WHEN you watch a lot of reality and competitive shows like Amazing Race, Randy Jackson's ABDC (America's Best Dance Crew), it makes you wonder if anyone from our Pacific region has ever graced the production sets of these popular series or any other show for that matter.
There are some with links to the Pacific already making a name for themselves in showbiz and the world of entertainment.
Not far from home in the land of the long white clouds (Aotearoa), one local has reaped accolades of encouragement from her friends, family, peers and supporters for participating in Masterchef New Zealand: Season Three, a competitive reality television cooking show.
Even though she recently bummed out of the competition in Episode 13, Charlene McGechan was dubbed one of the hopefuls from the very beginning until a dessert challenge forced her into the bottom two - ultimately resulting in her exit from the show.
She didnt mince curse words or break down like an overzealous contestant. Instead, she lowered herself and clapped her hands the iTaukei way saying Vinaka vaka levu - a sign of appreciation and respect for allowing her the opportunity to be part of the amateur cooking competition.
"My journey with Masterchef was amazing. I wouldnt take anything back. I gave every challenge 110 per cent of my heart and soul into every dish," she said from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Born and raised in Lautoka, Charlene went to Gospel High School in Suva, St Thomas and later Natabua. She moved to New Zealand in 2004, spent three years living in the Maldives now to Dubai in between regular home trips to New Zealand.
So when did that drive to join a competitive cooking reality show sink in?
"This competition is only for amateur cooks, people with no training or cooking experience in the food industry. I believe like most of us, it starts at home," said the former executive assistant at the Ministry of Social Development in Rotorua and now full-time mother of two.
"Mum was always cooking and dad always indulged us on Sundays for lunch. My favourite was mum cooking outside (stovu buka). The food always tasted better when cooked outside.
"I really didn't get into it until I got married eight years ago. My mum always told me that my place was in the kitchen no matter who, what or where I am. I've always cooked for my family and love every minute of it.
"I love to try something new when I entertain friends or family over for a meal its a degustation."
Entree, she says, would be a medley of scallops, prawns, tuna pan-fried on garlic butter served on creamy potato mash with drizzling of a wasabi mayo made from scratch.
If thats not mouth-watering enough, her main course be teriyaki salmon on coconut rice with braised red cabbage and for dessert - crme brulee.
"This is just a sample of dinner at home if Im entertaining. Otherwise good old rustic home cooking every other night for the hubby and kids. Dhal and rice is the favourite in my house," she said.
With her mad obsession for food and cooking, Charlene said she had wanted to try out for the show since season one premiered.
"It wasnt until season three that I made that step. Its quite a vigorous process to make the cut," she said.
"Auditions were staged around New Zealand where the producers decided from thousands of amateur home cooks that tried out. If you are successful, you'd go through more cooking challenges before you are given the chance to compete for the title of Masterchef NZ. Once youve made the final 16, you have a shot at the title and the awesome prizes.
"I cant give specific dates but it was all filmed last year and aired on National TV in New Zealand in February this year. It was all staged in Auckland but changed depending on the challenges. While I was in the competition we travelled to The Black Burn in Hawkes Bay and Huka Lodge in Taupo.
"Other than those two locations, everything else was in Auckland while I was still in the competition."
Every challenge was a test of each cooks versatility in the pantry. She says this was the essence of the whole competition, a "stressful" phase with "time constraints" for each challenge.
"My most prized recipe without a doubt would be from the frozen foods challenge where we got to cook using canned and frozen foods. Nothing was fresh, no garlic, no onion, no herbs or vegetables. Everything we wanted was either frozen, canned or bottled. It was one of the challenges I won," she said.
"It was prawn pasta with a mini apricot tartin. I added 5 per cent magic into the recipe."
Perhaps her biggest challenge was leaving her family for eight weeks. She was not allowed to see them as long as she was in the competition. Her family is her "life and pillar of strength" for every challenge.
"I always said to myself nothing is worth being away from my family and I had to make every day in the competition count. I'd push myself to the extent of saying to myself I can't go home empty-handed. This was how I survived," she said.
Mother to five-year old Hannah and three-year old Andrew, Charlene had nothing but praise for her husband, Rob, for stepping up and taking over the responsibilities of both parents.
"From a two-parent household, it suddenly turned into a one parent household. My husband who supported me whole-heartedly took on the role of mommy and daddy while I was away," she said.
"Cooking for the kids, bathing them, getting them ready for school, washing the clothes and cleaning the house. Respect to Rob! He knows how obsessed I am with food and cooking and to let me do this competition without any reservation was deeply emotional. Eight weeks is a long time for a daddy to do all this and I know Im the luckiest girl in the world to have him on my side."
Like all contestants, she initially entered the competition to win and as time passed she truly showed she was already a winner to those that love her.
"My only message is food and cooking is about love. Its about bringing family and friends together. It's a universal language that is spoken worldwide. If Ive inspired anyone during my time on the show then I've already won," she said.
"In anything you do, do it because you love it, do it because you want to make a difference or make an impact in someone's life and do it because you can.
"I'm the first Fijian to get into Masterchef NZ, let alone making it to the top five in New Zealand. That itself is an accomplishment - its been an amazing privilege to be a representative of that."
She hopes to pursue a professional career in cooking on a "really small scale". After a hectic rollercoaster ride on Masterchef NZ, Charlene is enjoying every minute of life with her family while exploring the best in culinary cooking in Dubai.