Why "Masterchef" Season Five Was Disappointing

When a competition may not be about the food alone

Courtney of Masterchef 5
Delilah's Gentlemen's Club

Food competition shows on TV can get very interesting at times and even stir up a bit of controversy. That was the case in "Masterchef" season five. For many women (and men) who watch the show, the disappointment came as they came to know Courtney Lapresi. 

For some people, Courtney was not a favorite from the moment she walked onto the stage. Challenge by challenge, the frustration only grew until she was one of the season's three finalists. Was her food really better than the rest? Or, was there something else going on?

Courtney in the Season Finale

The issue with Courtney was not really her cooking, it was her attitude that was more troublesome. Though there were hints throughout the season, it was most apparent in the last episode.

Up against two strong contestants (Leslie Gilliams and Elizabeth Cauvel) in the season finale, Courtney smirked when Leslie added too much salt to a dish and was eliminated from the final competition. She also made fun of Elizabeth's lamb. Yet, when she tasted her own dessert and realized she didn't have enough to plate for the judges, she felt that she should be forgiven the misstep. 

Sure, Courtney's food may be fantastic. But, it was hard not to notice the bias during season five. Quite frankly, while it sometimes looked expertly plated, her food often sounded dreadful.

Taker her final appetizer, for example. It was the trifecta of horrible things: a crispy pig's ear with a dandelion and fennel salad topped with a quail egg. Pig’s ear, really? We don’t even let our dogs eat those anymore.

It did look as if that would be the beginning of the end. But no, they loved it from beginning to end. Joe—who had been fond of Courtney from day one—called the pig’s ear salad “assertive” and “opinionated.”

Throughout the finale, it was her opponent, Elizabeth Cauvel’s menu that seemed smart and delicious. After that olive oil and grapefruit cake got the thumbs up, it looked like she was sure to win.

After an excruciating wait to see who would win (during which Elizabeth's husband actually fainted), the judges said it was the tiniest of details that separated the two women.

Was There Bias From the Beginning?

When Courtney was crowned the winner, I felt disappointment. Yet, an even bigger concern was that perhaps one of those tiny details was actually not the quail egg, it was those six-inch stripper heels.

Courtney obviously sparked producer’s interest immediately. On a show that likes to bring emotionally charged backstories to the competition, that's of little surprise.

Her big eyes and breathy baby voice aimed at cameras and judges might have distracted them. However, plenty of viewers (especially women) noticed the mean girl sneers and eye rolls Courtney aimed at other contestants.

They, like her inability to form female friends on the show, were red flags for me. But when the men were around, it was clear that Courtney was a certain kind of girl; the kind that knows how to work a man. 

The Food or the Sex Appeal?

Courtney was breathless and flirty with the judges and she cooked in six-inch heels. At one point she even apologized for being a stripper, like a girl who needs to be saved by a knight in shining armor.

Don't get me wrong. I have nothing against strippers. What I don't like is the way she pouted, “I’ve made mistakes” while pretending to be the kind of sweet, innocent girl who would never take her clothes off for money.

Thousands of women (and men) do sex work. That’s fine and people have to make money; sex work happens to be a well-paying job and sometimes it's a necessity. There's no judging that, but most people who work in these jobs own it and even publicly protest against sex work discrimination.

On Masterchef, Courtney described her job as “aerial dancing” even though the internet is filled with photos of her in only a g-string. That’s because aerial dancing sounds like you’re an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil. It does not evoke images of Delilah’s Gentlemen’s Club and Steakhouse (the Philadelphia joint where Courtney worked and won the 2013 Entertainer of the Year).

In reality, Courtney would have been likable from the beginning if she had been frank (yep, I was a dancer at a men’s club), had owned up to it (not super proud but I loved the money), and had kept her sexuality there in the club. That was one element that did not need to be brought into the "Masterchef" kitchen.

Who Cooks in Six-Inch Heels?

How many times did she say the phrase “I’m not just a girl in six-inch heels”? Because who wears six-inch heels to cook? Certainly not a professional (or master) chef.

And I think the judges (all men, mind you) and the producers (who may be all men, not sure) all really responded to her sexuality. So, it was hard to know if she'd really become a judges’ favorite for her food or for other less tangible reasons.

For those reasons, watching Courtney win "Masterchef" Five was anything but satisfying for me.