The promo has attracted a wave of comment, some of it critical and some of it questioning a ‘sexist’ approach to the show.
It’s since emerged that Boys v Girls is one of the show’s themed weeks. Others to roll out across the series include Italian Week, Kids Week, Middle Eastern Week, Barossa Week, and WA Week.
As Gary Mehigan explains, the promo was intended to demonstrate a lighter tone to the series this year.
“The press grabbed hold of five or six people who were pretty strong in terms of how they came across in the Boys v Girls ad. But it’s strange, we never thought about it like that. We’ve always felt Masterchef’s popularity has been because we’re not stereotypical and that we blow stereotypes out of the water. The reason we’re very popular in India, Malaysia, Venezuala, Mexico, France is because people get to see Australians for who they are,” he says.
“That advert was fun, tongue-in-cheek –the sort of trail of humour and looseness that we like to run through the show. What’s going to be interesting is that the kind of stereotypes people are seeing, such as the 50’s housewife or the Stockman ….when they find out their stories they will feel kind of silly, because they’re not who they think they are.”
One of the tweets he responded to, accused the show of dragging us back to 1975.
“I said ‘Is it? I didn’t see any men in the kitchen in 1975.’ My dad wasn’t, my mum did all the cooking!”
This is the 5th season of MasterChef and the 10th incarnation of the brand and it includes a Masterclass with a studio audience. This year there’s also a push towards food that can be replicated at home.
“We’ve made a promise, particularly amongst the three judges, that there has to be a take-home component. Series 4 was an absolute stand-out in terms of the contestants. We still say they were probably the best cooks we’ve ever had on the competition. But they were almost too good,” he says.
“A lot of the feedback we get on the street is ‘Wow I don’t think I could ever do that!’ So that’s stuck in our heads.
“So we’ve got a good bunch of contestants: great food, good cooks, foodies. We’re redressing the balance. Taking it back to ‘basics’ is the wrong word ….they’re just good people. They like their food and when you’re watching at home you think, ‘I can do that.’”
Unlike previous years the show skips its Top 50 and opens with its 22 finalists. There have been other subtle differences to freshen up the show, but apparently not at the risk of ditching a few favourites.
“We’ve changed the language a little bit. Rather than ‘Mystery Box’ we’ve made it about ‘What’s in your fridge? What are you going to cook for the weekend? What’s in your larder?’ to make it as relatable as possible,” Mehigan explains.
“I don’t want to be using the same terminology for 5 years or so, it needs to change.
“MasterChef still has a core audience who love the show and don’t want to see it change but we’ve just kind of nudged it a little bit.
“But there’s still a lot of familiarity. There’s still Eliminations, Challenges, Immunity is up for grabs and the pin is there.”
Shooting of the fifth season, now based in Melbourne, is currently half-completed. Contestants are housed in an undisclosed house in a “leafy Melbourne suburb”. There are several interstate trips and a secret overseas destination.
“Fingers crossed. If all goes to plan in our television world!” he teased.
With TEN having plenty of ratings challenges this year, and following from the huge numbers of My Kitchen Rules, MasterChef sure has a lot on its plate. But Mehigan holds fast to the show’s authenticity.
“The challenge has got to be fair. We judge the food only, it’s not driven by cast or personality, or just because we like someone. In the end we hold true to the fact that the best dish wins on the day.
“If you’re in an elimination challenge and you cook the worst dish then you’re going home. I always relate that to a restaurant. If I cook a bad dish or my staff serve a customer badly then it’s unlikely the customer comes back.
“We’re not heavily-scripted. We have a plan, we have a bullet-point that we follow but there’s always a trail of our own thoughts and our own feelings. I can say what I want to say and I think that comes across quite clearly.
“At the end when we have to make that decision our executive producer will ask us, ‘Who’s food was the best food?’ It’s really nice to hear that because our producer doesn’t want someone to stay because they’re controversial.
“I think we are still the best cooking show on primetime television and we hold those values very dear: the integrity, the honesty, the bind that we have to our contestants and the success of our contestants when they leave the show is there for everybody to see.”
MasterChef returns 7:30pm Sunday on TEN.