In a surprising blow to hit reality show MasterChef, one of this season's contestants has written a blog post that accuses the judges of sexual harassment. Now fans are questioning whether the former contestant is simply disgruntled about being booted from the Fox show or whether the claims actually have merit.
Marie Porter made top 100 of Season 4, which is currently airing on the network. She thus got to cook her dish for the three judges: Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliot. Porter, an award-winning cake artist who has written several cookbooks, told CBC that she made a mango mojito upside-down cake for her audition. Her audition was only briefly shown, however, and she did not advance to the next round.
Thus, Porter's accusations could just be the rantings of someone upset about her placement on the series. Still, if her MasterChef claims are true, they would certainly be damaging.
Porter's shocking harassment accusations occurs in a blog post that recaps of a prior episode of the show. However, she notes that the blogs have become more painful to write because she knows what happened to some of her friends on the series.
"Two of my MasterChef friends have had suicidal thoughts since coming back, as a result of the treatment out there," Porter writes. "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."
Porter later notes in her blog that these accusations also come from different people, and that she has also heard of contestants suffering from depression after returning from the series. "These aren't mentally unbalanced people, or drama queens - these are real, everyday people. Good people," Porter added.
In later blog entries, she claimed that the producers forced at least one contestant this season, Kathy Prieto, to change her appearance. Porter also wrote that producers demanded that Kathy dye her hair from the bright orange color she came in with and also gave her a new, less-diva wardrobe.
Porter also calls out the series in her blog for not asking contestants to tie their hair back or perform other common cleanliness actions before cooking. She even criticizes the judges, calling Bastianich "Joey Coattails" throughout her recaps (perhaps in reference to his famous mother, chef Lydia Bastianiach). She also notes that Gordon Ramsay is not a true "Master Chef," as very few chefs in the world have this actual designation.
Again, there is no evidence that these claims are true. And with the detailed contracts that reality show contestants have to sign, the facts may never come out. Still, if what Porter claims in her blog post is even somewhat true, it could irrevocably damage the reputation of the show.
UPDATE: Shine America, the producer of MasterChef, has released the following statement on these accusations:
"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."
At least one other MasterChef contestant has commented on these accusations. Ben Starr, a Season 2 finalist, was asked about Porter's remarks on his blog. Starr, who gave Porter some advice before her audition, has not confirmed or denied the claims.
"I'm not getting involved in that whole snafu!" Starr writes in the comments section of his blog. "Ha ha ha... I love Marie and we have a unique friendship, but I avoid big snarls of fighting and accusations like that because I am allergic to confrontation."
Starr, however, has also been critical of the series in his blog postings, though his accusations are less damning than Porter's. He has noted, for example, that the judges could be lying about what food they like or dislike in order to tell a more compelling story. Starr also has written that producers sometimes tell the contestants what to cook during the top 100 round, when they are supposed to be making a signature dish.
This is not the first time a reality television show has faced sexual harassment accusations. According to Life & Style, Heidi Montag planned to sue The Hills creator Adam DiVello in 2010, claiming that he touched her inappropriately during a photo shoot for the final season of the series. But the suit was dropped a short time later.
Meanwhile, two female office assistants for the company that produced the reality show Cheaters accused upper management of making explicit remarks and asking the claimants to have sex. Per the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the suit was later settled for $50,000.