This year was do-or-die for MasterChef Australia: A worn format with a swag of controversy surrounding its well-known judging panel.
George Calombaris was facing the heat of a multimillion-dollar wage theft scandal at his restaurant empire, and fellow judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan joined him in stepping down, reputedly over the failure to secure a 40 per cent pay rise.
The fast-paced My Kitchen Rules had been nipping at its heels for years, and more and more cooking shows were popping up on television screens.
This year was a new year – heck, a new era – and Fremantle Media threw caution to the window, appointing a whole new judging panel, complemented with a contestant line-up of familiar faces.
— masterchefau (@masterchefau) April 22, 2020
And my, is it paying off.
Season 12 hit screens with its highest debut episode ratings in five years.
Everyone thought MasterChef was down and out, TV Blackbox’s Rob McKnight said.
But its success has shown the recipe includes more than just its stalwart judges.
Former contestant Andy Allen, stern Scottish chef Jock Zonfrillo and the explosively fun Melissa Leong, the first female judge for the program.
They’re overseeing fan favourites like Poh (season one runner-up), dessert master Reynold, young gun Callum and the handsome Hayden.
— masterchefau (@masterchefau) May 12, 2020
“It has not just survived but thrived. It was a smart move to bring back those old favourites,” McKnight said.
But all eyes are focused on the chopping block that My Kitchen Rules is laying on right now.
The show has suffered hit after hit – most recently the departure of Pete Evans, under a shroud of coronavirus conspiracy theories.
“I have a feeling it may not be back next year. It needs a year or two off before it comes back in a new format,” McKnight said of Channel Seven’s reality cooking competition.
He said Evans wasn’t to blame for the show’s demise: It fell astray of its roots as a show that celebrated home cooking.
“Viewers were calling out for actual cooking to take place – there has been a lot of commentary on social media, saying they’re over the bitching and just want to see someone cook,” McKnight told TND.
Also entering the kitchen is Plate of Origin, hosted by former MKR judge Manu Feildel.
Pegged to air on Seven, it’s also believed to feature Preston and Mehigan, but they can’t be officially used in the promos just yet because they’re still tied up in their Channel Ten contracts.
That’s set to air in the second half of this year, focusing on international foods with heart.
“We’re looking for food from all around the world: Asia, the Mediterranean, the Middle East, Europe, North and Latin America. Find a teammate, tell us which cuisine you’d like to represent and apply today,” a casting note floated late last year read.