It was a sad farewell on Sunday night when Khanh Ong left the MasterChef competition, after his Vietnamese dish didn't live up to the judges' fine dining expectations.
The 27-year-old season 10 star became a fan favourite thanks to his fabulous fashion sense, infectious smile and his array of You Are Loved T-shirts, the profits of which go towards LGBTQIA+ youth charity Minus18.
Following his elimination, Khanh spoke candidly to Now To Love about his MasterChef experience, why he'd appear on a gay version of The Bachelor and the "unfair" treatment his friend and MasterChef co-star Laura Sharrad has faced this season.
Congratulations on getting so far. How did your MasterChef experience compare to last time you were on the show?
It has been so hard - I was having mental breakdowns the whole way through the competition. But at the same time it has been the most fun season just because of how much pressure there is on you to do well because you come into this season and it's no longer finding your feet, you're straight in, you know what's up and you go and do it.
You all looked like such good friends too. It must've been fun competing with everyone.
You've got to remember that this is filmed, if you're there until the end, over around six months. If you're living in close quarters with someone for six months you're either going to really love them or really hate them and luckily for us we all really got along. We really supported each other and it was really hard going up against those three contestants in that second round because they're my closest friends on the show.
You have such a dedicated fan base too, you must've received so many supportive messages after your elimination episode.
I haven't opened my Instagram DMs yet because I can't do it today, there are too many. I think I read one and it was a trans woman who was saying how much she loved having my representation on the show and I was like 'I can't ready anymore of these right now, I'm just going to keep crying if I keep reading all these lovely messages that people are sending through.'
I'm not there yet! I feel like a lot of the fans do deserve a proper response, so that's why I don't want to say anything right now because I'd just be rushing it. I'm so thankful to have people that care about what I'm doing, I'm just so appreciative.
Your 'You Are Loved' T-shirts have also received a lot of praise. Did you expect them to be so well-received?
That's been crazy, I couldn't believe how big that became and how much of a social media thing it was.
Because of it, I'm working with a new company and we're adding on some trackies and hoodies as well, just because it's getting into the winter time now and we need some comfort.
Back to your elimination, a lot of viewers criticised Jock for his comment that Asian food doesn't lend itself to fine dining. What did you make of that?
In a fine dining challenge it is more difficult to do certain Asian cuisines. Obviously Japanese lends itself really well to fine dining and a lot of Chinese restaurants do fine dining as well in Melbourne.
Vietnamese is a tough push, just because fine dining really did start out in France and Europe so that's a certain style of cooking so I understand where he's coming from, but at the same time a lot of chefs now who do fine dining are pushing the boundaries and doing different South East Asian flavours and South American flavours. Some of the biggest restaurants in the world are in Asia and South America, so I think it's really how you approach the challenge. I had a few other dishes in mind that would've worked really well, but I wanted to do this and I made my bed, so now I just have to lie in it.
And you stuck to your guns, so that's something to be praised in itself.
This time around, I knew what I wanted to do, who I was and what I stood for and I didn't want to change it. I didn't want to stay in that kitchen if it meant that I had to negotiate.
I never wanted to change my point of view, that sounds very stubborn, but I think the second time around on MasterChef you're allowed to do that just because they get us all back for a reason. They know how we cook and how we are, so let's celebrate that and that's what I did this year. MasterChef has been a really amazing experience for me both times and I wouldn't change it.
Quite a few of the other contestants had hesitations about coming back to MasterChef. Were you an instant yes or did you need to be persuaded to come back?
They didn't tell us who any of the other contestants were and apparently it was my fault because I was the last person to sign my contract. I actually said no multiple times and then I said yes and then I said no again. I went back and forth about four times all up – I think the final time production was like 'Your name is on the roster now so you can't say no'.
I think I signed the contract two or three weeks before we started filming, but I was definitely the last. I remember having a conversation with production and they were like 'The reason no one has gotten a contestant list is because you haven't signed your contract'!
Would you be open to doing more reality TV in the future?
I like shows that are quite lovely and MasterChef was like that for me. I don't think I would do anything that was heavily drama-based, just because I don't think I need it in my life.
I think it works for a lot of people and good on them - a lot of my friends have been on shows that are drama based, but for me MasterChef was purely about cooking and that's what I loved about it.
If I did another show it would probably have to be another show that was like that and is about celebrating individuals, rather than elevating the drama.
So we won't be seeing you on The Bachelor any time soon?
Someone asked me this and I was like 'Explain to me how Gay Bachelor would work'. 24 gay men in a house vying for the attention of one gay man – why?
You know what, I would do that show. I won't be the Bachelor though, I want to be in the house with the other 23 gay men!
We're down to top eight now. If you had to pick someone, who would you want to see win this season?
Reynold, Emelia and Laura – I would love to see it between the three of them as they're my best friends in the competition. All three of them deserve to win and I would love to see any of them take the crown.
WATCH BELOW: Khanh Hong's hilarious interaction with Katy Perry on MasterChef.
Laura has been receiving a lot of negativity on social media with lots of people saying all she cooks is pasta. Is that hard to see as her friend?
I wrote back to a lot of the messages. I didn't write back to every single message about Laura and the way that she cooked because some were just a passing comment and there was no point giving them attention, but when it was really harsh I would write back and say 'What you're saying is very unfair, she is so versatile and she has done so much more'. People have only chosen to see her as cooking pasta but if you actually count it all up it wouldn't even be half the dishes.
She's a really close friend of mine and I was really surprised by how much backlash she got because I think it's unfair. It happens in a lot of seasons and it usually happens to a beautiful woman. Social media seems to jump on a beautiful woman and I think that's what it is. They found her and instead of attacking her because they just don't like that she's on TV again, they're attacking her for pasta. That's not the reason that you're angry, I honestly think that. It happened to Chloe [Carroll] in my year and I think it's so unfair.
It seems like it's a jealousy thing.
I think so as well. Laura is young, she is very very beautiful and so people want to tear her down. It's 2020 we do not have time for that anymore. We're fighting for equal rights, we should not be tearing each other down. I think it has to be said. I think that a lot of the time when questions like that come up people kind of skate around it and don't talk about the main issue and the main issue is that it's a jealousy thing and it is nothing more than that.
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