Did Masterchef’s Christine Ha, who’s blind, become more than “an inspiration,” “a gimmick”?

The third season of Fox’s Masterchef concluded last night, and 32-year-old creative writing student Christine Ha won the cookbook and $250,000 prize. That she’s a writer is remarkable enough, but Christine is also blind, which made her victory over Josh Marks, a U.S. Army contract specialist, even more amazing.

With minimal help–Christine had an assistant who’d identify things for her and answer questions about how something looks–she out-cooked everyone, presenting well-composed plates. This may be condescending on some level, but it really is almost unbelievable when you think about what she’s able to do.

At the beginning of the finale, the editors included a clip of Christine saying that she, “I’m not here to just be an inspiration, to be a gimmick, you know? I want to be taken seriously.” While she definitely proved herself to be an outstanding chef who should be taken seriously, I’m not sure that came entirely true. It’s not her fault, and maybe not even attributed to the fact that she’s blind, even though the three judges and show reminded us of that non-stop. It bordered on comical: Yes, we get it, she can’t see, because she’s blind. Got it.

Instead, Masterchef barely develops its contestants outside of a few bullet points. For Christine, it was her blindness and that she lost her mother at a young age. What else do we know about her, besides maybe that she’s married? What do we know about Josh? We learn more about some Chopped contestants after one hour than we know about these contestants after hours and hours of TV.

It’s more interesting than the Mad Libs-style Hell’s Kitchen, which is an excuse for Gordon Ramsay to treat a group of people like shit, and also has very little of the same mean spirit (though rewards on Masterchef usually punish their winners and/or encourage them to be jerks). Masterchef does focus on food and features impressive talent from home cooks. It’s nearly entirely studio-based, so there’s never footage of the contestants doing anything but challenges, and three months is a long time to fill with that.

Ultimately, its failure to develop characters out of its chefs make it a surprisingly boring sometimes. Add Gordon Ramsay’s favorite but few adjectives (beautiful, delicious, vibrant, fresh, stunning, amazing), and it just never goes anywhere, despite the eliminations. It’s the same thing hour after hour, and that can really drag. That’s unfortunate, because as Christine proved, it can be a great showcase for exceptional culinary skills.

Masterchef: B

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.