Let’s Talk About Contestants’ Mental Health On MasterChef Australia

Throughout the 13 years it's been on screen, MasterChef Australia has always been known for feel-good viewing. The most rivalry we see is during elimination challenges or pressure tests, and even then the contestants often help each other out with spare ingredients or utensils and by tasting each other's dishes. You end up finishing each episode feeling happier (and hungrier), and it's this heartfelt camaraderie that has made MasterChef such a success.
But in the few weeks that it's been on the air this year, the new season of the cooking show has revealed another side. We've seen the immense pressure cooker that the MasterChef machine can be, which has led to tears and shock walk-outs from contestants.
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During last night's episode, John Carasig (one of the former contestants who's returned this season) walked out of the MasterChef kitchen crying after receiving critical feedback from the judges. He was very close to leaving the competition entirely before judge Melissa Leong encouraged him to stay.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant John Carasig
"Today's the first time I felt as if I was a failure. I just feel like... I still feel like I don't belong in this competition," he explained in a voiceover.
"I don't actually want to be here anymore," Carasig told Leong as they spoke outside after he walked out. "I just feel like everything I do is not hitting the... you're not liking the dish."
"You definitely don't need to be here," Leong responded. "You have a wonderful life, but think about how many people love you, who are barracking for you to be back."
After the episode aired, past and present contestants showed their support for Carasig, confirming that the high-pressure environment can get the better of you at times.
"It's such an intense environment and sometimes it can just be too much," current participant Melanie Persson wrote on Instagram.
"I had so many days like this in the kitchen. One foot in front of the other! You got this!" wrote Sabina Newton from last year's season.
Carasig's breakdown came after co-star Alvin Quah (originally from the 2010 season) began hyperventilating in a state of panic last week during a challenge set by celebrity guest chef Adriano Zumbo.
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Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Alvin Quah
"It's just hit me that I'm in a pressure test set by Adriano Zumbo. All the negative thoughts come flowing back in that you're not good enough," he said. "And, you know, like, you can't compete. What are you doing here?"
After Leong rushed to his bench to console him and the other contestants cheered him on, he was eventually able to finish the challenge and is still in the competition.
Julie Goodwin opened up about her anxiety and depression in 2020, saying she was admitted to hospital for mental health issues. During the first week of this year's season, she also struggled with her emotions and confidence, saying she wasn't sure if she could live up to the high expectations after being the show's first-ever winner in 2009.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites contestant Julie Goodwin
"When the phone call came to do this, I didn’t know if I could," she told the other contestants and judges.
"It’s been a tough couple of years, and I didn’t know if I was able to come back into this environment. My experience last time was that I fell over again and again, and I think I got to the end because every time I fell down, I got back up. The phone call to come here was… it was the universe saying 'It’s time to get back up.'"
Through these examples this season alone, we've seen the mental health impact of high expectations, limited cooking time, distance from family and reputations being on the line. And as Carasig pointed out, in his situation, the pandemic hasn't been kind to hospitality business owners like himself.
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However, what we've also seen is raw moments of vulnerability matched with the camaraderie of the MasterChef cast uplifting those who are struggling. This season has acknowledged the toll that filming a show of this nature can have on its participants and initiated genuine, meaningful conversations about mental health.
In the cases of Carasig and Quah, it's helped to normalise Asian men showing their emotions, as many Asian cultures associate mental health with weakness.
In 2020, judge Melissa Leong revealed she had a code word she'd say to producers if she was overwhelmed during filming and needed a moment to herself.
"If I need a day like that where I just need that little bubble of time, it could be 10 minutes, I will tell them and they will find the next available opportunity for me to just have a minute," she told the We Are The Real Ones podcast at the time.
In a statement provided to Refinery29 Australia, Endemol Shine, the production company behind MasterChef, shared that mental health support is provided to all contestants.
"The mental health and wellbeing of contestants on MasterChef Australia is paramount, and all contestants receive the support of a dedicated psychologist," said the spokesperson. "This support is available at any time while the show is recording, on air and beyond."
This year's season, called MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites, features 12 contestants from previous seasons (favourites) competing against 12 amateur home cooks (fans) in the kitchen.
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Image courtesy of Channel 10
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen
The favourites on the show this year include Julie Goodwin (Season 1), Billie McKay (Season 7), Sashi Cheliah (Season 10), Alvin Quah (Season 2), Michael Weldon (Season 3) Mindy Woods (Season 4), Christina Batista (Season 5), Sarah Todd (Season 6), John Carasig (Season 7), Aldo Ortado (Season 10), Minoli De Silva (Season 13) and Tommy Pham (Season 13).
The fans are Ali Stoner, Jenn Lee, Chris Tran, Daniel Lamble, Dulan Hapuarachchi, Harry Tomlinson, Keyma Vasquez Montero, Matt Landmark, Max Krapivsky, Melanie PerssonMontana Hughes and Steph Woon.
Image courtesy of Channel 10
The cast of MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites
MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites airs Sunday to Thursday at 7:30pm on Channel 10 and 10Play.
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