In a different dimension it’s the judges of Deep Fried Masters, not the Kardashians, who fill our screens. There is speculation of their love lives past and present. Exultation in their successes and mourning at their failures.
These three judges, Jim Stacy, Butch Benaides and Abel Gonzales were selected for this hidden gem of a television show based on some mystery mix criteria probably now lost to time. They each have deep-fried awards, some charisma, stern beliefs about what works on the midway. What they do not have is any chemistry or basic respect for each other and fuck is it amazing.
Beyond the main attraction of the judges there is food, and, like the contestants, it is often equal parts gross and engrossing. The usual tropes and invented stakes of reality tv exist but are vastly simplified into the recurring problem of oil losing temperature.
Some of the value of the show is watching as contestants and judges struggle to act as if a falling temperature dial is going to disrupt the onslaught battered and crumbed meats and sweets. Another big part of the shows attraction is the ambitions and failures of the mixed bag of would be champions which include upright citizens, rednecks, and one actual swamp person. At least one contestant cooks drunk, a lot storm off in rage, and the most glorious of all, Gator, simply sits back and fails with a lackadaisical charm only a true carny could muster.
But the highlight, the true beauty of the show, is in the palpable tension between the three judges. They start off nervous and stilted but by the end of the first season are constantly throwing shade. Even in their lighter moments they bicker and argue and not even the tight editing can hide the flashes of resentment or contempt in their eyes as they disagree about batter crunch or flavour profiles.
At the height of their anger they trample their way through double-entendre’s about sausages and sticks and it seems one, perhaps all three, are closeted and the others are trying to out them. No other television show has this degree of nervous energy between three people. As if they might have slept together. As if they realise this is their big show, that they could become a cult hit, if only they could learn suppress decades of small business snark.
In a world where losers petition the ether for the return of awful sitcoms it’s amazing Deep Fried Masters was allowed to fail and fade away. Or perhaps these beautiful talented bearded men were just flames that burnt to bright for this world to handle.