Killing the Crab-Buddha on MasterChef

To some extent, the goal of all reality TV competitions is to make their contestants uncomfortable. The stress is sometimes physical (how many cockroaches can you eat?) and sometimes mental (there’s a camera in every room of your house!). But what happens when the conflict is spiritual?

Last week on MasterChef, host Gordon Ramsay announced that for the preliminary Mystery Box challenge, all of the amateur chef contestants would be serving a dish derived from a live Dungeness crab.  This was okay with everyone except contestant Sheetal Bhagat, a practicing Hindu whose faith teaches that every living thing has a soul.  While Sheetal, a vegetarian, has been forced to cook meat on the show before, this was the first time in her life when she was expected to kill a living thing.

In the end—spoiler alert—a teary-eyed Sheetal ends up denying an offer from Chef Ramsay to kill the crab for her, says she needs to “grow up a little,” and boils the crab anyway (all this despite the fact that this was a non-elimination round, and technically she would not have been disqualified for refusing to do so). The judges end up ranking Sheetal’s dish among the top three, due in part to what they feel was her emotional turnaround. Joe Bastianich in particular justified Sheetal’s decision by assuring her, “I’m sure that crab is very, very happy to give its life for this dish.”

Is anyone else disturbed by how the rules of this competition so take precedent over all else?  Sheetal chose to defy her religious beliefs in a bid for maturity, but has she really grown up?  The wrath of Gordon Ramsay may be daunting, but “growing up” could have meant could have meant sticking to one’s convictions, however out of place they might seem to the judges on a reality TV show.

Watch the clip below.

Jessica Miller graduated from Barnard College in 2009 with a BA in religion, and is psyched to finally have an answer to the question, “so what does one do with a religion major?” Her writing has appeared on Jewcy, Mashable, and the Huffington Post.  In her spare time she can be found sailing, playing music, and blogging about boomerangs.