How Melissa Leong helped turn MasterChef around
When the three new judges of MasterChef Australia were announced last November, many fans of the reality show asked “who?”.
Besides Andy Allen, who was the season four winner, food writer Melissa Leong and restaurateur Jock Zonfrillo were anything but household names.
Former judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan had become the most recognisable trio on Australian TV and Ten was risking it all by replacing them with unknowns.
But luckily for them, it’s paid off. This time last year, MasterChef viewers descended to a low 366,000 but this year, close to a million are tuning in to each episode.
And Melissa Leong’s presence has gone a long way to revitalise the franchise, 12 seasons in.
The same day the three new judges were announced, Melissa’s old tweets slamming MasterChef came to light.View this post on Instagram
What happens when you go on MasterChef and then open a restaurant? Apparently not much. Back to second-hand car sales then …” she’d tweeted in 2012. A year earlier, she’d retweeted a joke that “the biggest mistake an amateur chef can make is going on MasterChef.”
But after handling the situation like a pro by appearing on The Project, fans began to fall in love with the food writer.
“We’re all human, right? We all have perspectives on things that change over time and so, you know, why should I scrub all my social media clean of former opinions that I’ve had?
“I may not believe the same things I did before but I also don’t believe in presenting a sanitised version of myself that’s highly edited because that’s not who I am.”
Her Twitter mishap was quickly forgotten when the show began in April, with Leong quickly emerging as perhaps the most supportive, sensitive judge the show had seen.
She bonded with the diverse group of contestants, marking the competition’s strong showing of Asian Australians as a “groundbreaking” moment in Australian TV.
“I could never conceive of witnessing a moment like this on prime time television in my lifetime,” she wrote alongside an image of one episode’s top five contestants: Poh Ling Yeow, Brendan Pang, Reynold Poernomo, Jess Lemon and Khanh Ong.
“To every person who never felt seen, this is for you, may it give you hope. To every person who is yet to feel seen, you are valued and your moment is on its way. We rise together.”
Last week, an emotional episode revealed contestants Khanh and Reynold’s back stories with one being born in a refugee camp and the other having immigrated from Indonesia.
Leong, whose family is from Singapore with Chinese ancestry related to these stories.
“To tease open those conversations and to celebrate the stories that are not too dissimilar to my own … it’s not something that is lost on me,” she told news.com.au last week.
“We all understand there’s some sacrifices that were made on our behalfs in order for us to have opportunities to thrive and to grow in this incredibly magical country that is Australia. I think that’s a shared consciousness no matter what your cultural background is.”
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