Last night, all three MasterChef judges lost their jobs. I’ll get to Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan in a moment, but let’s start with the show’s centrepiece, George Calombaris.
Calombaris always rubbed me up the wrong way so I was disappointed, but not surprised when details emerged of Calombaris underpaying his restaurant staff for years, to the tune of almost $8 million.
It is evidence of a breathtaking arrogance, which placed his own success over the wellbeing of other people in his orbit.
No-one is claiming that Calombaris is the only person in the food industry to rip off his staff, but he happens to have been caught, and he is wealthy enough for it to be particularly distasteful.
There is no question he had to leave MasterChef , even though Channel 10 stood by him. He is no longer an appropriate ambassador for the brand, which champions ordinary people with big dreams — the kind of people Calombaris ripped off.
But this was an opportunity for good to come of bad. We still had Preston and Mehigan, both of whom seemed like decent men.
Preston’s a show pony, but a smart one, who can clearly laugh at himself, and Mehigan presents as down to earth, caring, and considered.
Both speak passionately about supporting new talent, of championing the home cook, and caring about their contestants.
This was a chance for Preston and Mehigan to walk their talk. They could have taken a stand, decried Calombaris’s choices, and continued on the show with a new third judge, preferably a woman, preferably Poh Ling Yeow.
But they didn’t. What happened behind closed doors is unknown, though rumours abound of all three men demanding a 40 per cent pay increase on their currently $1 million salaries (even though MasterChef’s audience numbers have significantly diminished). All we know is that the three have banded together, and collectively left the show.
It’s possible the salary negotiations predated the debacle with Calombaris. But come on chefs, read the room! Once the wage scandal came to light, it was time to put their own salary considerations to bed, at least for the coming year.
Let it slide. Compromise. Recognise that moving forward as a duo without Calombaris was the way to show solidarity with the humble folk who have made them famous.
Their choice has consequences. They very well may have killed MasterChef. The show could have survived with Preston and Mehigan and a new judge (Poh! Poh! Poh!), but reality shows rarely thrive with an entirely new line-up (consider UK Top Gear, which has floundered after the departure of its original hosts).
Audiences love familiarity and hate change.
And let’s put this in perspective: it’s not an especially gruelling gig. I know it’s hard work turning up to the studio, standing under the lights, and travelling around the world. But the job of the judges is to taste food and make comments, and they are compensated very nicely for their efforts.
MasterChef has been a lovely gravy train for the three foodies, and it couldn’t have killed Preston and Mehigan to do the work for $1 million a pop for one more year.
They could have done the right thing and showed that they cared about workers’ rights, and about the people who make their success possible.
They could have proven they stood for more than just a nicely tied cravat, or a perfectly seasoned chicken, or a 10 out of 10 dessert.
Farewell to all three. I’m not sorry to see them go. May Poh take the reins and fly.
Kerri Sackville is a freelance writer and author of Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife. Continue the conversation @KerriSackville