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Should MasterChef Australia Be Filming During The Coronavirus Crisis?

While other TV dramas and reality shows pause production, the cooking program has continued by adopting social distancing measures.

In a time when coronavirus social distancing rules have brought several television productions to a halt, ‘MasterChef Australia: Back To Win’ has continued filming.

The reality show is halfway through shooting its 12th season, and according to Channel 10, production is only taking a brief filming break over the Easter long weekend.

Its production company, Endemol Shine, says the show is adopting “social distancing measures”, providing “additional hand sanitising stations” and ensuring “no cutlery or plates will be shared”.

Yet what else makes it different to ‘Home And Away’, ‘Neighbours’, ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Real Housewives Of Melbourne’, all of which have paused production during this pandemic?

The cast of 'MasterChef Australia: Back To Win'
The cast of 'MasterChef Australia: Back To Win'

Current MasterChef Contestant: ‘Hygiene Has Gone Up By 10 Times’

Last week current contestant Reynold Poernomo said appropriate health and safety measures have been adapted while filming.

“Production has been very, very different. Ever since the stage one, two and three government restrictions, we’ve been following every single rule,” he told HuffPost Australia. “We’ve been socially distanced, even in the competition. It’s a bit weird, so we haven’t really had any outside challenges.

“We’ve been keeping 1.5 metre distance, and before we cook we have to wash our hands. Definitely hygiene has gone up by 10 times.”

MasterChef Australia's Reynold Poernomo
MasterChef Australia's Reynold Poernomo

A spokesperson from production company Endemol Shine Australia said social distancing, hand sanitising stations, gloves for groups challenges and additional sinks were being provided.

Endemol Shine Australia’s statement:

“MasterChef Australia has always employed the highest standards of food safety and hygiene, and we now have an even keener focus on that. All recommendations outlined by Federal and State government health authorities are being followed.

Under the current circumstances, we are introducing new measures for the foreseeable future. These include, but are not limited to social distancing measures across every facet of the production and additional hand sanitising stations positioned around the set and offices.

On the set, changes will be made to the spacing of contestant cooking benches and gloves provided for team challenges where equipment may be shared, as well as when handling food in the pantry. Additional sinks have been added as dedicated hand washing stations, so as to separate from any food preparation.

Judges will step up to taste individually portioned meals and no cutlery or plates will be shared.”

Former MasterChef Contestant: ‘The Risk Is Still There’

A contestant from the 2019 ‘MasterChef’ season, Derek Lau, said he would have been “torn” about continuing filming if he had been on the show this year.

He was asked to appear on the all-stars 2020 season, but declined as he had other work commitments. However many of those opportunities have now “unfortunately dried up as a result of Covid-19, so it might have been a good time to go back on the show,” he said.

“I am sure that their priority is the health and safety of the production, and of the contestants,” Derek told HuffPost Australia.

He said it’s not just 24 contestants on the show, but “hundreds of people that are behind it making sure that it is a smooth running production”.

“They would all have family and friends which multiplies the exposure exponentially,” he said. “So whilst the contestants might be in lockdown/isolation, you’re still exposed to the crew.”

Derek said he believed it depends on what stage filming is in, as if there were only a few weeks left, perhaps it’s less of a concern “to continue and see it out”.

“But really the risk is still there,” he said. “I think if I was there, I would be there because I want to cook, and I want to show the skills that I’ve developed, but I would hate to be a risk to anyone on the show. It is not just me, it is the crew, contestants, and their families.

“So many other shows have made the hard decisions to cancel, even taking AFL for example, and whilst as disappointing as it is, it is these hard decisions to be made that really define us in the way that we handle this pandemic.

“I am torn, because I would love to continue cooking, but at the same time I know that this may be the wrong thing to do in the current macroeconomic climate when so many others are making the hard sacrifices.”

TV Industry Rules During Covid-19

According to the Media Entertainment Art Alliance (MEAA) – the trade union representing media, entertainment, sports and arts industries – “The situation for TV and film productions is the same as for any other business” amid the Covid-19 climate.

“If it is not possible to work from home but measures can be put in place to ensure the safety of workers, they are allowed to continue operating,” a MEAA spokesperson told HuffPost Australia.

They said that in most cases the union is aware of, this hasn’t been possible because of the number of people involved in filming in close proximity to one another.

“If a production continues, they will have to have in place measures to protect the health and safety of all employees such as physical distancing, so they are not in breach of state or territory workplace safety laws which put the onus on an employer to provide a safe workplace,” they said.

The union said it hasn’t been contacted by any ‘MasterChef’ crew or cast members during production.

TV Networks ‘Running Out’ Of Shows

According to former Studio 10 executive producer Rob McKnight, the Australian TV networks “are running out of programming” and losing advertising revenue, meaning it’s in those channels’ best interests to continue producing anything where social distancing rules can be applied.

“I think it’s good for the network if they can shoot wherever they can, but that’s getting harder and harder to do,” the TV Blackbox founder told HuffPost Australia.

“The big, serious problem we have right now is the fact that production is shutting down because we can’t make shows and a lot of people are losing their jobs because of that.

“The simple fact is we are running out of programming. Each network has a bit on the shelf they’ve got maybe before the coronavirus pandemic kicked in, but we really can’t make any new shows. We’re going to be watching a lot of repeats.”

Last month Channel 10 announced the network and Warner Bros. decided it was “no longer practical” to continue filming ‘The Bachelor’ in Sydney, despite “employing extra precautions on set for some time”.

The channel still has spin-off series ‘Bachelor In Paradise’, filmed in Fiji last year, which will help fill its upcoming programming schedule.

New-Look MasterChef In 2020

This season is called ‘MasterChef: Back To Win’, with 24 previous contestants including Poh Ling Yeow, Hayden Quinn and Callum Hann returning to the series for another shot at victory.

Former judges Gary Mehigan, George Calombaris and Matt Preston have been replaced by a new panel; Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo.

“I think Channel Ten are very smart in what they’ve done with this year’s MasterChef,” said McKnight.

“They haven’t just relied on the new judges. Using all our old favourites, they’re bringing in stunt casting like Gordon Ramsay, Katy Perry. So the judges have a bit of a buffer.”

New MasterChef Australia judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo
New MasterChef Australia judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong and Jock Zonfrillo

McKnight said it won’t be known until the following season whether audiences are receptive to the judges.

“This season is not about them. It’s not been sold on the judges, it’s been sold on Poh and people like her who are coming back to win.

“So they [the judges] get a bit of a free pass this year and they actually get a chance for us to warm to them without the whole thing being reliant on them.”

‘MasterChef: Back To Win’ premieres on Easter Monday April 13 at 7:30pm on Channel 10.

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