My Kitchen Rules returns to reinforce a harsh truth

My Kitchen Rules is back for 2018, which means another year of tears, shouting matches and Manu Feidel demanding more sauce.

Monday night saw the Seven Network usher in the ninth - yes, ninth - season of its top-rating reality TV program. And while the show jumped straight into the action with an Italian feast, producers couldn't mask an inconvenient fact: that with every passing season, MKR becomes less and less about the cooking.

Yes, there are the feel-good vibes as everyday Australians share recipes passed down from generation to generation. And you could splice together a short film with the numerous shots of Pete Evans salivating as he takes a break from his controversial paleo diet.

Roula couldn't stomach the first entree of MKR but now she can't stomach Jess. Photo: Seven

Roula couldn't stomach the first entree of MKR but now she can't stomach Jess. Photo: Seven

But the cooking has taken a back-seat in recent seasons. It's a classic formula: fend off potential boredom with a format viewers have seen again and again by turning up the drama.

Last year, it was West Australian contestant Josh who had producers clasping their hands with glee when, among other things, he called another contestant a "slut". The cameras remained glued to the self-appointed seafood king as his relationship cracked and buckled on national television.

Before Josh's rise, remember that it was Wollongong friends and co-workers Mel and Cyn who got the devil's treatment. The high-powered women claimed to have been edited selectively and even boycotted the show after realising what had become of their reputations.

Then there were the countless tears from Melbourne small business owner Courtney, who clashed with Josh as the dizzying season came to a close. At one point Manu had to pull the 29-year-old aside to console her.

MKR: Jess telling Roula she would throw her out of her chair if she was in her restaurant. Photo: Seven

MKR: Jess telling Roula she would throw her out of her chair if she was in her restaurant. Photo: Seven

This year, it looks like the drama isn't going away. In fact, season nine's debut episode left viewers with the distinct feeling the verbal barbs are about to get worse.

The main contenders for the villain treatment this time around (in group one alone, so help us God) are NSW sisters Jess and Emma and Victorian friends Roula and Rachel. The four women shared some pointed words in between critiques of (this season's) Josh and Nic's pop-up restaurant and (if the cameras weren't lying) do not like each other at all.

It was some clever foreshadowing for a future dust-up, with Seven promising that this year a team will be kicked out of the competition for the very first time for "going too far". Given the insults that flew across the dinner tables in 2017, one can only imagine what lies around the corner.

This is not to say that drama is inherently bad. This is, after all, reality TV. But MKR was already treading a fine line between traditional cooking show and something akin to Jerry Springer to begin with. There's a reason few of its contestants become household names - within or beyond the culinary scene - once the cameras stop rolling.

Let's hope this big dust-up happens early on in the show. It'll be a win-win. Producers can get their ratings boost, while fans settle in for the long run with what they originally signed up for: Manu, in his thick French accent, demanding more sauce.

This story My Kitchen Rules returns to reinforce a harsh truth first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.