Why Junior Master Chef Australia is currently the best show on TV

The idea was quite simple, no? Instead of full-grown adults, have 8 to 12 year olds participate in Master Chef Australia. Call it Junior Master Chef. As Gordon Ramsay would put it, “done!”

But that change, made a world of difference. Mind you, Master Chef wasn’t a bad show to begin with. It was good, but, in my opinion, it only places second behind Top Chef. With grade school students behind those stoves, however, the show was elevated into an entirely different level of awesome. And here’s why:

The kids are adorable: Well, duh. This is precisely what the producers were banking on anyway, when they thought of having a kids’ version of the show. But they aren’t just pinch-their-cheeks adorable, the moments of cuteness also come in their little paranoid and neurotic displays. Like when Alex practically pulled all of his curly hair out when something went wrong with his dish (I can’t for the life of me remember what, if you know, please do remind me in the comments) or when one of them commented “My world came crashing down” when a pastry crust didn’t set right or something (I can’t remember who or why again). Ten year olds thinking their worlds will come crashing down with a burnt pie crust/overcooked lamb shank/undercooked fish fillet. Don’t you find that absolutely endearing?

The Genius little freaks clockwise, starting from left: Pierre, Jack, Sam, Isabella, Sophia, Alex, Emily, Cassidy, Lucy, Anthony, Sienna and Nick

The kids are all so nice: In the world of reality TV, the sad truth is, “nice” is hard to come by. You’d think that in the world of cooking shows, you won’t have the catty competitiveness that’s de rigueur in shows like America’s Next Top Model or Project Runway, but you’d be surprised how many “Contestant XYZ doesn’t deserve to be here” moments there’ve been in Top Chef. While of course I didn’t expect nine year olds to have diva hissy fits over whose poached pear was better, I also didn’t expect them to be each other’s cheerleaders. And they are, sincerely and completely. When one of them place in or wins a challenge, you will for sure hear one of the other kids yell a “Well done, Sienna!” or give the winner a high five. Win or lose they clap their little hands like there’s no tomorrow for each other’s successes. In what other reality show will you see that (reunion shows and the finish line of The Amazing Race doesn’t count)?

The kids are AH-MAZING: I think in every episode, my jaw drops in disbelief at least three times. And at least every other episode, I had to Google something. First episode it was “verjuice” and on the pie challenge episode it was “duxelle.” These kids have more cooking talent in their tiny pinkies than I do in my entire being (and mind you, I’m not entirely useless in the kitchen). It’s not just about cooking delicious food either. The kids’ technique is astounding. They all can make their own pastas and pastry dough; cook lamb, beef and fish perfectly and plate their creations in a professional-looking way. All this under an insane time limit, too! These kids really are amazing, in every sense of the word, and make me (and every other person over 12 years old who isn’t a Michelin-starred chef) feel totally inadequate. I can’t even devein a friggin’ shrimp to save my life, while these third graders would have marinated, grilled and made an accompanying salad for them by time I figure it all out. Genius little freaks.

The drama is compelling: It’s probably the cuteness factor at work here, but I find myself more nervous and more in suspense while watching JMC judging than I ever felt during Top Chef. Because they are all so cute and cuddly and nice and immensely talented, you never want any of them to lose or get disappointed or critiqued by the judges (who are predictably the nicest set of reality TV show judges ever assembled). I swear I got teary eyed when I thought Alex wasn’t going to finish his dish and when Sam undercooked his duck. I can’t imagine what a wreck I’ll be when they start sending some of the kids home, which is starts this week.

Elimination or not, I will of course still tune in to the show. Because no matter how sad and heartbreaking it will be to see some of the kids sent home the awe of watching them slice, grill, bake, poach and roast will make up for that. Besides, with the level of talent these kids have, even those who don’t win the prize are assured of a bright future.

Junior Master Chef Australia airs on StarWorld every Sunday, at 7:15pm, two episodes back to back, starting with the previous week’s episode.