Every year, I receive a batch of emails right around this time - people who are considering, or who have already signed up to audition for MasterChef. Very excited people, full of big dreams, just looking for whatever tips I may have.
The TL;DR? Don’t.
Let me elaborate, but first a bit of disclaimer / pertinent info:
1. It’s been just over 3 years since I auditioned for MasterChef, and just over 2 and a half since I was out there. My PERSONAL experience is not super recent. In fact, after our season they made big changes to format, etc.
2. I am Canadian, but I was on MasterChef USA, so my direct experiences with the process are from the American version. I hear MasterChef Canada was a bit better, not as sadistic, and had some of the process differ a bit, so your mileage may vary based on country.
3. In going through the process, if selected, you will sign something in the neighbourhood of 80 pages of contract... This is not an exaggeration. Much of that contract has to do with confidentiality, and that is why not many people publicly speak about their experience. On the surface, it’s a “scary” contract, especially to those who only skimmed it.
Being the stickler for details that I am, I read it several times, and had a thorough understanding of it. This came in handy when they accidentally(?) nullified my contract while I was in LA. Their counsel is not only aware of the fact that I am not held under a contract, but they are aware of the fact that *I* am aware of this. This appears to be why I’m the only one not getting threats of lawsuits for speaking out, or, hey, using the word “MasterChef” on social media. (They’re currently trying to get past contestants to remove all references to having been on MasterChef from all personal social media accounts.) So, if you’re wondering why I’m speaking out, or why others aren’t... it’s just that I have a lot more freedom than everyone else.
I have SO so many thoughts on this subject, I should apologize in advance for this blog being disjointed. I’m sure it will be all over the place, by the time I’m done.
First of all, I have written a LOT about the experience. I would first recommend going back through the MasterChef tag on my blog, here
In particular, I’d like to draw your attention to these entries:
Additionally, see THIS post on Facebook for some VERY important information on the experience.
Now that we’re all caught up on issues like sexual harassment, physical assault, psychological torture, abuse of mental illness, etc, let’s talk about auditioning for this.
People go on MasterChef for one of three reasons:
1. Because they want to chase their dreams of cooking for a living.
2. Because they want to be famous, and not necessarily for cooking. Serial reality show auditions, etc.
3. Just for the hell of it / adventure.
#1 are THE MOST NAIVE, going in. We think MasterChef will put us in front of people who will hire, who will buy cookbooks. People who are as passionate about food and cooking as we are, and who can help us launch a career.
#2 is more aware of the fact that this show isn't really about cooking, and is basically just another stupid reality show for people who watch *reality TV* to turn off their brains over for an hour a week. People who buy into manufactured drama, manufactured villains, manufactured sob stories, etc. People who watch and cheer for who they're told to, hate on the people their told to, and then forget about when the season is over... on to another stupid manufactured show.
#3 ... if you’re able to check your empathy at the door, it COULD be an interesting life experience. Sociologically, it’s a fascinating experience - especially watching what people are willing to do to other humans. Whether for forced “competition”, or as a career (the producers, etc)... fascinating.
As one of the type #1s, I tend to think that the people who come to me looking for audition advice are also of that type, so they are who I’m addressing with this entry. #2s are probably already loaded down with advice, and #3s... well, I wasn’t able to check my own empathy at the door, so I guess I’d be recommending looking for other life experiences. Hell, even other reality shows! I have friends who have been on other reality shows who were treated FAR better.
So, my fellow #1s...
If accepted to be on the show, you will give up many months of your life for it, for what could end up being 2 seconds - or NO time on screen.
As an aside, my timeline went as follows: I auditioned in October, went through many rounds of waiting, got the mostly final word late December, was still signing more paperwork early January, got the wardrobe requirements on January 18th (which caused an emergency shopping trip, as I had NOTHING that fit the requirements!), and flew out a couple days later. I was there for about a week, and was not allowed to even admit I was on the show until May. We weren’t even allowed to say a word about it when the commercials came out, and CLEARLY showed us on it, with many people being very identifiable.
Even from the first audition, as you progress, you will sit and wait and stress and hope that you’re accepted, with a big portion of your life on hold through the process. You will spend a fortune, cancel plans, and sit and wait.. and then sneak around, have to lie to people, put your life on even more strict hold and go out there, and hope you're part of the storyline they've planned.
