Lennox resident Jules Allen talks to Mandy Nolan about her MasterChef experience
Andy Warhol once predicted that in the future everyone would get their 15 minutes of fame.
It was a curiously accurate prediction of the current zeitgeist that sees reality TV offer ordinary people a chance at celebrity, albeit short lived.
Last year, Lennox Head resident and social worker/counsellor, Jules Allen, found herself in the heat of MasterChef and in the eye of the reality TV storm.
For this single mother of four and foster parent to a total of 31 children, the experience had ‘a far greater impact on me and my family than I expected.’
Allen’s story is the subject of ABC1’s Australian Story, which will air thisMonday night. She says she experienced ‘post traumatic stress’ after her five-month stint on the Channel 10 show.
For starters, contestants are expected to spend 24 hours a day together. Allen shared a room with four others, and only had time to herself ‘in the linen closet’ where she retreated to find some mental solace. It shut down her world for five months, and she was only able to call home for ten minutes each week and see her children for four hours once a month.
Allen speaks of becoming ‘totally disconnected from the world. It was harder than I expected.’
Leaving her children was the biggest challenge for the reality celebrity, who says, ‘I assumed wrongly that kids need you to be there when they are little.’
‘But they need you just as much when they are adolescents. My brother stepped in and looked after the kids, but when I came back they were discombobulated – like helium balloons without anything holding them down. My eldest son got expelled the day I got eliminated! I said “dude, you got expelled,” and he said, “come on, Mum, you got eliminated!”’
Masterchef participants all sign contracts that make numerous stipulations around their availability and confidentiality of the subject matter. Unprecedented permission is granted to use their images and footage to market the reality product.
While participants are available 24 hours a day, and are often shooting for up to 20 hours a day, they are paid a paltry $630 per week.
Allen also believes now that her time on MasterChef affected her ability to resume her life once her time on the show ended. ‘You can’t go back to the world you had before because it doesn’t exist anymore, and you aren’t allowed to talk about it, and then people’s reactions to you are different, so I isolated myself.’
Paid $630 per week
‘[But] I would be lying if I didn’t say part of why I did it was about ego.
‘For me a big part of being on MasterChef was to raise my profile so I could talk about issues like food and family that I am passionate about. They didn’t lie to me; they told me that it was going to be hard, but it’s like trying to tell someone what childbirth is like. You don’t really get it until you are there.’
Having a counselling background meant that Allen was well aware of the trauma being caused to some participants and to herself.
‘I chose to speak out on Australian Story because this whole reality TV thing frightens me. I see a lot of young people walk blindly into it. Shows like Biggest Loser terrify me. It’s dangerous.
‘It was hard being on the show, but at times I did have a fantastic time, but when I came out, I was fucked.’
Questionable work practices
Australian Story producer Vanessa Gorman believes that reality TV is getting away with questionable work practices.
‘Most of the contracts for these shows are exploitative – the companies can put in the contract whatever they want and people just sign them, because if they don’t they don’t get on the show. Part of every contract is that you are not allowed to criticise the show in perpetuity – in Australian Story, Jules talks about her emotional response.’
‘People go into these shows,’ says Gorman, ‘thinking that it’s going to be great, but as shown by the Australian Story with Jules Allen, they can take their toll emotionally and psychologically.’
Jules is also about to launch her therapeutic herbal tea line with 100 per cent of the profit going to sustaining her work in charities she supports both in Australia and globally.
Go to julesallen.org for more information.