Here's your daily reminder that everything in the world has an evil, dark underbelly: MasterChef, an extremely popular reality show about people making delicious food and Gordon Ramsey eating it and then yelling, is allegedly a very hostile environment for female contestants. According to Marie Porter, an ex-contestant (who was eliminated from the top 100 in the second episode):
[T]wo of my MasterChef friends have had suicidal thoughts since coming back, as a result of the treatment out there. One friend was sexually harassed by the judges to the point that she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely. (As part of it, one of the judges told her that the only way he’d have an appreciation for her is if he was looking at her naked body!). Two of my friends were physically assaulted – one by production, one by a judge.
Of the incidents I mention, there is no crossover – these are all unique individuals. They’re not alone, either – I know of a few other women who were treated in a sexist, degrading manner by the judges… and all of these incidents that I mention are just the ones that I KNOW of. Many have been dealing with depression as a result of the experience.
There's no actual proof of the sexual harassment — and it's unlikely that there will be any forthcoming, since MasterChef competitors have to sign detailed contacts (I contacted Marie, who informed me that she's not allowed to give interviews without Fox's permission). According to a commenter on a post on International Design Times, however:
Everything Marie says is absolute truth. While I do not want to be a part of this snafu...I have moved on from my bad MC experience.... Marie is reporting facts. I witnessed it.
A contest reality show like MasterChef has the potential to be an especially exploitative environment. Not only do the judges and producers on set have the ability to decide whether a contestant stays or leaves, they also have complete control over the way in which the contestant is portrayed on primetime television. Furthermore, contestants are contractually obligated to not disclose information about the way they were treated behind the scenes, which is totally silencing. If these allegations are true, they're very troubling — especially since this season has been on air for ten episodes already and this is the first time harassment claims have come to light.
UPDATE: Shine America, which produces MasterChef, has emailed us the following statement:
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.