against MasterChef New Zealand, which is currently cleaning up Sunday evenings over on TV One. Consider this: MasterChef NZ's 5+ overnight rating for March 16 was higher than three straight Sundays combined for The Great Food Race.

Sure, MasterChef NZ itself might be in decline - its ratings are down on last season - but it is a juggernaut that TV3 should have kept its flagship cooking show well away from.

But that is just one problem The Great Food Race has faced. It didn't help that poor promotional material meant viewers weren't really sure what The Great Food Race was going to be when it premiered, nor that the first few episodes turned out to be more Come Dine With Me than direct cooking competition. Perhaps viewers are just growing tired of reality competitions after years of MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules.

Then there is the relative absence of new, locally-made hits on the TV3 schedule, where the most successful local shows are longer-running series like 7 Days, Jono & Ben At 10 and The Block NZ. The Great Food Race is barely notable in its failure to draw a larger audience. It's just the latest in a string of local shows - from drama The Blue Rose, to comedy Sunny Skies, to reality shows like Cadbury Dream Factory, to current affairs like 3rd Degree - that premiere to head-scratchingly poor ratings and struggle to recover.

The Great Food Race is barely even notable in its failure. It's just the latest in a long line of local productions on TV3 to go largely ignored by audiences here at home.

The first season will run its course and, assuming it doesn't get renewed - which seems highly unlikely right now - it will be forgotten in a year, maybe less.

Personally, I find this all very upsetting, and not just because local television deserves better than this (though it does). It really bugs me that good ideas are barely given a chance, while terribly boring ideas are renewed year after year.

I think The Great Food Race is a really good idea. It plays like an unholy mash-up of My Kitchen Rules, The Food Truck and The Amazing Race - and if that was all there was to the show, it would still be entertaining as hell.

But the core of The Great Food Race is good old Kiwi ingenuity.

Tight budgets are in place and the pairs are forced to cook in some pretty odd locations - my favourite: two couples had to row out to a yacht and cook a meal for eight people in a tiny galley, then row the ready-made meal back to shore - and they just have to make it work, however they can pull it off. It makes for some entertaining, exciting television.

It helps that the pairs seem real - or, at least, more real than contestants on these kinds of shows normally seem. The show is populated with teams who are just like people we run into on a daily basis. The guys team, Dan and Aaron, are just normal Kiwi blokes. The girls team of Flora and Jasmine, sadly eliminated last week, had the same interests and foibles as anyone in their early twenties. The contestants seem like genuinely good people, like most people you meet in real life.

The same can be said for the judges, brothers and restaurateurs Leonardo and Lorenzo Bresolin, who don't have any of the arrogant swagger that harms other cooking shows.

The pair are humble and relatable. And the fact that they aren't involved in the entire competition - only showing up when the food is on the table - gives their opinion more credence.

The show is far from perfect. It has its flaws - an over-use of surprise twists, like making the teams plan meals on a flight to China without knowing what they'll be cooking with or how long they'll have, and host Zoe Marshall's overly scripted banter, the most annoying.

But The Great Food Race is a unique idea, one that was made here at home. It is entertaining and exciting, and inspiring at times. And if you have skipped past it for one reason or another, it deserves a chance. Locally-made television is as good as anything on the box, and this show is no exception.

* What do you think of The Great Food Race? Post your comments below.

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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