The biggest scandals to ever hit MasterChef

MasterChef first arrived on screens in the United Kingdom in 1990, and what started as a humble cooking show has now blossomed into a worldwide phenomenon. 

With 58 territories airing their version of the show, MasterChef is one of, if not the, most popular cooking competition out there. Now approaching its 11th season in the United States, MasterChef has become a staple of many households.

Viewers gather around the television weekly to marvel and fret as amateur and professional chefs battle it out to see who is the best, who can sous vide, who can make a souffle from scratch, and who is just the master of the chefs. Oh, and the $250,000 prize at the end isn't a bad motivator either.

However, with all shows on television, especially when it comes to reality TV, there is bound to be drama. Whether it's from the contestants themselves, the judges, or perhaps an ingredient or dish itself, MasterChef has had its handful of scandals around the world. If you're looking for some juicy gossip or wondering how certain scandals turned out, well, look no further and keep reading. We're dishing up some of the biggest MasterChef scandals yet.

MasterChef judges and producers were accused of harassment

In 2013, MasterChef judges and producers were accused of sexual, mental, and physical harassment by former contestants. 

Many of these accusations came from a blog post by former contestant Marie Porter (pictured), where she describes how friends she met on the show were allegedly sexually and physically harassed by judges and producers. She claimed such actions cause contestants to become depressed and suicidal, and said one contestant was harassed so much that she asked to be edited out of the show all together. Her claims were backed-up by another contestant, Playboy model Carrie Stevens, who posted a comment on an article covering the news on the now defunct International Design Times (via Eater). 

While some contestants, like Ben Starr, refused to get involved, there was widespread media attention in regards to Porter's claims.

Shine America, the production company behind MasterChef, released a statement refuting all claims of harassment, and that seems to have been the end of it. The statement read: "Contestants on MasterChef are treated with the utmost respect and professionalism and we care tremendously about their well being. The recent comments posted about the treatment of contestants are completely without merit." 

Whether anything was done behind the scenes or settlements were made, we may never know, as NDAs prevent contestants from saying much more than they already have.

Judges from MasterChef Australia were fired because of stolen wages

Imagine messing up so bad that you get your coworkers of 11 years fired alongside you? Well, that was the reality for restaurateur and MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris. What did he do? Oh, just underpaying employees of his restaurant company in the amount of $7.8 million AUS, or nearly $5.4 million USD. When the news broke in July 2019, viewers were immediately petitioned for Calombaris' removal from the show, yielding over 25,000 signatures.

Network Ten, which airs MasterChef Australia, soon announced they were letting all three judges go, and while it didn't outright name the scandal, they didn't deny it either. Citing "commercial reasons," Network Ten said it had been unable to agree on a deal with Calombaris and his co-judges Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan. The fact that the announcement was made just one week after Calombaris was fined and the scandal well and truly exploded, well, we think you can see the correlation.

Calombaris did eventually come out and say there was no excuse for the underpayment, citing issues with classification of workers and just not being on top of things. Considering he had first been informed in 2015, some say he took too long to address the problem. He might still have a judging job today if he had.

MasterChef showed killing animals on air

No matter what kind of chef you are, chances are good the MasterChef kitchen will cook up something you've never had to deal with before. This was painfully true for Sheetal Bhagat. A devout and practicing Hindu, Bhagat had the misfortune to be on a 2010 episode of MasterChef that involved killing a live crab. In Hindu, it's believed that every living thing has a soul, so killing it was something she felt she couldn't do.

Host Gordon Ramsay offered to kill the crab for Bhagat, but ultimately the chef decided she needed to do it. It did earn her a top three dish; her emotional trial referenced by Chef Joe Bastianich, who proclaimed that the crab was probably happy to have given up it's life for her dish. 

However, many felt this wasn't something Bhagat should have been tasked with, while others chastised her for not sticking to her morals and beliefs.

