MasterChef Australia, one of the biggest non-scripted formats down under, aired its first episode produced under COVID-19 safety protocols last night.
The show, which airs on ViacomCBS-owned Network Ten, offered a glimpse of how reality producers in the U.S. may be able to get their unscripted projects back up and running under social distancing-friendly circumstances.
The show, which is now in its 12th season and features a number of former winners of previous seasons, came back with social distancing measures across every facet of production, including the judges, contestants and crew.
This comes as the U.S. version of the show, which airs on Fox, had production suspended earlier this year due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
In the Australian version, additional hand sanitizing stations were put in across the set, while the cooking benches were spaced out further to keep contestants further away from each other and gloves were provided for team challenges where equipment was shared as well as when contestants went to get food from the store cupboards. Extra sinks were also added as well as dedicated hand washing stations.
In terms of the judges – this season featuring Andy Allen, Melissa Leong, and Jock Zonfrillo – they stepped up to taste the individually portioned meals and didn’t share cutlery or plates.
Contestants were kept separated, and there were obviously no high-fives and hugs when things went well or badly. The first episode back helped as it was a relay challenge, where the contestants work one after each other, waiting for one cook to finish before stepping in.
However, an example of how seriously producers took the health concerns was the absence of Leong from the episode. She revealed that she had sinusitis and went to the doctors, before being cleared and returning to the set for future episodes.
Endemol Shine Australia, which produces the show, this season titled MasterChef: Back To Win, said, “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.”
“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 in the intro. “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.”
Australia, which hasn’t been hit as hard by the global pandemic as some other countries, is showing the world how to resume film and TV production. Neighbours, the long-running soap, was one of the first suspended scripted dramas to return to production with safety protocols in place.
MasterChef Australia’s return (see a clip below) could be a roadmap for international non-scripted shows to return.
Fox’s version of the show, which features judges Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich, would have likely started to air around now as per previous seasons had it not been for the pandemic. Fox reality chief Rob Wade told Deadline that he is working up plans to get all of its suspended shows back into production. MasterChef may be helped by the fact that its production company, Endemol Shine North America, will have direct access to plans from its Australian sibling.