Villains: Sophia Pou (left) and Ashlee Pham have been unfairly framed as baddies on Channel Seven's My Kitchen Rules.
Old habits appear to be dying hard on reality television right now. A fortnight ago I suggested that the success of My Kitchen Rules was in part due to the vision it offered of a strange, diverse Australia that was taking shape around the country. But a worrying tone is on the verge of becoming a persistent problem as the show increasingly makes it the norm to frame outsiders to the Anglo-Saxon Australian experience, especially women, as villains.
The fourth season of Channel Seven's cooking reality show, which is the top-rating television show in Australia, has produced a succession of carefully constructed characters defined by the offence their ambition and vituperative criticism causes. Great TV is starting to become more than a touch gruesome.
The series found its first flashpoint in 2013, with high school friends from NSW Jessie Khan and Biswa Kamila, a pair with southern Asian heritage whose self-confidence and overexcitement swiftly turned to finagling when their dinner party for their fellow contestants and the judges ended with a disastrously low score.
They could be horrid, yet somehow also jolly, and it was only with their final episodes that they began to really grate, even as they boosted the already domineering ratings.
Reality shows need archetypes to function, but do all the villains on My Kitchen Rules need to be minorities? There is more at stake here than ratings. Khan and Kamila were subject to an expletive-laden barrage of racist abuse and death threats on social media, and the perception appeared to be that because they were on TV they were fair game.
A fear of otherness has always lurked in the Australian psyche, exhibited towards both those here before white settlement and those who arrived in more recent waves, and it doesn't need stirring.
The 2012 edition of My Kitchen Rules provided a much more multicultural feel, with Victorian sisters Carly and Emily Cheung proving popular with viewers,
but then that was the season where the reigning villains were
a pair of gay men, arrogant Queenslanders Peter Hamilton and Gary Rogers.
It's correct to note that Channel Nine's The Block and its All Stars spinoff have none of these problems, but that's because the shows appear to be the last bastion of the White Australia Policy. It's acknowledged by most now that The Block is a narrow representation of what this nation actually looks like, but it has a problem with a blokey tone that's verging on the snide - a long-standing issue on certain Nine productions - when it comes to the cliched depiction of women.
Even the credit sequence of The Block: All Stars makes a clear distinction between men who work hard and their mercurial ladies who apply the finishing touches. Scott Cam is a personable host, but his cracks about the female halves in teams disappearing to shop when the deadline pressure is on are becoming repetitive.
Even a team of two men - burly middle-aged tradesmen and Rod Marsh lookalikes Mark Bowyer and Duncan Miller - have been condescendingly tagged ''the Two Fat Tradies'' because they've had to venture into interior design, and Miller is mocked because he takes responsibility for the shopping and dressing required.
Is this reclassification of women and transplants the price that shows believe they have to pay to draw men to watch reality television? One thing MasterChef: The Professionals has going for it (OK, the only thing) is that, thankfully, it seems to exist above these constrictions.
As it is, it's time for some dinky-di Aussie boofheads to enter the reality television crosshairs. Macca and Dougie, your time has more than come.