I first saw Masterchef Australia (Watch weekdays at 8pm) while on holiday in Sydney a couple of years ago and my initial reaction was that it was a mash-up of formats akin to Aussie rules football.
The format was a build on the UK version but with some significant twists, which in turn was a reboot of Lloyd Grossman's original incarnation (1990-2000). His mid-Atlantic drawl, informing viewers he was retiring with the guest judge to "cogitate, digest and deliberate" over the perfect three-course meal contestants had come up with had an air of polite English domesticity.
It says a great deal for the success of the reboot in the UK that there is such a lack of nostalgia for what it replaced. The programme re-launch in 2005 saw chef Jon Torode and critic Gregg Wallace front a pacier format freed from the studio that presented broader challenges, truly "cooking doesn't get tougher than this".
Masterchef Australia is a television phenomenon in its domestic market. Launched in 2009, it is now in its third season with the core of chefs Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and critic Matt Preston The previous two season finales were the most watched programmes of the year, and have entered the top ten of the most watched programmes on Australian television ever. When on air, it is scheduled primetime on Network Ten six nights out of seven.
The UK format has been tweaked as a nod to its Australian cousin, and Gordon Ramsey now leads an American version that is a derivation of the Oz rather than UK format.
So what is it that the Australians have?
There is of course a glorious backdrop - the waterfront of Sydney with the morning sun glistening in the bay is the view as the contestants awake in the "Masterchef House". With almost nightly viewing, we are drawn into the drama for each of the characters as they progress.
As we progress through the week we move through different challenges at an individual and team level that take us into the kitchens of Australia's best restaurants as well as field challenges. The great and good of the country's culinary talent is on view as guests enter the kitchen to put challenges to the contestants, and in some cases - go head to head with them.
The Friday edition sees the chef/presenters take to their whites and deliver a master-class to the contestants and the achievements of the week are celebrated.
But while the format has enough twists and turns to keep us engaged through the week, I don't think this is where the popularity stems from. My knee jerk aversion to reality television comes from the implicit or explicit humiliation that seems to be part and parcel of the drama, whether it be cringe-worthy scenarios or competitive situations where disaster will befall the loser.
This is reality television where there is always a happy ending as each departing contestant is warmly encouraged on their way out of the kitchen to be followed as they are re-united with friends and family, and we find out how they are continuing to follow their culinary dream.
For anyone who has enjoyed a holiday down under - you will recognize that balance of hard work, optimism and positivity that could never emanate from a country where two weeks of good weather a year is our lot.
Does it focus enough on the food? I think it does, but it also showcases the dreams and adventures of 24 amateur chefs getting to know each other as we get to know them. I'm still not convinced about Aussie Rules, but Masterchef Australia packs a message about celebrating food that is infectious, and authentically Australian.