The Masterchef/Drag Race/YouTube effect – the homogenization of subjects, styles and information

by Sayraphim on December 20, 2019

So the kinds of reality tv I like are the ones where people make things – Project Runway, Masterchef, Sewing Bee and the sequined gloriousness that is RuPaul’s Drag Race. But I also think that they shape the ideas and creativeness of those who watch them. Let’s chat about the Masterchef/RuPaul effect.

So Masterchef, if you haven’t seen it, is a competition for ‘home cooks’ IE, those with no professional experience, that sees the winner take home $250,000 (in the Aus one anyway) and other celebrity chef type perks to help them start their culinary career. Often, no matter what their dream, the popular ones end up with telly shows of their own. But that’s a different matter.

Australian Masterchef has been going for 11 seasons and I’ve been watching it for most of them. At the start of each season, each hopeful cooks an ‘audition dish’, their best plate of food to impress the judges. Over the course of the show, they learn how to do things the ‘chef’ way and bring their dishes up to ‘restaurant quality’. In early seasons of Masterchef, these audition dishes looked mostly like any plate of food served up in homes around the country, by which I mean the plates didn’t look ‘chef-y’, not highly decorative placing of food and smears of sauce and whatever. However, over the course of the series, things have changed.

There are people who have been watching it for a portion of their lives, and it’s influenced how people cook, and present their food. By series 7, this (left) was the audition dish by Reynold Poernomo. Not one of the dishes he produced at the end of the series, but the one he came in with. Remember, people who audition arn’t allowed to have any professional experience at all, and in fact people have been booted off the show for lying about their lack of professional experience. Reynold’s parents own a bakery but he wasn’t allowed to work in it, he was just the delivery driver. And yet that’s how he STARTED his appearance on Masterchef.

In an article from 2011 about how influential Masterchef is in Australia:

Home cooks are rushing to buy gourmet foods such as goat’s cheese and pork belly after seeing them cooked in challenges on the Ten Network show, with sales for some products doubling within a week of screening. Show sponsor Coles is enjoying huge sales spikes after products are featured on the show, backed up by recipe cards in the supermarkets the next morning.

But researchers say the “MasterChef effect” is broader than the direct sponsors, with food-related industries such as restaurants, specialist food shops and cooking schools enjoying the spoils.

Also, if you look at Reynold’s audition dish again, notice the plating. See how it’s all presented in a crescent on one side? This is another part of the Masterchef Effect. One of the judges of the show, George Calombaris really liked this style of plating, with lots of ‘negative space’ on the plate, IE space-where-food-isnt. While the other two judges seem more non-plussed about this style of plating, George loved it and so over the 11 years of him judging you saw more and more of this plating style.

This is a competition, of course people are going to cater to what the judges are looking for. They gotta convince the judges to pick them.

But this negative plating has seeped into the majority of the dishes presented not only during the course of the show but as audition dishes. Which means they’ve been practicing this style at home. And all the other home cooks who are influenced by the show see more and more of these style of dishes and do them the same for their family and friends. And thus, Calombaris’ preference for negative space plating becomes the norm for if you want to make your food look ‘fancy’.

So on RuPaul’s Drag Race, drag queens compete to be “America’s Next Drag Superstar”…

by competing in singing, dancing, lipsyncing and acting as well as various comedy challenges … and sewing.

Winning – or even just participating in – Drag Race can be life-changing for drag queens. Aside from the crown, America’s Next Drag Superstar wins US$100,000 and travels the world for a year representing the show.

So it’s a big deal to be on, let alone win. And I’m not down on Drag Race, I love it and I love that it helps normalise gay and trans folk and brings this glorious artform to the masses. But it is changing the face of drag. There is SO MANY ways to do drag, but the judges on Drag Race are looking for specific things. For example, Michelle Visage, RuPaul’s right hand gal, likes a particular form of drag, the very highly made up, very pretty, big haired and glamorous gowns style of drag. And she pushes contestants who do other styles to do prettier make up, to do bigger hair. Often drag queens have specific looks that are their brand, and if it falls outside of what Michelle likes, she pushes them to stop doing their signature style and do something else.

