EXCLUSIVE: MasterChef's Melissa Leong will never get caught showing favouritism no matter what the critics say

''I take my job very seriously.''

By Faye Couros
MasterChef's Fans and Favourites season may be winding down, but there's one word judge Melissa Leong has had to weather since day one - favouritism.
The 40-year-old food writer, who along with Jock Zonfrillo and Andy Allen took over as a judge in 2020, came under fire during that year's Back To Win season when contestant Tessa Boersman told New Idea she felt frustrated by Melissa's favouritism.
But even though everyone will have their opinions, Melissa makes it clear to TV WEEK in our exclusive chat that she does not do favourites.
"I think any judge needs to remain impartial in that regard." (Image: Getty)
"Of course, you feel fond for them, but we are still judging the food on the plate at the end of the day," Melissa says of the contestants.
"As much as we love spending time with them, I think any judge needs to remain impartial in that regard."
The MasterChef judge has a tight lid on her objectivity, which she successfully achieves by separating herself "as much as she can." However, that doesn't mean she completely avoids forming relationships with contestants.
"When the competition is over, or somebody leaves, and I've had some kind of connection with them, I may keep in touch with them on some level, but when it comes to competitions, I take my job very seriously," she explains.
Melissa posing with Jock and Andy on the 2021 AACTA Awards red carpet. (Image: Getty)
Working on television takes thick skin, and Melissa is grateful for her "easy-going friendship" with Jock and Andy. As the only two people in the world who know almost exactly what she is going through, they're her rocks.
"We have a lot of fun together. We spend a ridiculous amount of hours together every single season, both on set and off the set," she explains.
"We socialise outside of work too. I think I'm very grateful. The three of us we know within our little group that we are the only people that know what this is like. It's not just us against the world by any means but it's a tough gig."
Even though Australia fell in love with her on MasterChef, fans are enjoying a new side of Melissa in her Spotify and YouTube show More than Talk.
The broadcaster started her "pod club" to talk about her favourite podcasts with three incredible guests: iconic activist Grace Tame, Indigenous comedian Steph Tisdell, and former Socceroo Craig Foster.
"When Spotify asked me to host the series, I absolutely leapt at the change to talk to some iconic Australians about what they love about podcasts and what they're listening to because I think half the trouble is you get to the end of a series that you're obsessed with and you need to know the next thing to get onto," she says about why the unique concept spoke to her.
While every conversation meant a lot to the foodie, sitting down with 2021 Australian of the Year Grace was an experience Melissa will never forget.
"She stands resolute in everything that she wants to see a change in this country." (Image: Supplied)
"I'd have to say it was one of the greatest honours of my life. She was the first interview I did and sitting down with someone as formidable and driven as her, given everything she's gone through.
"She stands resolute in everything that she wants to see a change in this country," she gushes.
After Grace recommended podcast The Trap, which dissects the nature of coercive control, Melissa found it to be a game-changer.
"It's an interesting one because you listen to something like that, and you think, 'I've had a pretty fortunate life, I haven't experienced anything nearly as dark as that,' but it's surprising how many people have said to me, 'oh wow,' I listened to that because you suggested it and I can identify with certain kinds of behaviour that have been described of people in my life," she says.
For all three More than Talk episodes, head over to its YouTube channel to sink your teeth into Melissa and her guests' favourite podcasts.

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