Reality TV

“It’s an awkward conversation”: Inside Khanh Ong’s refugee journey

Behind Khanh Ong's infectious smile is an incredible story of hardship and determination.
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He quickly became a fan favourite on both Masterchef AustraliaSurvivor: Blood V Water, and more recently, I’m A Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here! thanks to his vivacious personality and his ability to whip up delicious-looking Vietnamese dishes, but behind Khanh Ong’s infectious smile is an incredible story of hardship and determination.

WATCH NOW: Khanh Ong is voted out of Australian Survivor.

The reality star, previously spoke out about his family’s refugee journey to Australia, saying “It’s an awkward conversation but it’s a conversation that needs to be had”.

Khanh was born in an Indonesian refugee camp, where he spent the first two years of his life before his family migrated to Australia in the 1990s, where they held close ties to their Vietnamese heritage through the country’s traditional cuisine.

Khanh’s dad died when the chef was in his teens. (Credit: Instagram)

Torn between two cultures, Khanh detailed his struggles of being a refugee to HuffPost Australia in June 2022, telling the publication, “I feel as though when you grow up as a refugee, you pretend that everything is great.

“You pretend that everything is fine but there is a little part of you that just wants to be like every single other person, and I don’t want anyone to feel that.

“Even in the first season I never really spoke about it, just because it’s an awkward conversation.”

“At the end of the day, I see myself as Australian still and I feel a lot of refugees see themselves that way and need to see that representation, that Australians are very different, that we have all different cultures.

“We are all different but that should be celebrated.”

Khanh’s love of cooking comes from his family. (Credit: Channel 10)

After losing his father Tam to cancer in his teens, Khahn took over the family butcher business, where his passion for cooking blossomed while serving as a connection to his late father and leading him to his life-changing appearances on Masterchef Australia.

“Dad would’ve been so proud. He would’ve been so happy,” Khanh said.

“My family has always been a massive support for me. When it comes to cooking, I feel like cooking is all about your memories and your emotions and that’s why half of us do what we do. It’s because it takes us to a place that is comforting.”

Khanh has been a fan favourite on all three reality television shows he has starred in. (Credit: Network 10)

Not only did Khanh face hardship from a young age as a refugee, but he also struggled to navigate being a gay man in a culture that didn’t recognise him.

“Being gay in our culture isn’t really a thing, so that was hard for me,” he has previously shared with our sister publication TV Week, saying he went through the first half of his life “pretending” he was not gay.

“It’s hard enough growing up gay, but then there’s this whole refugee element. No one grows up choosing to be an outcast or picked on – it just happens.”

Khanh was welcomed to the South African jungle in 2024. (Credit: Channel Ten)

Speaking with New Idea in the lead-up to entering the jungle on I’m A Celeb, Khanh opened up about his life in the spotlight. 

“[The biggest misconception] about me is that I’m a full extrovert, but I’m an extroverted introvert. I can be social and lively but I really like being alone.”

In the same interview, the foodie admitted that as well as being a passionate chef, he had a “black belt in Taekwondo” loved gaming, and had the unique skillset of being able to “break wood with kicks and punches” – what can’t Khanh do?

The 31-year-old also shed light on his personal life, confirming that he was “so single.”

“I’m dating but I didn’t tell them cause it’s not a full-on relationship.”

“I wish I had children,” he added.

Khanh gave it his all during the I’m A Celeb bushtucker trials. (Credit: Channel Ten)

The last time Khanh revealed anything about his dating life was in an April 2023 interview with The Sydney Morning Herald 

“We weren’t exclusive, but when we decided to make it exclusive, he ended up cheating,” Khanh revealed of his ill-fated 12-month relationship in 2019.

As for what the future holds for this reality television fan favourite, we are sure he will return to screens soon, especially after the 2023 premiere of his own cooking show Khanh Ong’s Wild Food, on SBS.

As well as starring in the reboot of Ready, Steady Cook on Channel Ten, Khanh keeps himself busy with his career as a food influencer on social media where he shares recipes, as well as his work with The George on Collins restaurant in Melbourne.

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