MasterChef judge Matt Preston concedes that if it had not arrested a downward ratings spiral last year, the show may have been a mere TV memory.
“I’m not a programmer but I think if it had continued upon its trajectory it would be unlikely to have come back,” he acknowledges.
But the TEN series has launched brilliantly this week, scoring against two big budget renovation shows. 2014 was a ‘back to basics’ catalyst year for the show, zeroing in on the qualities that define the show.
It was a long way from such stunts as 2010’s low point when he dropped a plate of food on the ground claiming it was “disgusting…. disgustingly good.” Preston looks back on it with some regret.
“It was because of my lack of understanding of the meaning of Television. What happens in a moment in Television can last for 5 days,” he admits.
“You’re always transparent with the audience. You don’t want to mislead them.
“The promo drew audiences, but not in a healthy or respectful way.”
“It’s the very simple heart of the show.”
“Last year we worked out what makes MasterChef tick and what is the heart and soul of the show that Australians love to watch.
“Let’s find people who are good cooks and help them develop into extraordinary cooks. Let’s find people with real dreams and desires to create a new future for themselves in the industry of Food, whatever form that takes. Let’s enjoy that development, treat them with respect and fall in love with them.
“It’s the very simple heart of the show.
“We want them to achieve things they never thought possible and we want them to succeed. That’s the core of it.”
That doesn’t mean the show is without inherent Drama. Quite the opposite, but it has to be genuine.
“Something I’ve learned from watching Gogglebox is that we make conversation points. Whether it’s George’s weight loss or whatever crazy thing I’m wearing, or whether a contestant should have put cheese with fish stew –it’s what gives MasterChef a resonance that exists outside the hour it’s on TV.
“And hopefully people see things they want to cook at home.”
This year the show begins with its Top 24 amateur cooks (one was replaced after being disqualified) who all embark on months of food challenges of the tallest order. After previous years of claiming the best entrants ever, surely it isn’t being attributed to the latest batch?
Preston is obviously an advocate of their talent, nevertheless.
“We extended the audition period by 2 months to try and find contestants who can hopefully match the people we saw last year,” he continues.
“But on the first day of auditions there was some incredible food that doesn’t get an apron, so that gives you an idea about how good these cooks are. At the end of the day people can see for themselves if they are good or bad.”
“Time is the biggest pressure”
The Mystery Boxes and Invention Tests are back, and this year’s Challenges are described as relevant, scary but achievable.
“The irony is they tend to fall over in a really simple challenge, we’ve seen that in the past with a Risotto challenge, and Pastries they have always struggled with,” says Preston.
“Time is the biggest pressure we can put on our contestant.”
Overseas trips have been absent in recent years. Any chance of a return in 2015?
“I can nether confirm or deny! The issue with overseas trips is they are incredibly expensive to do, because we have such a massive crew. So if you have an airline as a sponsor it’s fantastic. The issue for everyone these days is that you have to look where you get your bang for your buck. So do you want Marco and Heston for a week or do you want an overseas trip?”
Maybe we want both. Or like a young Oliver, holding up his empty plate, we just want more please…
“MasterChef is not really owned by us or Shine or TEN or the crew and talent –it’s owned by the people who watch it. They let us know very clearly (their feedback),” Preston smiles.
“We try to be the best cooking show in the world and we love the fact that in 100 territories the show resonates.”
MasterChef Australia airs 7:30pm on TEN.