When MasterChef Australia judge Jock Zonfrillo unexpectedly died the day before Season 15 was due to premiere, production company Endemol Shine and Network 10 had an impossible decision on their hands: what was the right thing to do when it came to airing some of Jock’s last moments?
When the show premiered days later, it brought on questions from critics and fans alike: was it all too soon? Were things too emotionally raw for Jock’s family, friends and fellow MasterChef cast to be making a call about whether the season should go ahead? And is it ethical to ask a grieving family to decide whether the show should air so soon after a loved one’s death?
When The Project aired an interview ahead of the premiere with Jock’s fellow MasterChef judge and close friend Andy Allen, it was an extremely difficult watch. A shell-shocked, teary Andy sat before Sarah Harris as he tried to comprehend his mate’s death, mere days after it had happened. The raw emotion Andy was feeling at one of his most vulnerable times made watching the interview as distressing as it was compelling, and of course, it helped MasterChef’s Season 15 premiere win the ratings.
While Jock’s family gave production and the network the green light to go ahead, the decision was made under extreme pressure and the new premiere date was announced mere days after news of Jock’s death broke. Network 10 may have had the impossible decision to decide what to do about the season – damned if you do, damned if you don’t – but we also can’t overlook that the unfair responsibility of that decision fell onto a family experiencing heartbreaking loss.
A heartbreaking watch
It’s hard to watch the season now without feeling melancholy as Jock educates and supports the contestants, in his usual exuberant and passionate fashion. MasterChef is usually one of Australia’s most wholesome reality shows – filled with emotional moments and joyful celebrations as contestants wow the judges and improve their skills week after week. A shadow has been cast on the series as a whole, making it an emotional rollercoaster of a viewing experience – every time Jock is on screen, cracking a dad joke, or supporting a frazzled contestant, it’s hard to reconcile with the fact that someone so lively and so integral to the show is no longer with us.
Jock, in particular, brought a new level of emotional depth to the judging process that we hadn’t seen in previous seasons. His sympathetic shoulder for contestant Brent Draper, who left the 2021 season of MasterChef after battling mental health issues, will go down as one of the most touching moments in the show’s history, with an emotional Jock gifting Brent some worry beads and opening up about his own anxiety. “The impact that Jock made on my life is something I’ll never forget,” Brent said on Instagram after Jock passed away. Brent returned for the 2023 season premiere and watching him reunite with his mentor was another heartbreaking reminder of the impact Jock had on the young chef’s life.
Did it air too soon after Jock's death?
While these moments are so special to watch and Jock is immortalised through his MasterChef tenure, I think it’s fair to say that the network and production companies should’ve allowed more time for Jock’s family and friends to be able to process the news, mourn his death, and privately grieve without the pressure of Australia watching them, and him, on our TV screens.
The current season is still a beautiful celebration of Jock’s life and passion, but while we mourn his last season as a judge, the future of MasterChef without him is impossible to comprehend because the loss of his talent, empathy and passion is immeasurable. The show can go on, but it’ll never be the same.
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