Why I had to walk out on MasterChef

Article in Gold Coast Bulletin - Monday 14th June 2021

CRIPPLED by anxiety and convinced he was dying, Gold Coast MasterChef contestant Brent Draper says the light had gone from his eyes in the weeks before his shocked departure from the show on Sunday night. 

The ex-tradie and young father is speaking up about his mental health challenges to help people close to the “edge” who can't see a future. 

“You have to put your hand up and ask for help because it doesn't make you any less of a person,” he said. “If you're not speaking it, you're storing it, and that gets heavy.” 

Brent interrupted the start of the second round cook-off to tell judges he couldn't go on. After a private chat with Judge Jock Zonfrillo he informs contestant his mental health is suffering under the increasing pressure, and from being away from his family for so long. 

It's the first time in the show's history that a contestant has voluntarily left. “In the weeks before I left, the light had gone from my eyes, it wasn't me. I was in a really bad place and when I watch the show I can recall how terrible I felt, how numb I was. 

Brent of Tweed Heads says his mental health spiralled downwards during hotel quarantine in Melbourne before filming started after Christmas. “There was a lot of stuff that happened before I started on the show that I hadn't dealt with, just buried it.” 

Then during filming his grandmother died and the pressure of MasterChef started to cause sleeplessness and he felt unwell. He was also homesick and missing watch Shonleigh and Alfie, 2, having not seen them in months. 

Doctors told him he was experiencing anxiety and this triggered something in Brent. A year ago, his mother almost died from a blood clot in her lung. She had gone to the doctor and they had dismissed her, saying it was anxiety. 

“So under more pressure and with hardly any sleep I was convinced I had cancer and I'm not going to see my kid grow up,” he says. "I had to call my wife at night and put her on FaceTime until I slowly dozed off because I couldn't be alone with my own thoughts. I started to withdraw from my mates on the show, I would go straight to my room after filming. I thought I was dying.” 

“It would have been so easy just to give up, but with coaching from my wife, I put my hand up. It's the hardest thing I've ever done.” Brent says breaking down on national TV has made him feel stronger, not weaker and he's still seeing a psychologist. 

“Men in general need to speak more, no one wants to see their mate suffer,” he says. 

The family will travel Australia in a bus later this year and Brent's keen to start a YouTube channel and podcast discussing cooking but topics men wouldn't typically discuss - removing the stigma around topics like mental health, relationships and family dynamics.