Back for its twelfth season, MasterChef has three new judges, 24 returning contestants and a whole new format to spice things up.
There’s no denying reality TV is a risky business. Just take a look at Seven’s struggling My Kitchen Rules. Also back this year with a new format, MKR is having a tough time finding an audience… so should 10 be concerned about its upcoming season of MasterChef?
Boasting new judges, chef Andy Allen, food critic Melissa Leong and restaurateur and chef Jock Zonfrillo, the show will certainly be different than ever before. But will it work?
The departure of Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris was no doubt shocking. The trio are synonymous with MasterChef Australia. However, new judge Jock Zonfrillo told B&T countless MasterChef‘s around the world have outlasted their judges, and he said it’s no different locally.
“We’ve been talking a lot about this and if I look back at MasterChef since the 1980s, the show has outlasted so many hosts in so many countries and it’ll outlast us too. MasterChef in Australia has always been popular and it’s a great credit to the three [ex-judges] who did a fantastic job. Now it’s just another chapter to this story. There are some good changes this year in the show that are really amazing, and that has helped put our stamp on it. And we’re different. It’s just the way it is.”
Leong aired Zonfrillo’s sentiments and said: “We all wear our own shoes and I think we wear them very well. That’s what we bring is ourselves. And therefore, it is new and it is different and it is exciting.”
Allen said: “If we came in here today and were a bit iffy about how it was going, then yeah, we would be nervous, but it feels so good. The contestants, us, the food, production, it’s all feeling good.”
B&T also spoke with production house Endemol Shine executive producer Marty Benson, who’s going into his sixth season working on the show.
Speaking on the new judges, Benson said Endemol and 10 “had no choice” and had to find new judges following the exit of Preston, Mehigan and Calombaris.
“We can’t afford to come out chugging, we’ve got to be fantastic,” he said.
“We searched high and low. We looked at thousands of combinations. We did lots of screen tests and we chose the three that we thought were the best. And then we rehearse with them. We hung out with them. We went out for dinner with them.”
“The content is jumping out of the screen. So I know it’s good. What I don’t know is how will people react to not having Gary, Matt and George?”
Benson said he thinks the ex-judges were a “bit tired of doing it” and said he believes viewers were getting the same fatigue.
“Jock, Andy and Melissa are so refreshing. They are so into it, but also we don’t know what they’re gonna do. We used to know what Gary, Matt and George would do because they just knew each other so well. So it’s exciting.”
Speaking on the new format, Benson said while the show will feature all the same challenges and tests, there were “elements of the format that needed tweaking”.
Giving B&T a sneak peek, Benson said while Sunday night used to be Mystery Box inventions, the episode “was very missable”.
Now, Sunday nights will be an all-in elimination, which Benson said “really has changed everything.”
Is Benson worried about how MasterChef will fair with viewers considering the low ratings of MKR?
“I don’t think of MKR as a food show. I see it as a reality show. And there is a bit of food in it. I don’t really watch it. I think what we’re doing is more exciting than ever. We’ve got the best cast we’ve ever put together, all these amazing people are coming back. They’re giving up their businesses. They’re coming back to win this trophy, and the intrigue with them and the intrigue of the new judges. It’s fantastic.”
Is 10’s head of content Beverely McGarvey concerned Australia has food fatigue? She agrees with Benson, comparing MKR to Nine’s Married at First Sight rather than a cooking show.
“With MKR, you’re competing from that constructed reality space of MAFS. It has always been a really interesting dramatic constructed reality show that happens to have a cooking and family environment element.
“MasterChef isn’t that. It has always been only about the food and the contestant.”
While McGarvey said 10 and Endemol cast for a TV show, if they are not an “amazing cook”, they will not get into the top 24.
Though MasterChef does not have an official launch date yet, McGarvey said coming into winter (the show typically airs late April to early May), there is a lot of “noisy constructed reality shows”, which she said includes I’m A Celeb…, but MasterChef isn’t one of those shows.
“I’m not denigrating [reality] shows; there’s value in them. It’s just MasterChef isn’t one of those shows. It is something different. And food is a universal theme and a kind of a timeless theme and it is something that is interesting always no matter what other things are happening in the world.
“[MKR struggling in the ratings] isn’t something in my head that makes me worried because. The comparison between the two shows is not something that keeps me up at night,” McGarvey said.
On bringing ex-contestants back to the show, McGarvey said MasterChef is unusual in that once you finish the show, the process is never done. Many ex-contestants have gone on to create their own businesses and remain popular amongst the Australian public.
“We’ve been talking about [bringing back crowd favourites] for a while because we have such a loved group of contestants. They have good social media followings and we always get a lot of questions about them, so it was always something that we thought one day would be the right time to do it.
“As it is often is in these cases, everything kind of lined up. We made the decision to move forward with new judges and because we’re introducing new talents, it felt like it would be the right year to give the audience something familiar. It’s that blend of something old and something new. We felt like it kind of just all lined up for us to be able to do that in a way that makes sense.”
The old “new” contestants
- Amina Elshafei, NSW, Season Four – placed 11th
- Ben Milbourne, Tasmania, Season Four – placed 5th
- Ben Ungermann, Queensland, Season Nine – runner-up
- Brendan Pang, Western Australia, Season 10 – placed 9th
- Callum Hann, South Australia, Season Two – runner-up
- Chris Badenoch, Western Australia, Season One – placed 3rd
- Courtney Roulston, NSW, Season Two – placed 5th
- Dani Venn, Victoria, Season Three – placed 4th
- Emelia Jackson, Victoria, Season Six – placed 3rd
- Harry Foster, Queensland, Season Eight – placed 3rd
- Hayden Quinn, NSW, Season Three – placed 6th
- Jess Liemantara, Victoria, Season 10 – placed 4th
- Khanh Ong, Victoria, Season 10 – placed 3rd
- Laura Sharrad, South Australia, Season Six – runner-up
- Lynton Tapp, Victoria, Season Five – runner-up
- Poh Ling Yeow, South Australia, Season One – runner-up
- Reece Hignell, NSW, Season 10 – placed 6th
- Reynold Poernomo, NSW, Season Seven – placed 4th
- Rose Adam, South Australia, Season Seven – placed 10th
- Sarah Clare, Tasmania, Season 10 – placed 10th
- Sarah Tiong, NSW, Season Nine – placed 6th
- Simon Toohey, Victoria, Season 11 – 3rd
- Tessa Boersma, Queensland, Season 11 – runner-up
- Tracy Collins, South Australia, Season Six – placed 5th
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