While it was merely one of several themed weeks across the season, viewers worried the show was detouring down the My Kitchen Rules path. In hindsight it was probably blown out of proportion, but it reminded everyone that this is a show where the audience feels some ownership.
Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris acknowledge the message was confused.
“Boys vs Girls was (an idea) trying to inject a little fun. But people didn’t see it as fun at all,” says Mehigan.
Calombaris agrees, “Suddenly you go from Series 2, 3, 4 and you’re doing different creative things. (Last year) there was a bit of miscommunication and we were dealing with it in those first few weeks.”
Lesson learned. The good news is that TEN has taken the time to re-evaluate the MasterChef brand by talking with its audience.
“Channel TEN spent a bit of money on research finding out what the audience wanted to see. Out of that Shine and TEN have been completely committed to building on the MasterChef that everybody fell in love with,” Mehigan explains.
“It’s nothing to do with back to basics, it’s about building on the formula that we all love. They said they still love the judges’ line up, the mystery box, and they want inspirational food not everyday food.
“Last year there were too many team challenges and people ended up in eliminations because of team challenges.
“The invention test is about them coming up with something that’s interesting and creative.
“They also apparently hold us in high regard in terms of our transparency and honesty and they see it as the premier cooking competition.”
“But what’s exciting about this series is the network and Shine have done their research and said ‘Let’s have a break and work out exactly what the Australian public want.’ But also to put our touch and feel on it,” Calombaris adds.
“I’m so chuffed about this series. It’s been a pleasure so far, and I’m speaking on behalf of Matt and Gary I’d say.
“We have great contestants and good people. Good people first and foremost, and they’re amazing.”
Mehigan, Calombaris and Matt Preston were introduced to the Top 50, hand-picked from around the country by Producers. The first two episodes will cull them down to a Top 24 before the first series challenge set by former champions Julie Goodwin, Adam Liaw, Kate Bracks, Andy Allen and Emma Dean.
Now 6 seasons on, Mehigan concedes even he overlooks the successes of the show’s ever-expanding roll-call of graduates. He says dozens of them are working with food on an array of levels.
“Whether it’s blogging or running a market stall, restaurant or writing books,” he says. “We’re in touch with about 10 or 15 of them but we forget about the 70 or 80 others who are all cracking on and doing stuff.
“If people are looking for clichés or pantomime telly they’re not going to find it on MasterChef because at it’s heart it’s really about food and the best cooking competition in the world.
“What they don’t put up with, with us –and they seem to whether it’s on Foxtel or daytime TV or whatever– is that they seem to hold us to a higher standard.”
“They say ‘We don’t like the way you did this.’ But hang on, everybody else is doing it so why can’t we do it?
Calombaris adds, “It’s like the AFL Grand Final. People wait for it, they don’t want it altered.”
But Mehigan won’t be drawn on comparisons with Seven’s show, despite its stellar ratings and Logie Award.
“Manu and Pete are part of our industry. We’ve known them for years and George is going into business with Manu,” he insists.
“So for us, having food television no matter what guys, whether it’s on Foxtel, daytime or primetime… the reason we love being a part of this show is that it’s all about food. No distractions. Nothing getting in the way, no ulterior motives.”
Like many shows in their sixth season, the show has its work cut out to reinvent itself and fend off competition. Amplifying the challenge are concerns over the network’s current standing with viewers.
In the face of such a task, Calombaris is pragmatic about TEN’s position, preferring to focus on his own work.
“At the end of the day, they’re the professionals they know how to run a network. We’ll run a restaurant,” he says.
“So I will do my best as passionate Channel TEN talent. Whatever they need me to do, I’ll do it.
“(TV) is like a car race or a chess game. But I stand by this as the best series yet because of the make up of these people.”
Mehigan weighs in, adding: “On the street when people bump into you they don’t think about ratings. They say ‘Wow you’re part of that show, it’s amazing!’ It’s only TV executives and press who are into ratings.
“It’s interesting that people just look at MasterChef as an entity on its own. They’re not comparing it with anything else.”
“My daughter is 13 and she’s not watching any Live TV. She’s streaming and choosing everything she wants to watch on her iPad. So if she misses Melbourne Housewives, she’ll watch it on Wednesday.”
Probably not the answer the network was hoping he would give, but symptomatic of the way television is changing.
Joining the judges this year is Kylie Kwong as guest mentor and there’s a cavalcade of renowned Australian and international chefs including Maggie Beer, Nobu Matsuhisa, Darren Purchese, Frank Camorra and Marco Pierre White.
But Mehigan and Calombaris won’t reveal if the show is heading offshore again this year (Qantas is no longer a sponsor).
“Everything is a secret,” Mehigan teases.
“No idea. Maybe, maybe not,” Calombaris adds.
“The focus this year has been on Regional Victoria. All our masterclasses have been Regional and that’s been great.
“We’re getting out a lot more.”
MasterChef Australia premieres tonight at 7:30pm on TEN and continues Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.