On Monday night, MasterChef Australia finally reached the point where social distancing rules came into effect during filming earlier this year. It made for a very different-looking kitchen than viewers were used to.
The show’s 12th season has become a record of how reality television could navigate the coronavirus pandemic. It was already notably different to previous seasons, as it is the first year with new judges Andy Allen, Melissa Leong, and Jock Zonfrillo. Further, this season is subtitled “Back To Win,” with all contestants having competed in previous seasons stretching back to Season 1 in 2009. Now the ongoing health crisis has also made it a piece of history.
Contestant Poh Ling Yeow revealed earlier in the year that MasterChef Australia had continued to film as the pandemic began to reach Australia, with contestants being careful to keep a safe distance apart. On Monday, we finally got to see exactly what that looks like.
The new safety measures were apparent from the very beginning of the episode, as contestants and judges reminded each other to keep their distance as they filed into the kitchen.
“A lot has changed in recent days due to the coronavirus. None of us have ever experienced anything like this before. But we’re all in this together,” said Zonfrillo, introducing the show’s new safety and hygiene rules.
“So we’re gonna do things a little bit differently from now on in here. You might notice we’re standing a little bit further apart. That’s the first new rule. You must keep a safe distance from each other at all times.”
Fortunately, the format of the episode’s challenge helped to ease MasterChef Australia‘s contestants into the new rules. The episode was the infamous Relay Challenge, wherein teams of contestants work one after another on the same dish — or two dishes, in this case. This meant there was already more social distancing than in a typical team challenge, with contestants waiting outside the kitchen for their turn to run in and take over cooking.
Aside from keeping separated while watching the video feed of their teammates completely messing up their dishes, contestants also had to don gloves upon entering the pantry, ensuring they weren’t all touching the ingredients with their bare hands. They further used hand sanitiser upon entering the kitchen for their leg of the relay.
However, MasterChef Australia‘s most glaring change brought about by these new rules was the unfortunate yet necessary lack of hugs.
MasterChef Australia is arguably the most wholesome show on Australian television, more in line with The Great British Bake Off than MasterChef U.S. in that respect. Contestants are focused on food, friendship, and doing their very best, rather than trying to sabotage each other or foster petty rivalries. In fact, they’re more likely to help than hinder each other.
As such, contestants’ inability to trade hi-fives and hugs has had a significant impact upon proceedings.
This is particularly the case for 21-year-old Jess Liemantara, who has gained fans for being a tiny fluffy bunny made of sunshine, spun sugar, and unconditional love. More than once this season’s youngest contestant abandoned her own cook to help someone else, whether that be by fetching equipment for them or sharing a recipe. She also seems to have taken it upon herself to ensure everyone gets their daily dose of hugs, comforting her fellow contestants after bad cooks as well as celebrating good ones.
Dessert angel Jess is sadly no longer allowed to dole out her unlimited healing hugs, a turn of events which feels about as natural as AstroTurf. Fortunately, this didn’t stop her and teammate Sarah Tiong from giving out enthusiastic air embraces at the end of Monday’s cook.
Like stevia instead of sugar, it isn’t as good as the real thing, but it’ll do in a pinch.
While Team Navy were inventing new, safe ways to display affection, others simply stood a safe distance apart and clapped at each other, like happy cooking babies.
The way in which dishes are judged has changed as well. Previously the judges would stand next to each other and eat from the same plate, like a sad three-way date without any sexual tension.
Now they divide the food up onto separate plates instead, taking turns to come forward and taste while everyone just stands around and watches them eat. Fortunately the magic of editing means viewers aren’t also subjected to the whole lengthy process every time.
We’re only halfway through Season 12 of MasterChef Australia, but the new social distancing measures will be in place for the rest of the episodes.
It will be interesting to see how the show manages these safety measures during challenges going forward. Only three people were ever cooking at a time during the Relay Challenge, but team challenges usually require contestants to work in very close quarters. Further, individual challenges traditionally start with all the contestants rushing into the pantry together to grab ingredients like it’s Black Friday.
In any case, the social distancing rules mean the eventual winner probably won’t get the usual group hugs and cheering crowd. They’ll still win A$250,000 and the title of MasterChef Australia though, so it won’t be a complete loss.