MASTERCHEF GREECE SEXISM | MY COMPLAINTS AND ITS HANDLING
It upsets me to have to write this blog as I am a fan of Masterchef and have very much enjoyed watching it here in Greece (after years of enjoying the UK version), particularly over lockdown. However it was during the lockdown season - Season 5 that I started to have a real problem with many aspects of the show regarding the issue of sexism.
It shocked me as I know the show originated in the UK and that the Greek show is a franchise of the UK original, so one would hope it would be forced to uphold certain standards on the issue of equality, balanced representation, and zero tolerance to discrimination as it bears the infamous UK original Masterchef branding. However this is not the case. I have complained directly to Star channel and to the head presenter chef of the show Panos Ioannidis and was shrugged off in a way, (particularly by Star channel), that has provoked me to taking things a step further. I wish they had seen my activism regarding sexism in UCL’s architecture school (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2021/may/31/ex-students-complain-sexism-racism-ucl-architecture-school) and then I imagine they might have had a better impression as to who they were dealing with and might have thought twice before being so dismissive of me. The only person I spoke to involved with Masterchef Greece who seemed genuinely alarmed by my observations and wanted to hear more from me was the head chef at Sushimou, Antonis Drakoularakos – but his only involvement on the show is as a guest chef critic, he is not a main player in the running of the show.
I initially complained to Star channel during the running of Season 5 in 2021. I called and spoke to a very arrogant male running the show – or claimed to be in charge. His exact words were “you don’t know who you are speaking to”. I told him firstly that I was concerned about the patriarchal structure of the show. At the time there had been 5 seasons with 3 male presenters. That’s 15 slots for a job role that went to a male 15 out of 15 times. I had also observed that of the around 30 guest critics on the show, over the entire 5th season, only 2 were female. In contrast to Masterchef UK, Masterchef Greece only invited chefs, not critics, which of course does not help on the issue of equal representation here in Greece, as there is such a predominantly male dominated chef culture, so this vicious cycle of male dominated representation is kept alive and well. Including food critics would help on having more female representation without a doubt. They told me that they were not prepared to accept criticism on the matter since Masterchef USA also has 3 male judges, so why on earth should Masterchef Greece aim to do better? I found this a very low bar; America is a country that struggles to keep abortion legal, so this idea that American standards on women’s rights are a bench mark for Europeans to follow is highly problematic for me. This was a lazy response and excuse. I was not satisfied.
I also mentioned instances where male contestants were displaying sexism on the programme towards their female rivals, and I asked why the channel was not calling out this behaviour as part of a zero tolerance policy to any form of discrimination and Star Channel told me “your position is extreme” and “you are too passionate on this issue”. They clearly told me that they do not in fact even have a zero tolerance policy on the issue of discrimination and had no intention to introduce it. His responses were hostile and troublingly unreceptive.
I want to make it crystal clear that I do not believe that any of the three main judges of the show have, themselves, ever displayed any iota of sexism. They are 100% correct, professional and fair regarding their treatment of all the contestants. They, themselves are flawless on this matter, in terms of their own behaviour. However, that does not make them entirely innocent on this issue, as, regarding their handling of sexism from others, they have proven complicit.
I directly put this to Panos Ioannidis himself. I asked him about a very specific clip from Season 5. The judges asked the contestant Panagiotis (aka Jamal), how he had found his head-head match up with a female contestant (both contestants were standing in front of the three judges). Jamal brazenly said that he resented having to compete with a female. All three judges remained completely unresponsive. Ioannidis doubled down on his choice to remain silent, saying that “it was not the role of the judges to get involved with the contestants differences”. When I challenged him saying that this was not a “difference” that it was discrimination, his response was “I would only intervene if there were violence”. I was stunned. I reminded him that it was Martin Luther King’s view that silence in the presence of discrimination is direct participation. I also put it to him that if there were at least one female amongst the 3 of them, then Jamal might not have had the audacity to even display sexism. Ioannidis overall response was “your position is extreme, and if you like you can complain to star channel”. I responded that I had, and ironically he had said the exact same thing that Star channel had said. Our conversation ended with me telling Ioannidis how I really felt for the female contestant that had not only fallen victim to sexist misconduct in that moment, but had had 3 male figures of authority not stand up for her and that she must have felt terrible. Ioannidis, quite passionately at this point responded “How could you possibly know how she feels?” And therein lies the problem: I know how she feels as I have also been victim to sexist misconduct and therefore am offering a female insight, to which Ioannidis showed zero sensitivity.
In the below shot Margarita is the only female present. Margarita did not win Masterchef Greece because there was no sexism; she won in spite of all the sexism. She even said in one of the episodes (one of the very rare occasions where a female critic was on the show), that she felt relieved to finally see a woman and said: “Μας έχει φαει ο ανδρισμός εδώ μέσα” which loosely translates as “We are run down by men in here”.
* Since writing the above article I was contacted by Thanasis Mitrelias of Star channel who felt very strongly that the show's position needed to be corrected following my comments regarding the first staff member that I spoke to last year. He told me that Star channel have always tried their very best to deal with gender inequality, which he admitted is indeed a challenge in the culinary world. He admitted however that mistakes had been made and that the channel is always open to listening to comments from their viewers and striving to do better. *
It is worth noting that Masterchef Greece is a male run programme (see below), the lack of female perspective is uncomfortably evident when watching the programme, and is also something that was brought into sharp focus regarding the handling of my complaints, in that in all instances I spoke to men, which speaks for itself. The first man I spoke to, in 2021, I assume, was one of the men below and the second who I reference in the above paragraph only, was Thanasis Mitrelias.
Producer: Nick Christoforou
Head of Productions: Savvas Vellas
Executive Producer: Vassilis Georgiadis
Directed by: Kostas Tripylas
Production Organisation: Christos Gogas
Creative Producer: Thanasis Mitrelias
Director of Photography: George Michelis
Production run: Green Pixel Productions