Marco Pierre White prepares to dish out some pain in MasterChef: The Professionals.FEW things are more gratifying in television than watching a group of desperate people debase themselves for money, prizes or prestige. Competitive reality TV is one of the shining stars in the TV firmament: it shows us humanity at its worst, and therefore is television at its best. But every fan of reality must ponder the question: amateur or professional?

The arrival this weekend of MasterChef: The Professionals brings this into sharp focus. Will the introduction of actual professional chefs to the MasterChef recipe be the spice that gives the dish an extra kick, or the dead mouse that ruins the entire party? It’s a question that has great implications for the entire reality industry. MasterChef, after all, was based on the classic reality premise: how do people deal with being taken out of their comfort zone? MasterChef: The Professionals seems to be based on another premise: how do people deal with being put into their comfort zone?

Is it more entertaining to see experts demonstrating their dazzling array of skills, or to see a bunch of nobodies failing? Yes, the answer seems obvious: we’d surely rather see people like us crash and burn; but there’s a wrinkle here, which is the issue of risk versus reward. Sure, we can watch regular MasterChef and see contender after contender burn their chicken and collapse their souffle, but that’s par for the course on MasterChef. And what’s the worst that can happen? They have to keep working at their horrible job. Big deal.

But on The Professionals, we’re going to see people who cook for a living go head to head. No doubt most of the time they’ll produce excellent dishes. But imagine how thrilling it will be when they don’t! When someone who is actually paid to make good food fails to make good food! The height from which the professionals have to fall will make the falls that much more spectacular. What’s more, the stakes are so much higher when you consider these chefs are going on TV to promote their restaurants: having Matt Preston turn up his nose could destroy their career.

And that’s the key to the appeal of the professional-versus-professional reality show: the likelihood of disaster is lower, but the glee with which we lap it up when it happens is sweeter.

Still, the divide will remain, and TV will continue serving up reality to serve both sides of the coin. My Kitchen Rules, for example, will never go down the ”professionals” road, because its appeal lies not in the anticipation of failure, but in carefully selecting the most obnoxious human beings in the country.

The Block, with its All Stars version, has hedged its bets: the competitors are still not professional builders, but they are, apparently, professional reality TV contestants. But I think The Voice would be a big hit in a ”professionals” format, because we’d all love to see how Delta likes it when some nobody refuses to turn around while she sings Rolling in the Deep.

But for now, let’s just enjoy the marvellous spectacle of hard-working professionals risking everything on whether George Calombaris thinks they’ve deconstructed the salad right. It’s a catastrophe waiting to happen, and that’s what TV is all about.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.