Speaking with Yahoo Lifestyle, the season 13 winner spilled on what it’s really like serving cold food to the judges, where the contestants live during filming, and how much they actually know about the challenges beforehand.
Hints from producers
When asked whether contestants are ever told about the challenges in advance so they can practice beforehand, Justin admits that the producers on his season often gave them “hints”.
“But sometimes the hints would just be a complete joke,” he adds.
“It’s like the producers just mess with you and they’re like, ‘I hope you guys like cake, have a good night!’ and you'd be like, ‘Alright, I'm gonna go cook a thousand cakes tonight’ and then you'd walk in and it wouldn't be that it. Or you'd walk in and if you got to the bottom of the elimination, you'd have to cook a cake or something like that.
“So they were subtle, you never really knew. But you’d know if it was a team challenge, you know the routine of the week like, today's Mystery Box, today's a team challenge, so you could prep in that sense. But you didn't know what was under the Mystery Box or what was happening.”
Contrary to what some fans might think, Justin asserts that contestants are never allowed to use a recipe in the MasterChef kitchen unless it’s part of a challenge.
“You’ve got to just memorise and have a photographic memory,” he explains. “You get a pen and pad, so you just try and get it all out of your head at the start of the cook while it's clear, all the exact measurements and stuff.
“That's what I would do, because once you're in the cook, who knows what happens when time is short and the pressure’s on and something goes wrong? At least I've got some sort of a guideline here.”
While the early seasons of MasterChef saw contestants living together in a share house, Justin says the living arrangements on season 13 were “a little bit different” due to the pandemic.
“It wasn’t a whole group house,” he details. “We kind of had shared rooms but individual bedrooms because of Covid, but we all lived in the same apartment block, so we'd see each other, hang out, and go to each other's apartments.
“But it was pretty strict in terms of when you leave and go out because they don't want anyone to get sick. So there was a bit of freedom, but not heaps.”
Justin reveals that the cooking time limits are just as strict in real life as they appear on TV, and contestants aren’t allowed to touch their dishes once the time is up.
“If you touch it, you're gonna get disqualified or penalised or something, it's hectic,” he remarks. “So then you just walk out, have a break, and then you come back in and it’s an empty kitchen.”
He adds that contestants never have to clean their workbenches themselves because there are cleaners who do it for them.
“It’s a dream situation,” he says. “The cleaners, they’re like angels. They come in, clean up all your mess and you walk into a fresh kitchen. I wish I could keep them with me somehow.”
With so many dishes to be tasted each episode, it’s no surprise that the judges often have to eat the contestants’ food when it’s cold. However, Justin says it’s not as big of a deal as some viewers might think because the judges always make sure to try the meal while it's being prepared.
“You see it on TV, sometimes they come around and they're tasting things,” he points out. “So the judges are always writing notes, they’ve got some knowledge and idea of what it tastes like hot. But it's part of TV, they’re used to eating cold food.”
Justin also shares that he was never too surprised by the feedback he received from the judges because he always had a rough idea of how he had performed.
“That feeling is probably what I disliked the most, that feeling of taking up the dish,” he laughs. “Especially when you knew it wasn't good, you just know. You’re like, gosh, it’s on national TV, there’s everyone behind me, I’m just going to cop this one.”
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