And so we ask the question: whither Masterchef? Its three wise men gone, its future uncertain, Australia’s most prestigious unnecessarily-complicated-dessert-making competition faces an existential crisis.
There was quite a lot of glee expressed online at the news that Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston would be leaving the show. Most of this was due to the fact that there’d already been a groundswell agitating for Calombaris to get the boot due to his somewhat flexible attitude towards paying wages. The glee was intensified by the revelation that the three judges had quit over Ten’s refusal to meet their salary demands. “Irony!” we cackled, as the underpayer-in-chief and his pals were hoist by what, if you wanted to interpret things in a certain way, could be seen as something akin to their own petard.
Personally, I always thought a better reason for George Calombaris to be sacked than his systematic wage theft was the fact he never really learned to use a knife and fork and his insistence on following distressed contestants around and forcing them to hug him during their most vulnerable moments. What I mean is: I don’t really care about whether TV personalities meet a morality test, but they should meet an “enjoyable to watch” test, and George wasn’t cutting it for me. But then, those two tests aren’t mutually exclusive: plenty of people had their enjoyment of viewing the show ruined by knowledge of Calombaris’s misdeeds, so you can’t deny that when Ten weighed up whether it was worth paying overs for his continued service, the hits to his reputation must’ve played a part.
The question now, is: can Masterchef go on as before? It’d be ridiculous to suggest that there are no three people capable of doing the job as well as Preston, Mehigan and Calombaris. But it’d also be unwise to assume that the most important factor must be quality. People aren’t going to make an objective judgment about how watchable the new judges are: they’re going to compare them to the previous occupants in ways that will be as unfair as they will be undeniable.
And that’s where the decision of who will be the new Masterchef judges becomes one that is at once absolutely crucial, and also potentially irrelevant. Because for all that some angrily tweeted that they’d never watch Masterchef again because of George’s dodgy dealings, a lot of those people didn’t watch it in the first place. There’ll be a far heftier contingent of viewers who tune in to Masterchef, as people tend to with TV institutions, less for excitement than for familiarity – and every time you make a change to the show, you’re risking those viewers’ loyalty. Masterchef is not dead yet, but right now it’s pinning its hopes of survival on experimental surgery, and nobody knows what the chances are. Ten years from now, we could be lauding the removal of George, Gary and Matt as one of TV’s great masterstrokes. Or we could be saying, “Remember Masterchef?” Enthusiastic foodies everywhere must be nervous as hell.