MasterChef‘s long-standing judges Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris will not return for the next season of the reality show, Network 10 announced on Tuesday afternoon.
The news had fans reeling, given the MasterChef season final was being held only hours later.
“Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George,” the network’s chief executive officer Paul Anderson said in a statement.
“MasterChef Australia has always been about ordinary Australians doing extraordinary things for the love of food and we believe it is very important to continue that ethos.”
He saved just one line for the show’s erstwhile judges.
“We would like to thank Gary, George and Matt for their contribution over the past 11 years,” he said.
In 2020, the show will introduce “the next generation of exceptional judges”, Mr Anderson promised.
After 11 sensational seasons, we bid a fond farewell to our judges – Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris. Thank you for being a part of this remarkable #MasterChefAU legacy and helping make the culinary dreams of everyday home cooks come true! pic.twitter.com/uG0A3ec8jI
— #MasterChefAU (@masterchefau) July 23, 2019
The New Daily asked Network 10 if the sudden decision is linked to the controversy that has engulfed George Calombaris since last Friday, when it was revealed his restaurant empire had been forced to make almost $8 million in back payments to staff.
It is believed the decision was reached independently of that scandal.
Fans were quick to react on Twitter. “Are Matt and Gary going out in sympathy with George?” asked one user.
“It’s good they support their friend but it’s a career killer for Matt and Gary,” said another.
While Ten maintained last week that it would stand by its beleaguered star, yesterday it was announced the West Australian government had dumped Calombaris as the face of its tourism campaign.
The Melbourne restaurateur featured heavily in Tourism WA’s television and online advertising campaign ‘Create Your Own Gourmet Escape in WA’.
It first aired in the eastern states on MasterChef during WA Week earlier this month and was due to run until September.
But on Monday, Tourism WA managing director Brodie Carr said the ads with Calombaris had been suspended.
At that point, the organisation was believed to be the first major sponsor to part ways with the controversial chef since the underpayment scandal broke last week.
Mr Carr said the campaign with MasterChef would continue.
The underpayments scandal had done a “tremendous amount of damage” to Calombaris’ reputation and public standing, Fusion Strategy’s media analyst Steve Allen told News Ltd.
“He can only come back if he really gets on the front foot by fronting up to journalists and fielding questions,” Allen said.
“He really has to put as much of his personality into ‘please forgive me’ as he does into promoting his businesses.”
A source close to Calombaris told The New Daily last week that advice was all well and good, but that Network 10 was “controlling his diary” which meant he could not speak out in his defence.
The source said Calombaris was “pretty contrite” over the underpayment situation.