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Ratings juggernaut MasterChef returns with mixed emotions after Jock Zonfrillo’s death

Allen and Zonfrillo on the <i>MasterChef</i> set with fellow judge Melissa Leong, who has been axed.

Allen and Zonfrillo on the MasterChef set with fellow judge Melissa Leong, who has been axed. Photo: Network Ten

When the Ten network announced the 15th season of ratings juggernaut MasterChef Australia would return after the sudden death of co-host Jock Zonfrillo, the show’s loyal fan base was divided.

Three days after his death on Monday, the network said that with the “full support” of Zonfrillo’s family, the big-budget, three-month season of the cooking competition (which finished filming last month) will air from Sunday.

“Ten is pulling out all stops to make this series “a tribute” to Jock, but make no mistake, there was no way they were ever pulling this show,” a senior industry insider told The New Daily on Thursday.

“Not with $60 million in ad revenue at stake.

“And from a commercial point of view, they’re right to run it now … strike while the iron is hot, while interest in his death is still high.”

Mixed emotions

There’s no right or wrong answer, the insider said, as to whether its good or bad taste to run the completed series.

“Depends whose taste it is – fans, family, producers, the network, Jock’s judge co-stars.

“There’s no right or wrong answer, but I would bet good money that the first handful of episodes are a ratings bonanza,” the insider said.

As soon as it was confirmed MasterChef Australia would air (thanks to The Bridge for filling in for a week), reaction was swift – heartbreak, delight, sadness and … for some, a “it’s too morbid” response.

From the thousands of public posts from fans around the world including from the US, Finland, South Africa, India and the UK on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, the overwhelming response was a positive one, with fans saying they would cherish this season forever.

“Will definitely be watching in his honour. Thank you to his family for making what must have been a difficult decision, but I’m sure knowing it was what he would have wanted,” wrote Simone Mercuri.

“This season would be extremely hard and heartening to watch. Jock will be missed terribly. Such a gentleman. Such a wonderful chef,” wrote one fan on the show’s Instagram.

“Will be hard to watch but I will. Jock deserves to be honoured by all of us who loved MasterChef and Jock Zonfrillo,” wrote another.

“I won’t be watching. Go for the money Channel 10. Disgusting!,” chimed in another.

“What a sad and pathetic world we live in, where Endemol Shine [the producers] knows more of the public will watch this, rather than less because of the grief they feel . The calculus beads show profit when any empathic human could not watch this,” posted another.

With emotions still raw, the team will be back on TV screens on Sunday night. Photo: Getty

Either way, it will making for heartbreaking viewing.

Psychologist Tamara Cavenett told TND 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.”

Many fans agreed.

‘The most special season’

“This will be the most special season … must have meant a lot to him and his family especially as they have decided to still share it with the world,” wrote Giselle, echoing the sentiments of many.

Late on Thursday, Ten resumed the promotional advertising campaigns for the much-loved show, including this 10-second video.

On Monday, Victoria Police confirmed they had found the body of a 46-year-old man after being asked to perform a welfare check at a property on Lygon Street, Carlton, in inner-Melbourne, about 2am.

Zonfrillo’s devastated family confirmed his death on Monday afternoon.

The Scottish-born celebrity chef’s death is not being treated as suspicious.

He is survived by his wife, Lauren Fried, and his four children: Ava and Sophia from previous relationships, and Alfie and Isla, shared with Ms Fried.

His MasterChef Australia co-hosts Melissa Leong and Andy Allen paid emotional tributes on Tuesday, having worked closely together on the show since 2020.

“When I met you five years ago I knew our lives were about to change forever,” Allen wrote on Instagram.

“You’ve taught me so much about food, but it’s the lessons I learnt about what it means to be a great father, husband and friend that I’ll take away from our time together and will last forever.

“I’ll miss the way you mentored me and every contestant that walked into the MasterChef kitchen.

“Thanks for making me constantly laugh and being there when I needed to cry. You really were the complete package, mate, and life will never be the same without you,” he wrote.

Leong said his death “feels too raw to process still”.

“I suspect it will for some time,” she wrote on Instagram.

“My heart goes out to your family, who were and are your life.

“A wee dram for you today, and always.”

  • Lifeline 131 114
  • beyondblue 1300 224 636
  • MasterChef: Secrets & Surprises premieres at 7.30pm on 10 and 10 Play! on May 7
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