This is all while being subjected to cult indoctrination techniques to mold you into the emotional dramabombs they're looking for.
Then, for people who are unlucky enough to not be cut right away, you get to hope they don't edit you in an awful way. You know you're there as a puppet for whatever story they're trying to tell, but have no idea what part you're going to play.
THEN you get to go home and keep your mouth shut for several months, life still on hold, while the producers decide what sentences they'll edit together for maximum drama / “character”.
THEN the show airs, and the dutiful viewers heap their vitriol all over the internet, really driving home the point that we are THE most disgusting species on the whole planet. I’m not kidding, watching the comments on the show, the way people talked about my friends... it’s incredibly jarring.
It’s not fun to read pages and pages of disgusting comments and actual physical threats and wishes of harm on people you know... especially when you know that the “hatred” is based on a highly edited creation of a person, and not ACTUALLY your friend. Complete strangers online telling people that they wish that their house would burn down with them and their kid in it (yes, actually specified “and your kid”), over watchign a reality show. It’s sick.
... and then most of the #1s decide not to pursue a career in food. Literally every season.
.... and even years later, you get to see how the damage ripples its way through the friends you met while out there. You get to watch how long it takes the destroyed self esteem to even START to come back, the longstanding effects of intentionally exacerbated mental health issues, etc. You get to see lives ruined.
You get to hear about people who went through the same thing KILLING THEMSELVES as a result of the psychological torture they went through. The second place contestant the year before my season killed himself during a highly publicized drawn out breakdown, in which he invoked Gordon Ramsey’s name. From what I saw of how those with mental illness were treated out there, there is NO room for doubt in my mind - Josh’s blood is on the hands of those producers.
Take a moment and think about that. A young, bright, talented man with a bright future and many people who loved him is no longer here. No more future... All because America wants bigger, uglier breakdowns, and the producers are more than happy to do whatever it takes to provide them. It’s beyond disgusting.
RIP, Josh. 🙁
If, even knowing all of that, you’re thinking to yourself “I’m different! I know this stuff now, and I can deal with it. It’s worth it for the OPPORTUNITY!”...
Congrats, you’re in the exact same mindset I was when I went in there. I knew 99% of what I’d be facing, at least on paper. Knowing it and experiencing it are VASTLY different things, however.
I was willing to put up with whatever it took. It was a relatively short amount of time, I told myself. If I could just get to the 16th position and make use of the social media tools that position would give me, I’d be able to sell more books, and pay down my tornado loan.
I knew enough to know I didn’t want to win - I didn’t even want to come very close to it, as the closer you come, the deeper they have their hooks into you. For the winners, they basically own you. (This could be a whole separate post - there are 80 pages of contract for a reason!)
The thing is, my idea of the “opportunity” was based on erroneous information. As I hadn’t even heard of the show prior to being asked to audition (well after the previous season had ended), I hadn’t watched how the audience reacted to the show. I didn’t have a good feel for that whole aspect of it... and these were the people I would be relying on for those potential book sales. These are the people that #1s rely on for a lot of this dream food career, whether book sales, or establishing themselves as a public food personality, or whatever.
Here’s the deal, though: By and large, MasterChef viewers aren’t necessarily the people who buy cookbooks. They’re not people that will follow your career and support you as you progress, they’re reality show fans. They tune in, get their drama fix, and move on to the next show once it’s over. There are exceptions, sure... but not enough to make the sacrifices worth it.
For a show that has millions and millions of viewers, it didn’t even result in that many followers for anyone - a thousand or two at most, and that’s for the higher up finalists. I’d check my numbers, but all their Twitter accounts from my season have been suspended - it’s not even a following that you’re really able to capitalize on, after the fact.
For those looking to become a food personality, a celebrity chef, have their own show, etc... not only is the audience not right to support this in any great numbers, but it’s a REALLY bad investment of not only your time, but your brand. Even your potential for a brand. Even if you look past all of the months where you’re in limbo, there’s the matter of having NO control over how you’re edited. For those chosen to be the villain, it can be a VERY long road to make it past that.
When you’re looking to make something of yourself, you really don’t need that kind of baggage to clean up after.
