Pity Larissa Takchi, who on Tuesday won $250,000, a Holden and the title of the youngest winner in MasterChef Australia’s 11-year history.
At just 22, Larissa made marron with fennel puree and bisque and Szechuan pavlova, beetroot and blackberry sorbet that saw judges raving. But her victory was overshadowed by the events that led up to the televised final.
Late on Tuesday afternoon, MasterChef shocked fans with the news its long-standing judges George Calombaris, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan were finished on the show.
“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 CEO Paul Anderson said.
“That’s life,” he added later.
A TV source confirmed reports the trio had jumped ship from Ten after the network refused their demands to increase their pay by around 40 per cent.
Mehigan, Calombaris and Preston were already on salaries “in excess of $1 million”, Fairfax reported. Other outlets estimated the men were each taking home up to $600,000 a year.
The three stars took to social media hours after the announcement to explain what happened.
“It was never about the money and never will be about the money,” Mehigan said, before adding, “We couldn’t agree on the term of the new contract for 2020 and season 12.”
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To all of our fans ‘thank you’ To the team that makes MasterChef ‘thank you’ and to all of the contestants that we know and love, we are all part of a very exclusive club and what a journey what an experience. To explain: ‘It was time to move on, have more free time to explore our own creativity’ It was never about the money and never will be about the money. We couldn’t agree on the term of the new contract for 2020 and season 12. Something we felt very strongly about. The opportunity to work with Matt and George has been a blessing and something I cherish. Working together will continue to be the most important thing for us…..the three musketeers…….🤗 @mattscravat @gcalombaris @masterchefau #masterchefau #foodies #foodiesofinstagram #homecooks #homecooking #masterchef
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Preston echoed his colleague’s message: “We were really keen to continue but we were unable to agree to all terms for the new contract.”
He added he didn’t want to take the “gloss off” Larissa’s win and would make no further comment.
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Thank you so very much for supporting @masterchefau over the last 11 years. We have loved every single moment. It is however with a heavy heart that I can confirm that season 11 was our last. We were really keen to continue but we were unable to agree to all terms for the new contract. We have enjoyed 11 wonderful years on Masterchef Australia with Network Ten, and I want to take this opportunity to thank Ten for this amazing opportunity and for Network Ten’s backing of this very special show. We have met some beautiful people, discovered and guided some of the brightest up-and-comers in the Australian food scene, worked with the best chefs in the world in front of the camera, and with the TV industry’s finest professionals behind the scenes. And of course, we three judges have formed a lifelong friendship that will live on far beyond the show. I want to take this opportunity to thank you and everyone who has shared our amazing journey with us – especially all those fantastic contestants. I look forward to sharing many more adventures with you in the future. And finally I wish the new judges all the best with the show that we love so much. Thank you all. I don’t want to take any gloss off tonight’s well deserved winner so I will not be making any further comment. Love Matt.
A post shared by Matt Preston (@mattscravat) on
Calombaris’s post agreed the trio were “close” to getting what they wanted from Ten in terms of a deal, but he said “the dates just didn’t align”.
A network spokesperson told The New Daily the decision was not linked to the controversy which engulfed Calombaris last week after his restaurant empire underpaid staff by nearly $8 million.
But did they over-egg their own pudding and get too greedy?
“They were valuable talent, especially Matt, but no commercial network can afford to pay over the tote any more,” the source told The New Daily.
“Reality TV shows us year after year that everybody can be replaced. Viewers’ attention spans and loyalties are light on, and George had to go after the ‘wage thief’ stuff.
“I don’t know what this means for the endorsements they had from MasterChef, but they might have bigger fish to fry anyway.”
It is believed the trio had been negotiating a new deal with Ten for six months. Their demands are said to have included not just the sizeable pay rise but a slice of international profits of the show.
Mehigan, Preston and Calombaris’ forming of their own production company and insistence to Ten they were a package deal made talks “difficult”, Mr Anderson told News Corp Australia.
They are now reportedly hoping to land a lucrative deal with a streaming platform such as Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Once the highest-rating program in Australia, MasterChef has struggled this year to find its former glory in 2019. On Monday, the first part of the season’s grand final was ranked No.10 and drew 978,000 viewers.
It was beaten by reality rivals Australian Ninja Warriors on Nine and House Rules on Seven.
Amid the fallout from the news, Twitter lit up with speculation about who the new MasterChef judges might be.
“I vote for Poh Ling Yeow, Kylie Kwong and Maggie Beer,” tweeted writer Maeve Marsden.
Celebrity chef Adam Liaw weighed in early.
I’ve had about 30 different interview requests in the past half hour about the #MasterChefAU judges leaving, so to save trouble:
1. I know nothing about this beyond what’s online; and
2. I am at the pool with my kids so I am unlikely to agree to an interview in my smugglers.
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) July 23, 2019
Couch commentators seemed more bemused than sad. “Ironic that George left because they weren’t paying him enough,” said one user.
Mr Anderson told News Corp the network is committed to “another 10 years of MasterChef, so we needed to look at this with a long-term outlook.
“I’m sure there’s going to be no shortage of people putting their hands up to be part of our new judging panel.”