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'MasterChef' finalist Christine Ha on being blind, and a fighter

September 05, 2012|By Rene Lynch
  • Josh Marks and Christine Ha are the last two competitors standing on "MasterChef." Adding to the intrigue? Christine is blind.
Josh Marks and Christine Ha are the last two competitors standing on "MasterChef."… (Fox )

Time and time again on this season of "MasterChef," chef Gordon Ramsay asked sight-impaired competitor Christine Ha: Am I being pranked? Are you really blind?

True, it's an un-P.C. question. But it's the question that everyone has been thinking as Christine continued to cook her way ahead of her fellow competitors on Season 3 of "MasterChef," the search to find the best home cooks in America.

Under most circumstances, the compelling story line going into next week's finale would be Josh Marks. He was tossed out of the competition weeks back after failing to properly cook an egg, of all things, before he managed to battle his way back into the game.

But normal circumstances do not apply. This season has all been about Christine's remarkable performance, a performance that even shocked her. "I definitely surprised myself," she said. 

Show Tracker talked to Christine about blindness, her family, and how she manages not to cut herself in the kitchen.

Christine, who lived in Lakewood and Long Beach as a young child before her family moved to Houston, said she had a normal childhood and was pursuing a fine arts graduate degree when she became ill. At first, doctors had no idea what was causing her symptoms, including strange bouts with paralysis. At one point, they thought she had M.S. She was finally diagnosed with neuromyelitis optica, an autoimmune disease that would ultimately rob her of her vision as well as the ability to do other things that most of us take for granted, like driving and reading.

Although she is legally blind, she can see a tiny bit. If she can bring her face close enough to an object she can make it out as though she is seeing through a thick, heavy cloud of steam. Crisp details, though, are impossible.

Christine told the Los Angeles Times that she does not want people to assume that she is always upbeat and positive -- characteristics that have come to define her astonishing run on "MasterChef."

"I get depressed," she said. But she doesn't allow that dark cloud to take over her life, which, despite the lack of eyesight, is rich with friends and family and a loving, supporting husband. "I try hard to stay positive. Everything happens for a reason. It built my character to be strong. I've wallowed in self-pity before, but I know that it doesn't get you anywhere... You just have to pick yourself up and move on."

She said she is surprised that she is being portrayed in the media as a kind of inspirational culinary superhero.

"It's really a strange phenomenon," she said. "Just a few months ago, I was a regular human being living my life. I didn't get fan mail. It's kind of all very new to me."

Still, she had something to prove when she decided to try out for "MasterChef," even though she doubted she'd actually make it. "I wanted to prove to America that you can really pursue your dreams if you set your heart and mind to it."

She said the show has been challenging. "It's like a swift kick in the butt," she said. Throughout the season, the judges have praised Christine for turning her "handicap" into a strength: Her lack of eyesight forces her to be more acutely aware of tastes and textures, and take extra special care when plating. She says it has also helped her in another way.

"I think it helped that I couldn't see the cameras on me on the show," she said and laughed. "Because I'm not able to see what other people are doing around me... I can focus 100% on what I am doing."

There have been several painful moments on the show, however. Like being picked last in a challenge. "I guess that didn't surprise me. In all honesty, I'd rather be the underdog and picked last and overperform."

Christine has mesmerized audiences with her ability to dice and slice -- and still walk away from the kitchen with all her digits intact. "I have nicked myself maybe 2 or 3 times," she said, explaining that she uses her fingers to carefully detect the edge of the items she is slicing, and then proceeds "very carefully."

She added: "l just move a little slower than everyone else. I use proper knife technique... I think that prevents a lot of lopped fingers in the kitchen. It's all by touch. Without my vision, I have to depend upon my other senses. I'm really careful about tucking my fingers back... I'm not dicing away like a maniac."

When she's not cooking, studying, or captivating TV viewers, Christine keeps a food blog called, appropriately enough, "The Blind Cook." (She credits Apple products in particular for creating tools for the vision-impaired, such as screen reading software.)

"The two things I love in life are food and words," she said. "It's a way for me to express myself, and connect with other people."

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