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This year's MasterChef has emotionally devastated Asian Australians. And we couldn't be prouder.

To catch up on all things MasterChef Australia 2020, make sure you check out our MasterChef hub. We’ve got you completely covered.

In the past two months, in living rooms across Australia, phones have been lighting up; streams of messages exchanged, groups chats created and hundreds of tweets composed. 

As much of the nation settles in five nights a week to watch people make impossible things on MasterChef: Back to Win (because what else are you doing while we’re stuck at home during this global pandemic?), for the many Australians who have an Asian background watching from home, this new season of MasterChef has packed an emotional punch that none of us expected from a cooking competition. 

Mamamia’s entertainment podcast The Spill discusses the emotional MasterChef episode where contestants share their stories. Post continues after. 

There was a flurry of messages to friends and family when this season’s first Mystery Box challenge – set by Melissa Leong, the first female and Asian-Australian judge – prominently featured many Asian ingredients including the divisive chicken feet. We couldn’t believe we were seeing taro, galangal, let alone chicken feet (and ALL together) on prime time national TV.

While the other judges and many of the contestants balked at the sight of them, for every Asian-Australian in the kitchen (seven of them at the time, to be precise) and watching on from home, there were nods of excited familiarity. Even if you don’t like or eat chicken feet, they were a staple sight in your childhood, always on the table at family yum cha on Sundays. 

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There was an explosion of tweets when last week’s Immunity Challenge tasked the contestants to pimp up instant noodles. As Melissa noted, “growing up in an Asian family” who isn’t “obsessed with noodles?”. No one, that’s who, because whatever your Asian heritage, there was guaranteed to be some brand of instant noodles in your cupboard at home, ready to be pimped up whenever you or your family wanted a quick meal.

There was a sense of pride watching Poh (Malaysian/Chinese background) and Jess (Indonesian/Chinese background) unashamedly draw from their heritage to create their ultimate comfort food – and of delightful recognition when Poh made otak otak and nasi lemak and Jess created Thai red duck curry noodles – because as Poh said of her creation: “It’s totally my childhood dish.” For many Asian-Australians, it would be the same. But they’d never seen it on mainstream TV before.

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But the joy of this season hasn’t just been in seeing these ingredients and dishes, so commonplace in our lives, be spotlighted on a TV show. It’s seeing Melissa connect with Brendan about his memories of learning to make dumplings with his family (and knowing the significance of it as Brendan comments that Melissa “understands that for me it was such a special time in my life”). It’s hearing Melissa share her own experience of eating a big bowl of steaming pho after swimming practice when she was a child and thinking same. It’s the genuine excitement you hear in Melissa’s voice when she discovers Sarah Tiong is making lor mah gai. It’s hearing lor mah gai on TV.

But it’s been this week, in particular, that’s hit many Asian Australians like an emotional tonne of bricks.

During Wednesday’s Mystery Box challenge, contestants lifted the lids of their box to find a childhood photo. The story behind Reynold, Khanh and Poh’s photos especially left many in a puddle of unexpected tears.

Khanh spoke about his family living in a refugee camp and how their lives changed so much coming to Australia, Reynold shared how he never saw his parents when he was young as they worked tirelessly to support their family, and Poh expressed her love for her father who taught her to always believe in herself when she felt “invisible” as a migrant kid growing up in Australia.

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Poh later shared during Thursday night’s Immunity Challenge that the reason she connected with her Ugly Duckling-themed dish was that growing up in Australia, she felt like she “didn’t fit in”. She didn’t like the way she looked; she brought fried rice for lunch, not the sandwiches everyone else had.

In an Instagram post shared ahead of the Immunity Challenge, Poh wrote: “Growing up as a migrant kid I had so few role models. I dreamt of being blonde and blue-eyed, fantasised about having long legs and was ashamed of the shape of my nose and my face. But today we get to be this for anyone who’s ever felt on the outer.”

In Reynold, Jess, Khanh, Sarah, Poh, Brendan and Melissa’s stories, we hear our stories. We see parts of our own experiences, our childhoods, our struggles shared and explored in a real and authentic way that we’ve never seen before. Suddenly all those memories of feeling different growing up – of being the weird kid with the weird lunch, of having to go to Chinese school or tutoring on a Saturday morning instead of sport like all your friends, of wondering why no one on TV looks anything like you and concluding, subconsciously, that your heritage must be embarrassing because you just don’t have anyone else to relate to –  feelings that you long thought had passed come rushing back.

But with it has come the realisation that we aren’t alone. We realise that, in fact, so many of us share a similar history.

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This week’s fight for immunity featured five Asian Australian contestants and yes, we can’t help but feel proud. Proud of who they are, what they represent, and everything that makes them, them. Proud to see how their heritage shaped who they are. Proud of the food and dishes they create that’s so clearly inspired by their culture. And most of all, proud to see it on screen.

On Thursday night, Melissa shared the same photo as Poh on Instagram, writing: ‘This image is groundbreaking. Not only did these tremendous humans create the five best dishes yesterday (we judge dishes, not people), but I could never conceive of witnessing a moment like this on prime time television in my lifetime,” she wrote.

“To every person who never felt seen, this is for you, may it give you hope. To every person who is yet to feel seen, you are valued and your moment is on its way. We rise together,” she said.

So phones across Australia will continue to furiously blink with messages of delight and pride at what we’re witnessing on MasterChef this year.

Because it’s not just seeing people who look like you on screen – anyone who isn’t represented in mainstream media has felt from the moment they could watch TV the importance of representation – it’s seeing so many of you (on a show that’s not Border Security or Bondi Rescue), it’s seeing your story finally reflected back to you, not as a token gesture but at the forefront, and it’s the realisation that you’re not alone; someone else, many people in fact, had the same experience as you.

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