MasterChef star’s surprise confession
"I've never really shared this with anyone," MasterChef contestant Brendan Pang said to me over the phone on Friday.
I had just asked the 27-year-old from Perth about his friendship with fellow contestant Reece Hignell, and Brendan went on to explain just how close they really were.
"We first met in Season 10 in 2018 and we just became really good friends," he said. "Not many people know this but Reece was actually one of the first people I came out to."
Brendan came out publicly on Facebook last year, writing: "My name is Brendan Pang and I'm 26 years old … but, for as long as I can remember and up until the age of 24 I struggled with my sense of identity.
"As a gay male, I had feelings of being 'different' very early on, and as I navigated the bumpy road into adulthood, I went through some pretty dark times from feeling pressured to change who I was, to experiencing high levels of social anxiety.
"Thankfully, with the help of a strong and supportive network (my family and friends), I was able to not only survive the complexity of mental health, but thrive and become a stronger, happier, comfortable and proud ME."
But before that post, it was Reece who he turned to for advice.
"I've never really shared this with anyone," Brendan said. "It actually happened after my second elimination whilst we were filming MasterChef last time around.
"I'd always kind of looked up to Reece as a role model. When I was eliminated we spent a bit of time together before I left to come home and I just opened up to him.
"You can imagine Reece's reaction," Brendan said. "It was like his reaction when Katy Perry walked in (to the MasterChef kitchen).
"He was surprised but he was happy. It was a really special moment and he's like a brother to me now."
Brendan and Reece's banter-filled friendship has been one of the highlight's of this year's season, so much so that some viewers have demanded they be given a spin-off show.
"That would be a nightmare but a lot of fun as well," Brendan laughed. "We'd be bickering the whole time - it would take ages to film.
"We share an apartment in Melbourne (during filming) so it would just be like us cooking together at home."
Please tell me that @_jesslemon_ @reece_hignell and @brendan_pang have a spin-off show in the works as their friendship is so pure & enjoyable to watch plus their cooking skills are phenomenal #MasterChefAU @masterchefau pic.twitter.com/RINE2Q1U2L— Cherie n Benni (@CherieNBenni) May 21, 2020
I asked Brendan if he and Reece watch MasterChef on TV in their apartment, but it can sometimes be a bit too confronting for him, he said.
"I always get nervous seeing myself on TV," he said. "Whenever I pop up I cringe a bit. There are definitely moments where I go, 'I wish I hadn't said that.'"
Viewers have grown to be protective of the softly spoken Brendan, and MasterChef judge Jock Zonfrillo has copped a backlash online for constantly referring to Brendan as "the dumpling guy" because he often makes dumplings on the show.
Some have found that unfair given Laura, who often makes pasta dishes, doesn't get called "the pasta girl" by the judge.
#MasterChefAU Hey Jock - If Brendan is a dumpling 🥟 guy ! Your pet Laura is the Pasta 🍝 godfather . Give us a break .— Ajay Arya (@AJ0209A) May 19, 2020
Please stop calling versatile and well-rounded Brendan a dumpling guy, thanks. #MasterChefAU— Noelle Perera (@noellemartine) May 19, 2020
No one has a personal vendetta against Laura. But constantly making pasta and coming out safe because of that while others try their best to do something different is what makes her annoying. Same for Brendan now, but he gets called out often. Hypocrisy is annoying #MasterChefAU— EXO9Always (@Exo_maboys) May 20, 2020
So how does Brendan feel about being called "the dumpling guy"?
"I know a lot of people are going a bit mental about it but I actually don't mind it," he said. "I run a dumpling business; I think I've even called myself the 'dumpling guy' in the show at one point.
"He's (Jock) definitely not wrong, but it doesn't mean that's the only thing I can do."
Like the other contestants on this year's All Star season, Brendan has had a front-row seat for the new judges' debut, and he couldn't be more complimentary.
"They're very excited," he said about Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen. "They remind me of my first time on MasterChef.
"It's a whole new experience for them so the energy that they bring is just incredible."
Before I had to let Brendan return to the MasterChef set in Melbourne, I asked him one of the most commonly asked questions on Twitter.
Are the contestants watching on from the gantry forced to stand up there for the entire challenge given they can sometimes last more than two hours?
"We're there the whole time," Brendan said. "I'm always there to support whoever is cooking. It's exactly how you see it on TV.
"We've always got access to food and stuff, we're well looked after, but you don't even think about that stuff because you're always quite interested in what is going on in the cook."
And on the flip side, does he find it annoying when he's cooking and the other contestants are barking instructions and encouragement from the gantry?
"A lot of people ask me this," he laughed. "You kind of zone out when you're in a cook. There's so much going on and I think the pressure of the competition itself is at the forefront of your mind.
"It can be annoying, but a lot of the times I have my friends up there like Reece cheering me on which is always quite helpful."
MasterChef continues on Sunday night at 7.30pm on Channel 10
Originally published as MasterChef star's surprise confession