For a reality competition, the show does very little to foster competition between the contestants. Again, much of this has to do with the children’s inherent helpfulness. In a recent interview with Salon’s television critic Sonia Saraiya, MasterChef Junior producer Sandee Birdson remarked, “How are they going to carry these mixers? Oh, they’re going to carry them together. Go get a friend, you can do this. It was unbelievable.” (Other amazing facts from that interview: the kids “cut themselves far less than the adults,” and in between tapings, the chefs also have school.)
The show’s format and judges also help to create this friendly environment. All of the judges, particularly Ramsay, are incredibly nice and helpful (at one point, he stays with a crying contestant until she smiles, and it is the cutest thing in the whole entire world), even though they still expect restaurant-quality food — and often get it. Not all of the challenges are strict competitions: In one episode, a contestant wins the opportunity to sit out the next challenge and eat pie; the judges inform him that he can pick someone to join him, for no real reason other than giving him someone to hang out with. MasterChef Junior also turns the challenges into fun games. Last year, the kids got to dump whipped cream on the judges’ heads, and next week’s episode features an even funnier challenge, though I won’t spoil it here.
During these challenges, which feature only three of the contestants, the rest of the kids stand on the sidelines screaming and cheering on their peers as if they’re all on the same team. And even though only one of them will go home with the prize money (which one girl will use to donate to charity and to buy a horse), it’s easy to see that these children actually are all on the same team: They just want to have fun and do something cool with friends. Competition aside, they all share the enthusiasm and wonder that adults on reality shows conspicuously lack. At one point, a kid wonders if a guest judge is actually a hologram; during an important challenge, someone hands over a plate of pancakes with a bite taken out of one of them; later on, another contestant explains that she put jellybeans on a pie simply because, “Everybody loves jellybeans, and I love jellybeans!”
When the children are eliminated, as reality competition rules dictate that they must be, there are obviously tears, but there’s none of the despair that plagues adult eliminations. After all, these kids literally have their whole lives in front of them to cook, to get better, and to open their own restaurants — and they each make damn sure to reiterate the fact that they will keep cooking and they will open that restaurant eventually. This isn’t the end of the world for them. They are surely disappointed to be out of the competition, but more than anything, they just seemed bummed out to leave their new friends.