Over the years, reality television has been an incredibly polarizing subject. Ever since the genre’s massive boom in popularity in the 2000s, beginning with shows like “Big Brother,” “Survivor” and “American Idol,” opinions on the phenomenon have been incredibly varied from person to person. Clearly, many people love the concept, because of its ability to showcase fun competitions or unique voyeurism. Plus, they also simply work as perfect alternatives for those times when nothing else is on TV. But, like with everything, there are a lot of downsides that have given the genre a bad name for years. From accusations of staging, exploiting children, bringing Kim Kardashian into the public limelight and launching Donald Trump into the presidential seat, it’s easy to understand why some people are uneasy about reality television’s popularity.
But, while there are many valid criticisms, the one thing I personally have to thank this programming boom for is introducing me to one of the most entertaining chefs turned television personality, Gordon James Ramsay. The award-winning cook had originally been known for his famous London restaurant, but in 2004, Ramsay decided to give this trendy “reality TV” thing a go and hosted two different cooking-related television shows: “Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares,” where he visits failing restaurants and attempts to improve the establishment before it’s forced to close down, and “Hell’s Kitchen,” where prospective chefs competed against one another while catering for different London clientele.
With the massive success of both shows, Ramsay then moved over to American television just one year later, and brought an American adaptation “Hell’s Kitchen” to FOX. Quickly becoming a hit, the U.S. version of “Hell’s” made Ramsay one of the most famous television personalities of all time, thanks to his fiery temper and love of swearing. Naturally, Ramsay has continued to work with FOX, producing and hosting American editions of hit shows like “Kitchen Nightmares” and “Masterchef,” and creating new programs like “Hotel Hell.” He’s even become famous on the internet, resulting in many memes based on his catchphrases and also maintains an active Twitter where he often makes fun of other people’s cooking creations.
I’ll admit that I didn’t really know who Gordon Ramsay was until a few years ago. I of course knew about him as a personality, and I knew about all of his different television shows thanks to commercials and promos on FOX, but I never really cared to actually give any of his shows a chance. Even today, I have no interest in cooking and I’m very picky when it comes to reality TV. Why on earth would I want to watch some crazy man insult, berate and yell at a bunch of aspiring chefs for an hour?
But, on one boring Friday night, I decided to watch an episode of “Kitchen Nightmares,” because there was literally nothing else on. And surprisingly, especially considering I had no interest in culinary skills and arts, I was instantly hooked. I loved seeing the disgusting kitchens. I loved seeing the delusional owners who were always in denial about every issue found in their restaurant. And, of course, I loved seeing Gordon Ramsay’s anger and appall at seeing the poor maintenance and leadership in each restaurant he visited. I instantly binged as many episodes of the show as I possibly could, which later led to me watching “Hell’s Kitchen,” then I found myself watching “Masterchef,” and eventually, I also ended up watching “Hotel Hell.”
The reason for why I became such a fan of these unscripted programs comes down to the host himself. In every episode, Ramsay is an oddly relatable protagonist. He lives in a world where people who claim to know everything about cooking and dining actually know nothing and are too stubborn to admit their faults. His frustrations are entertaining, yet also sympathetic, thanks not only to his boisterous personality, but also to his obvious passion and knowledge of cooking and food. He hates seeing the thing he loves go to waste and be tampered by people who don’t know what they’re doing, which is something relatable to many, even if not specifically related to food.
And it is through his passion that it is revealed that Ramsay isn’t just a complete jerk who likes to see people miserable. He has a clear adoration for the culinary arts, has used his love of cooking to create a successful profession and passes on his knowledge by using his own unique form of tough love toward others. He has also shown many times in the past that he is able to be a caring individual who wants to see talent grow. Some of the best examples of his softer side come out on one of his more popular series, “Masterchef Junior.”
Of course swearing and yelling at kids would make for some pretty awful television, so he uses the competition show as a way to help aspiring child chefs expand and grow their knowledge on cooking. Like any great parent, he encourages his contestants and tries to give them whatever help they ask for while also letting them navigate the ropes on their own, allowing them to become great chefs and not turn into the arrogant and delusional adult contestants he has to face on his other shows.
And it isn’t just kids who he shows kindness to. Ramsay will give adults praise for their food and he is always overjoyed to see talented people use their culinary crafts to create something delicious. One of the best moments in American “Masterchef” involves Ramsay tasting an apple pie that was prepared by a blind chef, which resulted in him heaping mountains of adoration onto her for her work, even though she had previously admitted that she thought she’d done terribly. There are many more examples, such as the countless “Kitchen Nightmares” episodes where Ramsay defends workers being mistreated by their bosses and even helps strained marriages from time to time, showing how much of a caring person he really is.
It’s his passion, tough love and unique screen presence that makes Gordon Ramsay such a delight. He’s one of the few people in the world who has been able to make an entire television and culinary empire solely through his unique personality and obvious love for what he does. Seeing someone like him be so successful makes me glad reality television exists; I don’t think TV and cooking would be the same without him.