The new MasterChef judges – Melissa Leong, Andy Allen and Jock Zonfrillo – were also ordered to stand metres away from participants and each other. In the second half of the season, viewers will see that individual portions have replaced shared plates.
Social distancing may make dining a little less intimate but it doesn’t affect the flavour.
Rick Maier, Network 10’s head of executive production
Rick Maier, Network 10’s head of executive production and drama, said the headaches caused by these changes are preferable to an indefinite filming suspension. Now more than ever, he is grateful for the colossal size of MasterChef’s Melbourne set.
“It’s probably a little easier than other shows because of the scale,” he said. “The kitchen itself is four times bigger than [what is visible] on television … it’s been relatively straightforward keeping the contestants and the judges at a safe remove.
“As luck would have it, this is the first year in MasterChef history where the contestants have not been asked to share a house.”
Seven’s Plate of Origin – featuring former MasterChef judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan alongside Manu Feildel – introduced similar safety measures. While the season was completed in full, there will be fewer episodes than originally planned due to COVID-19.
A Seven spokeswoman said filming had recently wrapped but the network had “undertaken precautionary measures to minimise risk for our cast and crew”.
“This has meant restricted set access, schedules and cast movement and numerous changes to hygiene practices – particularly around food,” she said.
Maier said it would be tricky for cooking shows to maintain a sense of camaraderie given huddling over a dish, slapping each others’ backs and tearful hugs are now banned. But he is confident it can be done.
“Social distancing may make dining a little less intimate but it doesn’t affect the flavour,” he said. “There’s a high level of banter as you’d expect and the judges themselves keep the tone buoyant. From an editing point of view, [our team is] always trying to include the stolen moments of joy.”
MasterChef is still filming. A Network 10 spokesman said the show is obeying all directives from state and federal authorities. Contestants are also permitted daily contact with loved ones to ensure they’re safe.
“So much has changed in such a few short weeks,” Maier said. “The contestants are obviously very aware of circumstances but their focus has remained and their determination is incredible.”
Not surprisingly, the nation-wide lockdown has caused TV ratings to go up – and many viewers are passing the time with baking and cooking. Maier believes this bodes well for what is MasterChef’s 12th season, beginning on Monday, April 13.
Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany has also observed a ratings lift for cooking and home renovation programs.
“They’re family friendly shows and that’s even more important right now,” he said.
Among the most popular shows on the pay-TV service are The Great Australian Bake Off, Selling Houses Australia and Love It or List It Australia.
The SBS Food channel recently debuted The Sweet Life with Elise Strachan and will launch an eight-part series called Jimmy Shu’s Taste of the Territory on April 23. Both programs have finished filming and there are no food shows currently in production on ABC, Nine or Foxtel.
Seven has yet to announce an air date for Plate of Origin.
Michael Lallo is a senior culture writer at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.
Broede Carmody is a culture reporter at The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald