Krissi Biasiello, the Masterchef contender everyone loved to hate, has finally been booted from the Fox reality drama, walking away from the dream of $250,000 in prize money and her own cookbook—and many fans are surprised she made it as far as she did. Aside from not necessarily having the strongest cooking skills, Biasiello became famous for her vicious attitude on screen, with her abrasive personality jarring many viewers as well as fellow contestants.
The narrative constructed around this home chef was complicated, though, and it merits further examination within the larger context of class, reality shows, and US culture.
Like other reality shows, Masterchef plays for drama, and clearly some decisions are made on the basis of what’s going to be explosive, what will draw viewers, and what will keep people tuning in each week to see another chef eliminated. To that end, it’s craftily edited, shaping chefs into personalities and nudging viewers to view people on screen in specific ways. Very quickly, Biasiello was cast as the loudmouthed, aggressive, self-confident Italian chef who took no nonsense from anyone…but sure was quick to dish it out.
Yet, many of these traits are those associated with lower-class women from big immigrant families, as well, which makes the decision to frame her that way one loaded with tension. Biasiello comes from a large Italian family in Philadelphia, with years of experience cooking on her own and alongside family members. She’s also a single mother. One thing she didn’t have? Restaurant experience, like some of her Masterchef compatriots, and not just in the sense that she hadn’t worked in restaurants, but in the sense that she hadn’t been to many.
Biasiello lacked a refined palate becaue she couldn’t afford to spend time eating out at restaurants, and she had a limited scope of food experience. That was definitely a major problem for her as the tasks on Masterchef became more complex and she was pushed out of her comfort zone as a chef. She was confronted with cuisines and flavours she’d never experienced, along with challenging dishes that she had no idea how to handle. While it’s tempting to claim that a chef who can’t handle the heat should get out of the kitchen, what about a chef who’s working at a disadvantage?
Casting a single mother from a lower class background as the villain of the piece was a very loaded artistic decision. Biasiello’s often explosive and wildly inappropriate behaviour was certainly hammed up for the camera, but the editors also chose to work it even further, and notably, neither Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliot, or Joe Bastianich stepped in to discipline her on screen, though they did speak to her behind the scenes.
Using her strong personality to turn her into the devil of the piece also contained some embedded commentary about women. Ramsey is notorious for his expletive-laced and sometimes abusive outbursts, and this is in fact part of his persona on programmes like Hell’s Kitchen. In many senses, Biasiello acts a great deal like Ramsey; intriguing that behaviour rewarded in a man should be punished and viewed as a negative when a woman engages in it, no? And telling, as well. Women in the culinary world tend to work at a disadvantage, especially in the high ranks, and they’re often forced to adapt abrasive personalities to survive. Does this make Biasiello a bad human being?
At the same time that picking on Biasiello because of her class status and inability to keep pace with the other chefs raised some uncomfortable issues, so did the sexism involved in the attacks on Biasiello on the basis of the fact that she didn’t act ladylike, like Jessie and some of the other women contestants. It was made even more complicated by the fact that Biasiello is not a simple woman, and her behaviour was far from unimpeachable on the show.
There were, of course, plenty of reasons to dislike her: she engaged constantly in bullying, pouting, petulant behaviour, blaming those around her for the problems she encountered on the show and often lashing out with extreme violence. Bri in particular became a target for her hatred as Krissi mocked her for being vegetarian and made a point of stating on national television that she loathed her. Biasiello flicked sauce at contestants, screamed at them, threatened them, and made sure to roll her eyes, huff, and put on a big performance when others were recognised for their skills and she wasn’t.
Disturbingly, she was also deeply racist, both on and off the show. She repeated on multiple occasions that she ‘hated Asian food’ and that sushi was ‘disgusting,’ once in the kitchen of WP 24, a high-end restaurant focusing on modern Chinese cuisine. To trash the cuisine of an entire continent is bad enough, but to do so as a guest chef in a Chinese kitchen is particularly atrocious. It was clear that Biasiello felt more comfortable with Italian-American classics than anything else, and wasn’t afraid to tell the world about it.
She told the world about her racial preferences on other venues as well, such as Twitter, where she used racial epithets and made rape jokes. Likely after pressure from network higher-ups, she issued a tepid apology making it clear that of course she felt bad for her actions, but one got the sense that she was typing with her fingers crossed behind her back.
Yet, the Biasiello hate tended to focus on how she wasn’t a nice, ladylike contestant, and on how she lacked class; not on the genuine issues with her behaviour, like the abuse of other people on the show and her racism. While many fans were united in their hatred of Krissi Biasiello, few seemed willing to more deeply interrogate why they hated her so much, and what kind of editing and social manipulation might be contributing to their attitude.
A brash, aggressive male contestant who behaved in the same way likely wouldn’t have caught as much flak, and Biasiello is no doubt aware of that. She didn’t deserve to win Masterchef, let alone advance as far as she did, on the basis of the poor quality of her cooking (it often seemed that she escaped elimination by pure fluke, or because the producers kept her own for drama), but at the same time, she didn’t deserve the vitriol poured upon her by the show’s fans just for being a woman who didn’t behave like she was supposed to.