update Oct. 2013
If you’ve been watching Fox’s MasterChef, you know the breakout star of the season is contestant Christine Ha, the modest Vietnamese-American cook who’s been turning out stunning dishes despite being legally blind. She’s the first-ever sightless contestant in a cooking competition series and has been a fan favorite since the third season premiered. This week’s episodes have concluded with Christine — who navigates the kitchen with the help of a cane and a sighted assistant — overcoming great obstacles to beat out rivals, complete with heart-tugging music, Gordon Ramsay’s effusive praise, and tearful applause from the other contestants.
It’s been emotional TV, and we’ve gotten misty-eyed too. But given Christine’s ability to create perfect-looking meals using surprise ingredients against a ticking clock, we had to ask: How blind is she? While we never doubted Christine’s sincerity, the show hasn’t specified the extent of her condition, which could in theory range from not being able to discern objects to not being able to tell if it’s day or night.
Fox put Christine on the phone to set the record straight. It turns out her vision loss is severe enough to make MasterChef an almost impossible challenge. She’s just not, as some viewers assume from watching the show, 100 percent blind.
“It’s a very common misconception that people think blindness is all or nothing, it’s not true at all,” says Christine, who gradually lost her sight between 1999 and 2007 due to an autoimmune disease called Neuromyelitis optica. “From a medical standpoint, doctors call my vision ‘counting fingers.’ If you hold your hand 10 to 12 inches from my face, I could count your fingers as long as the lighting isn’t too dark or glaring. The way I often describe it is that it’s like if you take a really hot shower and then you look into the foggy bathroom mirror, where you only see vague shapes and shadows.”
To protect our friends at Google who bent the rules to make this video possible (and their jobs), we can’t disclose when and where this was filmed.