Friday, March 11, 2016

The ultimate braai master of the universe: Justin Bonello's Ultimate Braai Master going global as the 4th season starts on the Travel Channel and beyond.

South Africa's ultimate braai master Justin Bonello is the king of the grill, but he's actually the king of the world.

The presenter and producer of Ultimate Braai Master which has seen seasons of his braai competition show on SABC3, then, and now also on the Travel Channel (DStv 179) on MultiChoice's DStv platform is going global: Discovery Networks International bought it as well and the format rights have been sold to Canada and America.

With the fourth season of Ultimate Braai Master starting on the Travel Channel on Tuesday 29 March (the season that recently was shown and concluded on, Justin Bonello is already working on the 5th season that will be broadcast later this year on

Viewers who haven't seen the 4th season can now catch up and watch it on the Travel Channel from 29 March at 21:00 and see 15 teams of two, pitted against each other, competing in grueling outdoor braai challenges over the course of 52 days and 8 000 km through South Africa.

Sourcing all their own ingredients, their skills are pushed to the limits who will be crowned king of the grill. What am I saying? The king of the grill is Justin Bonello.

"This is our 4th season of Ultimate Braai Master and we're really privileged to be having it on air on the Travel Channel again," says Justin Bonello.

Discovery Networks International bought it as well; it's going to be on air in South America and the Caribbean. The first format rights are up in Canada and the United States so you're going to see an international version of Ultimate Braai Master," says Justin Bonello, adding: "but they're never going to be able to do what we do!"

"It's going to be quite interesting to see how they tackle a homegrown reality show. It's a format that was created by South Africans, with South Africans, with the South African psyche. And hopefully it will be doing the same for those countries as well."

"I'm still looking forward to hearing myself in German, and Mandarin!"

"I created this show and literally the day we finish shooting one season we start pre-production on the next one; it's a 12-month cycle for me," he says. 

This year the 5th season of Ultimate Braai Master has been delayed until June because Coca-Cola that was onboard as a sponsor unexpectedly pulled out.

"Coca-Cola changing global strategy told us that they're not taking part this year. A lot of people in the media game understand that the media spend is completely different from what it used to be a year ago and we're all fighting much harder for that. And sadly Ultimate Braai Master is reliant on sponsors to get the show on air."

"We are still really proud of the show, it stars South Africans and celebrates who we are as a people featuring some of the most beautiful landscapes," says Justin Bonello.

I asked him about the creative evolution of Ultimate Braai Master from the first season to now, and how the challenges, design and places evolved. Does he know beforehand how many things he want to change every season and then pace and limit himself to rather add some of it to future seasons?

"Every year you change what you know," says Justin Bonello.

"I'm so embarrassed when I look back at season one of any show I've every shot. I looked at the first season of Cooked the other day and on a production level I thought 'Did you really do that? Did you really say that? How did you edit that so badly?"

"So for me there's a lovely evolution with any show you do. There's always a lovely evolution with shows you produce. And when you sit down in your editing suite at the end of the day you really beat yourself over the head because you say 'I could have made this so much better."

"And I feel sometimes quite sad in South Africa that because the budgets are so restricted, what happens is that producers must make their money from the production, and what happens is that the production suffers."

"So we've always looked at it from the other level, where you go out and create the best content that you can, with everything that you can. Nowadays I also watch Netflix where I choose what I want to watch when I want to watch."

"And that selection is going to become bigger and bigger in our mindsets. So why would you watch a substandard locally produced South African show when you can choose from anything available in the world?" says Justin Bonello.

"You get local broadcasters, putting schlock up there that no-one watches and it's happening already - I've seen some of your scathing articles of the SABC - and it shouldn't be like that."

"We all watch the best content that we can. You go and see a movie, it's a Hollywood blockbuster, then we must go home and watch drivel produced. It's not right. As producers we should produce great content."

"South Africa is really blessed with great film crews; Cape Town has Black Sails [Starz produced drama on History, DStv 186) under produced - that's a world-standard series being produced in Cape Town."

"We need to keep pushing boundaries. I will die before I put sh*t content on TV," said Justin Bonello.

I also wondered why he shoots every season during winter. And then once it starts its almost two months of producing a non-stop show. How challenging is that in terms of weather and the multitude of places the show visits?

"It's cheaper for us to shoot Ultimate Braai Master out of season," Justin Bonello reveals.

"We have 30 contestants, 70 crew and go all around the country. We must accommodate those people everywhere. If we did it in high season, we wouldn't be able to go to some of the places that we're at. In terms of content? We have a rule on the road: Come rain or shine, we braai."

"With Ultimate Braai Master we've had snow in the Drakensberg, hail, you name it, it's happened to us and we just carry on."

Ultimate Braai Master has been nominated for a South African Film and Television Award (Safta) and I wondered how Justin Bonello feels it.

"It's its second year that it's up for a Safta. It won last year. It's nice to be recognised always by your peers for the work that you produce."

"I'd rather be standing there with an Emmy - we entered it for the International Emmys as well - but I'm very proud that we got nominated for the Saftas again this year and recognised for our production," says Justin Bonello.

The 4th season of Ultimate Braai Master starts on the Travel Channel (DStv 179) on 29 March at 21:00.