A MasterChef contestant stole another's idea

During an immunity challenge on a 2017 episode of MasterChef Australia, two contestants had to use prawns and shrimp paste in a dish. Sarah Tiong decided to grill her prawns over an open flame. Great idea, right? Well, that's what Tiong's competitor Ben Devlin thought as well. So much so that he told her it was a great idea... and then went and did the exact same thing. 

That alone was enough to rile up viewers, who were aghast Devlin wasn't being called out for it, but then Devlin went on to win the challenge by one point. To rub salt in the wound, Judge George Calombaris said that Devlin was clever for cooking the prawns that way.

MasterChef Australia's official Twitter even called Devlin out for stealing the idea, making it even more shocking that MasterChef did nothing to address the situation.

Masterchef UK judges were blasted for ignorance of international cuisine

There are a lot of different cuisines in the world. We hardly need to tell you that, but apparently someone should have informed the MasterChef UK judges of this phenomenon in 2018. Viewers blasted judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace for their criticism that Malaysian-born contestant Zaleha Kadir Olpin's chicken rendang wasn't crispy, and that there was sauce on the skin. In case you were wondering, chicken rendang isn't supposed to be crispy. It is supposed to have sauce on the skin. This traditional Malaysian dish is more stew like, with creamy coconut sauce that's flavorful and delicious.

This scandal caused quite the social media furor from international viewers and journalists who complained that the judges didn't have any idea about cuisine outside of their wheelhouse. They claimed it showed ignorance of international cuisine and a single-minded idea of what makes good chicken. 

What made this all worse was the fact that Olpin was eliminated that round. She defended herself, saying she stood by her traditional dish, and wouldn't have changed a thing. Nor should she have to. Maybe MasterChef UK needs a bit more of a diverse judging panel?

A former MasterChef contestant committed suicide

Josh Marks was the runner-up on the third season of MasterChef, a gentle giant with a passion for cooking. Despite having no formal cooking training, he grabbed one of the available spots for the show. He was immediately likable, with his big heart and smile. Even though he didn't win his season in 2012, he was lavished with praise and everyone expected amazing things from him. Marks himself told the camera that he would never give up on his dream.

However, his world fell apart shortly after the show ended. He began having panic attacks, hearing voices, eventually receiving a bipolar diagnosis. An unfortunate incident with police culminated with Marks claiming Gordon Ramsay had possessed him and turned him into God. Marks spent weeks in jail with his mouth wired shut due to a broken jaw from the altercation. Meanwhile, the media had a field day reporting on the incident, unknowing of the mental anguish the former contestant was suffering.

Marks was released and given medical care, but spiraled further when he was also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. It wasn't long after that he was found dead by his mother from a self-inflicted gunshot. The family refuses to blame MasterChef for Marks' death, despite the fact it was stressful and may have triggered his mental illness in a way they couldn't deal with. 

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or needs someone to talk to, help is available. Please call the Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-8255, or text 741741.

MasterChef Junior contestants are told about challenges ahead of time

If you know anything about reality television or cooking competitions in general, this may not come as a surprise. Many reality shows are fake or at least heavily scripted. When it comes to cooking shows, it's relatively common, as producers don't actually want contestants to be scrambling around the kitchen and failing miserably. A few failures is good for drama, but everyone messing up? Not great television. 

Still, it does take a bit of the luster off of the show as a whole. All those screams and shocked faces when the task is revealed? All fake — at least on MasterChef Junior. A father of one contestant said the kids know about challenges for weeks. And while they may not have every single detail, they know enough to be able to practice their dishes at home. Combine this with accusations that some junior chefs have taken professional cooking and acting lessons ahead of filming, and it does all come off as quite staged.

Still, things can go wrong in the kitchen under pressure, and they often do. While no one will deny that the child cooks on MasterChef Junior are absolutely amazing and skilled, they aren't pulling that decadent filet with butter braised green beans out of their hat in 30 seconds. It just goes to show, don't trust everything you see on television.