MasterChef NZ contestant Jason Wade admits he's a bit of a crier. But to be fair to the Hamilton theatre manager, he's got plenty to be shedding tears of joy over at the moment – least of all his turn on the popular reality cooking show.
After losing more than 50kg following a gastric bypass operation, Jason, 44, says his outlook on life has completely changed – and it in part spurred him on to enter MasterChef for the second time.
"I entered years ago and didn't make it in for whatever reason," he tells Woman's Day. "But the surgery has done a huge amount in terms about how I feel about myself and that's probably part of the reason why I decided to do it this time around. Would I have put myself on TV when I was 40 or 50 kilos heavier? No. I mean, the camera puts on even more weight!"
Now wildly more confident and happier since losing the weight, Jason says MasterChef has already been life-changing – and is quick to defend the Three show from allegations made by fellow contestant Felina Kee.
The Otago teacher and food blogger, 44, has spoken out about "psychological manipulation" behind the scenes, claiming the judges made their decisions before trying the dishes and that contestants were given faulty equipment on purpose.
However, Jason insists, "Despite what's been in the media, MasterChef is actually really genuine and is quite truthful. While some people might be disgruntled, it's not one of those shows that set out to make people look bad.
"All of the contestants – well, 15 of us at least – have really great affection for the show. We're really proud and privileged to be part of this experience. The judges are the most lovely, kind people and have huge amounts of integrity."
Determined to make the most of his turn on TV – as well as his newfound lease on life – Jason says he's incredibly happy at the moment.
"I want to make the most of it," he nods. "I was just lucky that the housing market went crazy and I could chuck the surgery cost on my mortgage! But if I'm honest, I didn't realise how much would change after losing the weight.
"Every day was somewhat of a struggle in terms of waking up and wondering what I'd wear first thing in the morning, then having to breathe in to tie a shoelace, right through to going to bed at night.
"It was such an endless cycle – lose weight, put it back on – and it was terrible for my mental health. It eventually stopped me doing the things I love, like theatre, because I didn't want to go to the costume fittings any more. I knew they'd have to get me something different because I wouldn't fit into anything."
Rather than simply being happy when he looks in a mirror, Jason is most stoked about the freedom his new figure has given him.
"I can do all that stuff again," he smiles. "Now I'm fine with being on TV or pulling on a costume. By no means is a gastric bypass an easy fix – it's a massive commitment and sometimes there are other biological or physical reasons why people can't lose weight. The operation is a real struggle and the recovery is tough, but I'm so glad I did it."
And perhaps with his sleek new physique – and the fact the whole of New Zealand now knows he can cook – someone special may slide into the single Waikato man's DMs…
"Well, that's right," Jason blushes. "You never know!"
But in the meantime, he has a very supportive mum and dad cheering for him on the sidelines, "as corny as it may seem", says Jason. "They've always supported me and been so proud of all that I've achieved. They always stand by me even in the not-so-great times."
For now, Jason's keen to focus on giving MasterChef his absolute best and will keep hold of his dream of working amongst the country's biggest culinary names.
"I'd really like to promote New Zealand's food culture internationally," he explains. "Maybe through food tours of Aotearoa's best restaurants or being some sort of ambassador showcasing what we have to offer the world. I'm just really happy that I'm finally giving it a go!"
MasterChef NZ screens Mon & Tue at 7.30pm
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