If you manage to get far in the show, you will need to ask their permission to do ANYTHING - post a blog entry, make a youtube video. If you do an interview with the media, they will have one of their representatives on the phone with you, monitoring what you can and can’t say. If you want to compete on another show, or if another network, through some miracle, wants to give you a show, they need the permission of MasterChef / Shine America - for years after the fact. This makes it difficult to build something for yourself.
If you WIN, you may be thinking things are different - you get money and a book, after all. Well... not so fast. From what I’m told, the money is all you get FOR the book. I’ve heard from more than a couple reliable sources that you do NOT earn royalties on the prize book, should you win. After taxes, you’re left with far less prize money... and you’re expected to cover all the cost of not only developing that book, but promoting it. Travel. Food for TV appearances - it eats the prize money away FAST. It’s not the big win that you go in thinking it is.
MasterChef owns any recipe you make on the show. MasterChef owns a chunk of earnings on any creative endevour you take on after the show. Write a book? 15% of your income goes to them. Open a restaurant? Same deal. It’s why not many past contestants have done much - the food industry has very tight margins as it is.
Going on MasterChef isn’t even a great way to gain employment. Actual chefs, restaurant owners, etc - they realize it’s reality TV, and says absolutely nothing about anyone’s actual ability to cook. They know about things like the “the judges are not required to actually taste your food in order to critique/judge it” clauses in the contracts. They know about the culinary team on the show being able to swap out dishes when the person chosen to proceed botches something. They KNOW.
There is a huge shortage of cooks out there right now anyway. You’re far better offing to stage for pretty much any restaurant. You’ll probably get further that way, than “You should hire me, because I was on a reality show!”. By and large, competing on a reality show isn’t seen as impressive to anyone but reality show fans... There’s a reason that my time on MasterChef isn’t even mentioned on my Kickstarter campaigns. It just really doesn’t have the clout with the food industry, that the show would like you to believe.
There are two benefits to MasterChef:
1. The friends you’ll make.
Because of the conditions you’re subjected to, you’ll likely forge really tight bonds with people. Most of us did - it’s just psychology.
2. Life Changes.
For a lot of people that go on the show, it’s this big leap. They’ve had this dream of cooking, and getting accepted to the show has them ready to make that change in life. There’s this realization you come to - consciously or not - that for you to have done something THAT out-there, you’re ready for a change. That something in your life needs to change.
This has manifested in all kinds of ways, over the seasons. Some people got divorced, others made other changes in their family. Some people quit a job that had been dragging them down. Some made BIG moves across the country. Some started businesses - even totally unrelated to food. A few went to culinary school.
It IS a life changing experience.
The thing is.. . you don’t ACTUALLY need to go on a crummy reality show as some sort of modern day spirit walk to figure yourself out. If you’re reading this, if you’re here because you want to audition... there’s a good chance that you’re at that place in your life now. A place where you need to make changes.
It is FAR healthier for you to acknowledge that fact for what it is NOW, than to have it as a consolation prize “a ha!” moment after going through that experience.
Want a cookbook? Start developing recipes. Start writing. Start building your social media following, start engaging people.
Want to be a food personality? Start making Youtube videos. Put out quality, entertaining content. Build a following, engage people... on your own terms.
Either way, be YOU.
Look at it this way:
Hypothetically, you audition. You spend the next few months preparing, then some time away in LA, then more tight-lipped time when you get back. You spend the season of the show doing MC related stuff, and MAYBE you free up some time to work on your own stuff when it’s over... assuming you have permission to. It’s August 21 now, it’ll be almost a year from now when the show ends.
.... That’s a LONG time to not be working on your career, for YOU. A long time to gamble on the uncertainty surrounding how you’ll be portrayed. A long time to give up your life to be a small part (even the winners!) of a product that benefits the production company, first and foremost - and to the detriment of all others involved.
Or, you could skip the audition, and spend that same year working on your own career. You could be building a foundation for whatever you want to do, free of the encumbrances that reality tv participation will put on you. Building YOUR following, creating content... owning that content.
If you’re coming to me for advice - and remember, I was cast as the “High IQ Aspie” - I will always point out that the second option is not only more logical, it’s more efficient and rewarding.
The choice is yours, though... and I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you choose to do!