MasterChef Canada raises the bar in Season 2

Michael Bonacini is one of those guys who walks out of a movie sequel and shrugs his shoulders, less than impressed. That didn’t happen at the end of filming Season 2 of MasterChef Canada.

“At the end of Season 2, we all felt that this was an incredible showcase of culinary talent and creativity,” he says. The “we” he’s referring to is, of course, his fellow MasterChef Canada judging partners in crime, Claudio Aprile and Alvin Leung, who return this Sunday night after the Super Bowl wraps up on CTV. (In a late play by the network, MasterChef was called up early to replace Spun Out, which was benched after Dave Foley’s co-star, J.P. Manoux, was charged with voyeurism earlier this week.)

“The three of us would be watching in amazement at what was happening in front of us,” Aprile recalls during filming late last year. “We would say to ourselves, ‘Are the viewers going to believe this?!’ The talent is just phenomenal.”

That talent is showcased early on in Sunday’s return which begins the task of cutting the Top 50 down to a more manageable Top 16 on the way to awarding one home chef the title and $100,000. Sabrina, a 26-year-old office manager from Montreal, skipped her sister’s destination wedding to offer the judges her mushroom ravioli; former CFL Grey Cup champion John grills up a thick steak in a bid to garner a white apron; and 28-year-old Kristal jetted from Gander, Nfld., to deliver her stuffed pork tenderloin to the trio. It doesn’t take long for a few notable finalists to gain attention either. Michael could easily be the villain of Season 2 thanks to his overconfident, cocky attitude while Tammy, a 41-year-old mother of six might be the darling because of her inspiring story of loss and rebirth.

A common theme through Sunday’s instalment are competitors literally putting their lives on hold to compete on MasterChef Canada. Auditioners who quit jobs, held off on advancing their schooling and tales of dreams unfulfilled not only inspired but freaked me out. Quitting a job on the off-chance you might win? That’s bold. And it won’t be easy. Bonacini promises this go-round of episodes boasts tougher, challenges both in-studio and off-site.

“The off-site challenges are huge, outside the degree of difficulty,” he hints. “There are new, creative, big challenges. We had to continue to raise the bar and we did that.”

After all, it is a sequel and it can’t be boring.

MasterChef Canada airs Sunday night immediately following the Super Bowl on CTV. The series resumes its regular Sunday timeslot at 7 p.m. ET beginning Feb. 8.