I love watching cooking and baking competition shows. Now, I’m hopeless at cooking and baking, is why I just resort to watching other people doing it. I enjoy watching the competitions especially to see the creativity of the contestants, because… that’s something I completely lack!
Stumbling upon Zumbo’s Just Desserts, I tried watching Season 1 when it first hit Netflix a couple of years ago. Of course, I couldn’t help but to compare it against other baking competition shows that I really enjoy, which is quite frankly Nailed It! The reason I love Nailed It is not only because it hits close to home (I should totally be on that show as a contestant), but because the hostess Nicole Byer makes it work. She’s funny but not malicious, and she carries the whole show with her humour. But more on that in another post.
I first found out about Adriano Zumbo from another baking competition show, Sugar Rush, which I also watched on Netflix. To be honest, there is something about Sugar Rush doesn’t quite work for me (I can’t stand the host Hunter March), but I like watching the creations of the participants.
If I thought Sugar Rush was bad, Zumbo’s Just Desserts is even worse.
By the way, yes, this post is a bit late; Zumbo’s Just Desserts ended after 2 seasons, back in 2016. However I only watched it last month when it came onto Netflix.
From the get go, the hostess Rachel Khoo annoyed the bejeezus out of me. I suppose in the typical Malaysian spirit of taking pride in anything remotely Malaysian, we should take pride in London-born Rachel Khoo who has a Malaysian father. Wikipedia says she is a British cook, author and broadcaster.
The moment she opened the show, I wondered why she was considered to be a hostess. I had never seen anyone with so little personality be a host on a show. However, she’s not the one with the least personality – the titular person for whom the show is named after has even less personality than she has! And yes, that’s Zumbo. And honestly speaking, I saw that complete lack of personality even on Sugar Rush.
There was a floor assistant in Season 1 who was not brought back in Season 2 – a beautiful model Gigi Falanga, who is a baker herself. Honestly when I watched her throughout Season 1, I was wondering what she was even there for, because she didn’t seem to be bringing anything to the show or offering anything of value to the contestants.
But apparently, according to the rumour mill, Gigi was not brought back to the show, not because of this apparently uselessness, but rather because Rachel Khoo did not like having someone beautiful on the floor who was stealing the attention. Is this true? I do not know. But honestly whether Gigi is there or not didn’t really make any difference.
What made other shows work, even Sugar Rush in some way, was how the judges and host/hostess would communicate with each other and with the contestants. They would bring insight or provide feedback about the situation, or even have light-humoured conversation at the side. And they always bring themselves into the conversations.
None of that in this show.
Yes, in spite of that I still watched Season 2.
My disclaimer is… I just like watching the dessert creations by the amateur cooks.
In fact, for some reason, the way Rachel scoops food in her mouth annoys me. Somehow, she makes it look like a forklift scooping large spoonfuls into her large open mouth, and as she is eating, she always has this slightly annoyed look on her face, and she always gives this side-eye look towards Zumbo.
Every time she does that, I wonder should she even be a judge? (Yes, she is the hostess AND a judge on this show.) Why give that sarcastic side eye look every single time she has that forklifted food in her mouth? Is it because she thinks they did poorly? Does she think she can personally do better? Or is she looking for approval from Zumbo???
Neither of the judges really bring anything to the show anyway. Obviously they cannot offer any advice to the contestants on the floor, but they have zero banter off to the side, and they don’t really make any useful comments (which would benefit the viewers) when they are watching the contestants struggle, like other judges do in other shows. And during judging, both of them make generic comments that aren’t really helpful to anybody.
Even the contestants are annoying
Watching Season 2, there are several contestants that I found very annoying. Catherine, the youngest at 19 years old, has an annoying high pitch voice that grates on my nerves. Jeff looks like a bitter old man whose competitive spirit seems to be more about beating other people instead of doing his best, and he likes to talk smack about the other contestants especially those who won Dessert of the Day, even though he himself has never won it. Rachel (the contestant, not the hostess) is all about unicorns and mermaids and herself.
But then, we only see what the producers want us to see – it depends on how the show is edited.
So I couldn’t help wondering if the contestants are genuinely really annoying in real life, or was the show edited to make them look annoying?
If you run a Google search on Zumbo’s Just Desserts, you would find a lot of indignant outcry about the obvious bias the judges displayed throughout the season, by always awarding Catherine Zhang “Dessert of the Day” and even when her desserts missed out an important element or completely failed the brief (i.e. the theme or requirements the judges wanted to see in the dessert). It was obvious that the judges were in favour of Catherine, and somehow, whether it really was or not, the way the judging took place, it was as if it was set up for Catherine to make it to the final.
It is the most obvious in the final episode, which boiled down to Catherine and Simon. Both were talented bakers, with apparently great skill in taste pairing and unique creativity.
Don’t get me wrong – not to take anything away from Catherine who has more baking skill in her little pinky than I do in my entire body – but perhaps the judges wanted to have a unique winner for their show, for marketing reasons? And who better than an Asian American who was incredibly young at only 19 years old.
How the judging works in this show is, itself, already questionable. The competition only had two judges – Adriano Zumbo and Rachel Khoo. Whenever it came to the section where two bakers had to fight for their spot to stay in the competition (usually at the end of every episode, comprised of the two worst-performing bakers) known as the “Zumbo Test”, the judging would take place with Zumbo and Khoo verbally giving their own scores out of 10, and the baker with the higher combined score would stay on in the competition.
The same judging format was used for the finals, with the difference that the two finalists had to through two rounds – one Zumbo Test and one Sweet Sensations challenge. The winner was the one with the higher combined score out of 40 (10 from each judge x 2 judges x 2 rounds).
In an attempt to create a nail-biting finale, they gave scores that apparently seemed to put Simon and Catherine neck-and-neck; and they scored Simon first, with him getting a total of 32 out of 40. Up to that point, Catherine had 14 out of 20; she needed at least 19 out of 20 to beat him, which means a minimum score of 9 and 10 from the judges.
Impossible, right? How can anyone possibly get 10? It means that it was absolutely perfection, and we all know that’s not possible in the real world.
Well, guess what. Zumbo scored her 9, and Rachel gave her the much-needed 10 to be declared the winner of Season 2.
Watching them celebrate Catherine’s win after that was actually very nauseating. Did they seriously expect viewers to be that thick and stupid to believe that score was really justified?
Personally, I have nothing against Catherine. It is the show and the judges that are completely flawed. The judging was already questionable, with the judges giving verbal scores which are obviously subject to manipulation and bias. Plus, who is Rachel Khoo and what makes her fit to be a judge in this show? If she was at least interesting and fun and brought something cheery to the show, it would not be a problem at all. But the complete lack of personality from both Zumbo and Khoo makes the show almost unbearable to watch. It’s the bright and creative desserts from the contestants that are the stars of the show.
I have no doubt that they are both talented and highly skilled bakers; they just don’t really have a place in front of the camera.
The desserts got deserted
I am not a fan of the cancel culture, but well… looks like I’m not the only one who is not a fan of the series. I am sure some things have found more things they disliked about the show, compared to me, in the above. So no wonder the show flopped and was not renewed after the second season.
Who is Adriano Zumbo?
Adriano Zumbo is one of Australia’s most celebrated pâtissier, and has been credited with the popularity of macarons. He rose to fame with his frequent appearance as a guest judge on Masterchef Australia.
Zumbo’s Just Desserts Season 2 is available for streaming on Netflix. Season 1 is not available.