Some might say that the biggest change viewers will see in the Season 5 premiere of "MasterChef" is Graham Elliot. The judge has lost 150 pounds since "MasterChef Junior" -- an amazing feat that Elliot isn't taking for granted.
"I got to 400 pounds and realized I don't have to accept this role in life," Elliot told reporters during a recent conference call he participated in with executive producer Robin Ashbrook. "Having three boys, a new baby and health issues from blood pressure to sleep apnea, I realized I just wasn't able to do this on my own, so I decided to have the weight loss surgery."
Once you get past Graham's jaw-dropping weight loss, you can see that "MasterChef" has changed it up too, right from the first episode: instead of the usual 100 contestants the series normally kicks off with, the fifth instalment begins with a pared-down 30.
"The kitchen is like our fourth judge and we wanted to get straight into the competition within the walls of our 'MasterChef' kitchen, throw them straight into the fire," gushed Ashbrook. "They don't enter the kitchen with an apron, they still have to win an apron, but really, at the heart of the decision [was our motivation to] enjoy our beautiful space."
Elliot concurred: "I think that it's fun to get right into what people are tuning in for, which is the cooking. We've had four seasons of success. I think we've realized that we can get right into it and still understand where the home cooks are from and bond with them. It's fun, it's exciting, it's a way to keep it fresh."
As for what's to come, Ashbrook admitted that his favourite mystery box involved one packed with canned foods. "Fifty-five tin cans, but we removed all of the labels. There are some unusual things in there so it's a really interesting one, strategy-wise."
So far on "MasterChef," we also haven't seen the chefs cooking alongside the home cooks -- so, naturally, we'll be seeing both Graham and Gordon [Ramsay] take part in challenges this season. And it begins in the premiere.
"We gave everybody a fridge in the challenge, including Gordon, with the everyday basic ingredients, and we tasked people what they could cook with," divulged Ashbrook. "We also have Gordon cook along so the audience can see what a chef like Gordon or Graham, a real true MasterChef, can achieve."
According to Ashbrook, another fun, exciting and stressful challenge the cooks will have to face is making "a romantic dinner for Gordon and his wife." And the field challenges "are bigger than ever before," as the cooks will have to feed an army, do a beach wedding, work in a diner and, of course, everyone's favourite, battle in Restaurant Takeover. "We've taken all of the great things that we've learned about 'MasterChef' and gone, hopefully, one step further, bigger, bolder and brighter once again."
Mission accomplished, I'd say.
"MasterChef" premieres Monday, May 26 at 8 p.m. ET on CTV in Canada and Fox in the U.S.
Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi
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