Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris will appear on MasterChef Australia for the last time tonight, after Network 10 confirmed the trio will not return to the show next year.
The shock announcement comes in the wake of George Calombaris being found to have underpaid staff by more than $7.83 million across his restaurant empire, which led to calls from former workers and unions for the star to be dropped from the popular reality show.
It’s understood that the judges decided to leave after failing to secure pay rises from the network, and that their exit is not related to George’s recent case.
According to The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, the trio were after a 40 per cent pay increase.
“Despite months of negotiation, 10 has not been able to reach a commercial agreement that was satisfactory to Matt, Gary and George,” Chief executive officer Paul Anderson said in a statement.
MasterChef not ending
He went on to thank Gary, George and Matt for their contributions over the past 11 years, before adding that this does not mean the end of MasterChef.
“Australia is full of remarkable cooking talent and we can’t wait to introduce another group – and the next generation of exceptional judges – in season 12 of MasterChef Australia next year.”
While Yahoo Lifestyle understands the decision was reached independently from George’s personal woes, pressure had been mounting for Channel 10 to dump one of its most famous faces, after revelations George’s company Made Establishment underpaid more than 500 staff by $7.8m, in venues including The Press Club, between 2011 and 2016.
Affected employees were eventually backpaid before the Fair Work Ombudsman fined the chef and his company $200,000 last Thursday.
In a statement, George said, “We apologise to all our affected team members, past and present – as it is our people that make our restaurants great, and it is our priority to ensure all of our employees feel respected, rewarded and supported in their roles”.
Two of this year’s MasterChef contestants, Tim Bone and Nicole Scott, defended George ahead of the shock announcement, detailing the behind the scenes support he offers stars of the show.
“George was my favourite judge,” Tim told Yahoo Lifestyle earlier on Tuesday, “he really gave me a lot of advice towards the end of the competition — I think he could really see my growth.”
“When we did the challenge at Press Club, the way he ran the kitchen was amazing and he just always gave me advice to never give up.”
Nicole, who was eliminated on Monday, agreed, and told Yahoo Lifestyle, “He [George] was always so supportive to the contestants and gave us great advice.”
MasterChef fans disappointed
Fans have been quick to express their sadness at seeing all three of the judges leave the show.
“Pity to see Gary and Matt go,” one fan wrote on Twitter.
“They have sacrificed Gary and Matt because of George Colambaris,” another wrote.
George loses major endorsement
Earlier this week, George lost a major endorsement deal after WA Tourism ditched him as the face of their latest food and wine advertisement campaign.
Ads featuring George touted Western Australia as a place to “design your own gourmet escape”, however just two days after he was forced to fork out $200,000 in “contrition payments”, WA Tourism began taking down all of his social media and television advertisements.
“George Calombaris was a small part of a Tourism WA campaign encouraging people to visit the areas of the State that featured in the recent WA Week on Masterchef Australia,” a Tourism WA spokesperson told Yahoo Finance.
“Given the recent community response due to Mr Calombaris’ issues with the Fair Work Commission we have paused the parts of the campaign that have featured him and we’re speaking with his management.
“This campaign is just part of what we’re doing to promote the state,” the spokesperson added.
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