I love skilled competition shows. By that, I mean I enjoy competitions that focus on a specific vocation, such as cooking/baking, fashion design, forging, pottery making, glassblowing, applying make-up and so forth. Most of them use the same formula: You have celebrity or semi-celebrity hosts and judges, 10–12 contestants, and there are one or two rounds. On programs with two rounds, the winner of the initial round gets an advantage in the second, or the loser of the first round receives a penalty, while the second round determines who’s going home.
“Pressure Cooker” is one of the first shows I’ve seen really tinker with this formula. There are no hosts and no guest judges. The challengers all live in a large loft with a huge professional kitchen. There’s one challenge per episode that is judged either by the contestants themselves or by former participants, with a couple of exceptions. One brings in the contestant’s family members to rate the food, and one uses professional critics. Challenges are sent to the kitchen via a ticket printer, such as is used in a restaurant, to let the cooks know what dishes are on order.
CAUTION: POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD
Initially, the lack of hosts is a bit disconcerting. It feels odd watching the contenders waiting to hear the “Ticket Printing” announcement and all run over to the printer to find out their next challenge or the latest twist being thrown into the game. Fairly soon, however, it’s hardly noticeable that the hosts are missing, as the show moves along at a nice clip and the contestants add enough questions and commentary that it’s clear to the audience what is happening.
One aspect of the program that didn’t sit too well with me was the game-playing that some participants engaged in. With the contestants acting as each other’s judges the majority of the time – whether it’s all the contenders tasting everyone’s dishes and each one voting for their favorite or a single contestant who’s serving as a blind taster who will taste and score everyone else’s dishes – many of them judged not just on the food itself, but on things such as whom they liked the best, who they wanted to take out to improve their chances of winning, or who they thought might have survived a challenge they shouldn’t have.
This kind of manipulative gameplay diminished “Pressure Cooker” a bit for me. With the drama inherent in having the contenders judge each other, I would have preferred for them to keep the scoring about who had the skill needed to meet the challenges and who produced the best food. I found it rather heartening, then, that in the end the semi-finalists and finalists were participants who’d generally played the game straight, staying focused on their opinion of the food prepared and not who it was made by.
“Pressure Cooker” is a fun show, and a decent way to spend some downtime. I’m not aching for a second season, but if they make one, I’ll likely watch it,