Take, for example, Max from season 7 (left). Max’s signature look is grey hair, styled in various ways. But there was several confrontations between Max and Michelle, who wanted Max to stop wearing her signature colour. There’s a point where she says “What did I ask you for?” and Max replies, while wearing a grey wig, “Not to wear grey hair”. Michelle replies “I’m waiting, and I’m getting bored”. Next episode, Max chooses another colour wig to wear on the runway.

Or Dusty Ray Bottoms, from season 10 (right). Her signature look is dots scattered across her face. The dots vary in placement, size and number but still, dots are her signature look. In ep 1, Michelle is unkeen on the dots and keeps pushing Dusty to stop doing it. In ep 2, Dusty does very minimal, very small dots and Michelle specifically comments that she is pleased that Dusty hasn’t done the dots as she can’t see them.

And I get it, again, it’s a competition and you want to impress the judges, who are holding you hopes of winning in their hands. But it does mean that people who learn drag through watching this massively popular show see one form of drag elevated and desired above all others, the ‘glamazon’, the glamorous drag queen.

EDIT: My very excellent friend Lady Diamond (right) responded to this post on twitter, and it’s important to include voices from the communities I’m talking about, since I’m not a drag queen. She’s very kindly given me permission to include the tweet, talking specifically about Drag Race, here:


And so we come to YouTube, and specifically the educational content on YouTube. While there’s heaps of it out there, most of the English speaking educational content comes from America and the UK. So there are biases and points of view being presented that might not be correct in other countries, yet that is what we get. For example, an Australian student studying for their upcoming exam using YouTube’s Crash Course  is learning from content specifically tailored to the US curriculum. I don’t know how different the Aus curriculum and the US curriculum is, but there are going to be differences. But that student, and all 10 million of Crash Course’s subscribers, and the millions upon millions who watch the various videos, are only getting that one, American point of view.

And I’m not getting all Helen Lovejoy on you here, it’s not that I think Masterchef, or Drag Race, or YouTube is bad, but that there are big gaps in what they are all presenting, there are other points of view, other styles that are out there that are not presented and celebrated by these massively popular, massively global programs.

For example, the Crash Course World Mythology series. 35 videos about mythology from all around the world. However, Australia only appeared once, and it was a story from “Aboriginal Australia”, which just perpetuates the idea that all Aboriginal people are from the same tribe/culture and have the same stories. By not mentioning which mob it comes from, it breaks Aboriginal protocols, and by including only one myth, it marginalises Australia in the world mythology story. If you’re interested, you can see it here:, conveniently  this link will take you straight to the myth I’m talking about.

Or take Australian history for example.  You can search for “Australian History” on youtube, and stuff comes up, but a lot of it seems to be from other countries doing videos on it. What stories and events are they sharing, which ones are they avoiding or ignoring? And this is a critical question when reviewing any source material, whose voices are being amplified and whose are missing? What information is being constantly held aloft and what information is being left by the sidelines?

And the media do this, popular culture does this, everything does this, but I think it’s interesting to apply this to YouTube specifically. What is knowledge, which skills, which way to do things are becoming accepted and which are being forgotten?

Because it’s such a behemoth, is it erasing local knowledge/histories/stories and elevating a single point of view?

And clearly, there’s an answer if so, that there needs to be more Australian educational content up there, more content from an Australian point of view that isn’t just our snacks, thongs and deadly critters. But how to get that done on a large scale? That’s the question.

And this seems like the perfect time to include one of my favourite videos I made this year, the overlapping histories of history and what isn’t included in our taught Australian histories, including Aboriginal bush rangers and the many, many massacres of Aboriginal people since colonisation.

Image credits


Reynold Poernomo’s audition dish, Image from



Dusty Ray Bottoms:

Lady Diamond:

Helen Lovejoy:

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