In 2009, Gary Mehigan had spiky hair and Sarah Wilson was a key member of the MasterChef Australia presenting team.
In 2009, Gary Mehigan had spiky hair and Sarah Wilson was a key member of the MasterChef Australia presenting team.

The forgotten host of MasterChef

SO, it's the end of the MasterChef three. After 11 years of presenting less a show and more a cultural phenomenon George Calombaris, Matt Preston and Gary Mehigan have been eliminated from the Channel 10 kitchen.

If you've read the coverage of the judges' dramatic departure, you would think that the trio single-handedly plated up MasterChef to Australia.

But there was actually a fourth host who was originally the face of MasterChef. Someone who was "perfectly placed to guide the contestants through the daily challenges and weekly eliminations" and who Australian viewers would "no doubt embrace," said the network at the time.

Australia had very little time to embrace the fourth person in the hosting team, because come the second season she was gone.

Dig into the memory banks to that huge first season and you may remember Gary's very spiky hair. You may also remember there was more than just Gary, George and Matt. There was Sarah too.

Since the second series of MasterChef Australia in 2010, it has been all about judges Gary Mehigan (from left), Matt Preston and George Calombaris.
Since the second series of MasterChef Australia in 2010, it has been all about judges Gary Mehigan (from left), Matt Preston and George Calombaris.

Former journalist and now author and anti-sugar advocate Sarah Wilson is the forgotten MasterChef host.

Viewers of this week's final episode of season 11 would have seen a smorgasbord of different contestants and chefs turn up for the denouement. From the first series winner Julie Goodwin and runner up Poh Ling Yeow - now being touted as a possible replacement judge - were there. But there was no sign of Wilson.

Wilson was "perfectly lovely," said David Knox of industry website TV Tonight, but she ended up being "ancillary" to the show.

And that became very obvious on one episode of the first series where her role was effectively usurped by one of the judges - proving she was surplus to requirements.

Before the show debuted in 2009, Channel 10's then head of programming David Mott was enthusiastically spruiking Wilson's talents as an essential part of the network's new cooking reality show.

"Sarah Wilson has an addictive passion for food and wine, and a vibrant on-screen presence that makes her a natural host for MasterChef Australia," he said.

"We have no doubt that Australian viewers will embrace her."

If anything, Sarah Wilson was the face of the show in 2009. Picture: Channel 10
If anything, Sarah Wilson was the face of the show in 2009. Picture: Channel 10

'I LOVE THE BOYS TO BITS'

Journalist Wilson had an impressive career in the media under her belt with a focus on food and health and a stint editing Cosmopolitan magazine.

Additionally she would, at least partially, balance the three male judges.

"As host, Sarah will bring her vibrant personality to MasterChef Australia, and … is perfectly placed to guide the contestants through the daily challenges and weekly eliminations.

"Sarah is a natural choice as host of MasterChef Australia."

Publicity shots for the first series show Wilson standing alongside Mehigan, Calombaris and Preston - an integral part of the four person team.

She was the binder that held the whole program together. Opening and closing the show, having pep talks with the contestants as they battled their way through crumbs, quenelles and croquembouches, and showing the eliminated the door.

The role of the three judges was essentially just that - to judge the contestants creations and perhaps proffer some advice.

The first series was a massive success and Wilson was happy to add her thoughts on why it was connecting with the audience.

"I'm not surprised because it's food and it's perfect for the times. Also, it's about real people … and everyone has an emotional connection with food," she told News Corp Australia in March 2009.

As for the judges? "The boys are all robust characters - I love them to bits.

"Between them there is eight decades of food experience. They're hugely knowledgeable and they have the right touch.''

Sarah Wilson (right) consoles eventual 2009 MasterChef winner Julie Goodwin (left).
Sarah Wilson (right) consoles eventual 2009 MasterChef winner Julie Goodwin (left).

ANCILLARY

Perhaps, in the end, the judges had too much of the "right touch" as the network and then production company Fremantle Media began expanding their role.

"Sarah Wilson was perfectly lovely in what was essentially a traffic cop role but 10 found it was ancillary to the format," TV Tonight's Mr Knox told news.com.au.

"Wilson was left to do little more than read the autocue. Much of the hosting fell to Gary Mehigan, something that would never have happened if other personalities were in the role," he said at the time.

There was one incident in the first season that underlined why there was no need for a separate host.

"It was Gary Mehigan who stepped up, on the back of a scene in the first series where he encouraged a contestant not to quit the show," Mr Knox said.

"Normally that's the kind of task that would fall to a host."

It wasn't just Mehigan: "In Matt Preston you had an erudite wordsmith, once theatrically beckoning contestants down into 'the Dragon's Breath' at the top of Hong Kong's Peak."

Julie Goodwin (left) won the first season with Poh Ling Yeow (right) coming second. They both remain household names.
Julie Goodwin (left) won the first season with Poh Ling Yeow (right) coming second. They both remain household names.

Season one was an unexpected barnstorming success, the final of which pulled in some four million viewers and remains one of Australia's most watched episodes of a program in history.

So Channel 10 did what any self-respecting network would do and flogged the living daylights out of the format.

But things began to look ominous when Wilson did not reprise her role for the Celebrity MasterChef spin off that year.

On the lack of Wilson, Channel 10 said: "It's just one hour a week and with the judges and celebrities, a host just doesn't work in that format."

Having now proved that they could carry the spin off show, the judges' role was secure. And Wilson's role was look ever shakier.

Then in September 2009, 10 made the announcement many had been expecting: Wilson would not be returning.

"This decision has been a hard one to make but it became clear the appropriate role for Sarah was not achievable without dramatically changing the format," Mr Mott said.

Her "abilities" had "outweighed her duties on the show," he added.

"All parties agree another series that limited her input and expertise was not the best outcome."

Sarah Wilson went onto become an author and champion if healthier foods.
Sarah Wilson went onto become an author and champion if healthier foods.

LIFE AFTER MASTERCHEF

Wilson said at the time it had been an "honour" to host the show and was even gracious enough to say she understood the "difficult decision" 10 had to make around her role.

"I'm incredibly grateful to have played a founding role in the 'MasterChef effect', as it's been dubbed, and will be bringing the same positive dynamic to my next project."

Indeed, Wilson went onto create the hugely successful I Quit Sugar cookbooks and health program. Preston even came along to one of the book's launch events.

In 2018, Wilson closed I Quit Sugar declaring she was an "educator, a communicator; not a money-spinner."

Matt Preston helped Sarah Wilson launch her successful I Quit Sugar cookbook.
Matt Preston helped Sarah Wilson launch her successful I Quit Sugar cookbook.

That's one of the reasons Mr Knox said he doubted Wilson would want to return to the MasterChef kitchen now there's not one but three vacancies.

"A female is mandatory for the 2020 judging team, but Sarah Wilson has since aligned with the anti-sugar movement which would make a difficult fit."

Perhaps unintentionally, Wilson's limited time on MasterChef did have a legacy - the lack of hosts on many cooking reality shows these days.

"In the 11 intervening years, TV chefs and judges have all stepped into hosting duties and I doubt the audience would welcome the reintroduction of a host now," Mr Knox said.

"The money is better spent on big name chefs."

Wilson declined the opportunity to talk to news.com.au about her time on the MasterChef set.

Rewind to 2009, and journalist Sarah Wilson was also part of the team.
Rewind to 2009, and journalist Sarah Wilson was also part of the team.


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