MasterChef Australia: Tough choices for Network Ten after Jock Zonfrillo’s death

As the entertainment and hospitality worlds come to terms with the sudden death of much-loved MasterChef co-host and chef Jock Zonfrillo, television industry insiders say the series will continue.

Australia’s favourite cooking competition show – this year titled MasterChef: Secrets & Surprises – was scheduled to premiere on Monday night, along with 18 contestants, and UK chef and veteran TV show host Jamie Oliver as special guest.

MasterChef’s broadcaster Network Ten and production company Endemol Shine Australia announced the show would be delayed by one week.

In its 15th season, the multimillion-dollar ratings juggernaut finished filming in April at Melbourne’s Flemington headquarters, with all episodes completed and the series winner already crowned and awarded the $250,000 prize.

Promotional TV previews and social media posts from Zonfrillo and his co-hosts Melissa Leong and Andy Allen have been running for weeks.

Psychologist Tamara Cavenett told The New Daily there was “no right time, and no right amount of time to grieve” when something like this happens.

“There are some culturally-specific norms with grief, but they really do vary in different settings,” she said.

“In many cultures, a more distinct period of mourning – where things like running the show might be avoided – could be in place until after a funeral or memorial … in other cultures this is marked by a specific period of a number of days or weeks.

“There are some really fundamental human questions here … when somebody dies, those who knew and loved them often need to ask themselves ‘What would they have wanted?’

“And that can feed into decision making with those engaging with their legacy. This will happen in a more public way here, but these are decisions that, in different ways, many families and loved ones need to make in states of bereavement.”

Should the show be scrapped?

“With all episodes already in the vault, they will be watching every episode carefully to ensure there is nothing that will distress viewers and more pertinently, family and close friends,” a production source told Sydney’s Daily Telegraph.

“It is not something you can get wrong, so they will take their time.”

Zonfrillo’s wife Lauren Fried and the youngest of his four children Alfie and Isla have reportedly returned from Rome after a European holiday.

The show will screen in the crucial 7.30pm time slot five nights a week from May 7.

Alongside Leong and Allen, the Scottish-born chef was cast as a judge in 2019 after the first team of judges Matt Preston, Gary Mehigan and George Calombaris quit over a pay dispute.

Scrapping this year’s production entirely is not an option, wrote The Guardian.

TV Blackbox’s Kevin Perry tells TND: “I think the network needs to be extremely mindful for how potentially painful this could be for the family to be seeing him on TV every night of the week while at the same time trying to explain to young children why their father is never coming home.

“At the same time, the longer Ten keeps the show off our screens, the harder and more uncomfortable it will become for viewers to watch.

“It really is a no-win situation for the network and they will need to be extremely sensitive in how they move forward.”

Seven’s entertainment reporter Peter Ford said the show “will definitely continue” given the series has already been filmed.

He said that it was “uncharted territory as to whether audiences are going to be comfortable watching the show given this tragedy”.

How should the contestants, crew, colleagues and audiences at home react and feel when they watch next week?

Another TV executive told the Telegraph “the show will continue”.

“There is really no precedent for this,” the executive said.

“Word is that the show will continue. It really is a matter of what, how and when so that it is appropriately respectful to the family and to viewers.

“There is talk of a tribute special, as well as some sort of tribute at the top of the first episode.

“Longer term, and again it is way too soon, they will look at a new judge for the next season.”

Ten has been contacted for comment.

‘Completely shattered’

Zonfrillo, 46, passed away suddenly in Melbourne on Monday, with Victoria Police confirming officers attended a hotel in Carlton to conduct a welfare check about 2am and found the body of a man.

His death is not being treated as suspicious and a report will be prepared for the coroner.

The TV presenter’s family described him as an irreplaceable husband, father, brother, son and friend.

“With completely shattered hearts and without knowing how we can possibly move through life without him, we are devastated to share that Jock passed away yesterday,” they said in a statement.

“So many words can describe him, so many stories can be told, but at this time we’re too overwhelmed to put them into words.

“For those who crossed his path, became his mate or were lucky enough to be his family, keep this proud Scot in your hearts when you have your next whisky.”

Born in Glasgow to an Italian father and Scottish mother, Zonfrillo moved to Australia permanently more than two decades ago.

He opened Adelaide restaurants Bistro Blackwood and Orana after working in top kitchens around the world including Marco Pierre White’s acclaimed restaurant in London.

Zonfrillo won the prestigious Basque Culinary World Prize in 2018 and joined MasterChef Australia in 2019.

UK chef Gordon Ramsay said he “truly enjoyed” the time the two spent together on the show.

“Sending all my love to Lauren and the family in this difficult time,” he posted to social media.

Singer Jimmy Barnes said he was speechless.

“Jock was like a brother to me and we made each other laugh and cry. My heart does go out to his family,” he said.

The star was loved by colleagues and would be deeply missed, Endemol Shine Australia chief executive Peter Newman said.

“Jock was an incredible talent, not just as a renowned chef but as someone who could bring joy into the homes of people in Australia and around the world in his role as judge on MasterChef Australia,” he said.

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