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Dame Susan Devoy on Celebrity Treasure Island: ‘Some of the comments that came out of my mouth left me gobsmacked.’
Dame Susan Devoy on Celebrity Treasure Island: ‘Some of the comments that came out of my mouth left me gobsmacked.’

BooksMay 3, 2024

‘There was life in the old girl yet’: Dame Susan Devoy on taking reality TV by storm

Dame Susan Devoy on Celebrity Treasure Island: ‘Some of the comments that came out of my mouth left me gobsmacked.’
Dame Susan Devoy on Celebrity Treasure Island: ‘Some of the comments that came out of my mouth left me gobsmacked.’

In this excerpt from her new memoir, Dame Susan Devoy remembers her turn as star contestant on the 2022 season of Celebrity Treasure Island.

The most anxious time of every day was pre-elimination, when you knew this could be your final day on the show. I felt such contradictory emotions, in one breath begging to go off but also secretly hoping I would survive another day. I was realistic enough to fall on my sword a number of times by volunteering to be put up for elimination but was turned down, which was embarrassing because in effect it meant I wasn’t viewed as much of a threat. And I had my uses – cooking, cleaning, stealing and finding out information.

I nicked a pack of cards once, and even the odd newspaper I found in one of my favourite haunts. The cards were a godsend, and hours and hours of Presidents and Arseholes filled in some long evenings.

The crew eventually gave up worrying about the contraband, so long as everything was out of shot when they were filming. When the numbers dwindled to just one team the rules were relaxed even more. The odd coffee with powdered milk was good for morale.

But there were still days when people got quite down. The weather had turned and most days were miserable. Clothes were damp and filthy and all people could think about was a nice hot shower.

I got a surprise one day when the producer said my husband John had emailed her. We were three weeks into the show — well, probably four, given the delay at the start. It was probably the longest time in our 40 years together that John and I hadn’t been in contact. We had vaguely thought that I may be on set for a few days and then suddenly reappear back home. She said he asked if I was OK and said the family missed me. She had replied that I was fine – up to all sorts of mischief but still there and still alive. I was quite chuffed, but I have to confess I hadn’t really given him much thought. Being cut off from all contact and technology had been hard at first but became quite liberating after a while. We would occasionally beg the crew for news from the outside world, only to be told Russia had just invaded Ukraine, Australian cricketer Shane Warne had died and Covid was still rampant.

Dame Suzy with her husband of 37 years, John Oakley. (Photo: Supplied)

We travelled with the crew to various sites for the different challenges and wore masks when we did, and we had the odd Covid test. But thankfully (and somewhat miraculously) there was no more Covid on set.

After the show finished filming it took me a while to adjust back to normal life. I had never envisaged getting to the final six so had not expected be there for over three weeks – in fact a month if you take into account the early delays with Covid. I had just wanted to put up a good showing, even if it was only for a few days, and win some money for The Aunties, a charity helping vulnerable women and children who have experienced domestic violence. Chief Aunty Jackie Clark (not to be confused with Jackie Clarke the singer) is someone for whom I have enormous respect and admiration.

I am a great believer that women are the lynchpins of families – if Mum is OK then the children will be too. The Aunties have a passionate commitment to supporting women who leave violent relationships, and their children. It is vitally important work and I would have loved to win more for them. We had told people I was going on a yoga-cum-health retreat, away from civilisation, but after a few weeks of texts, calls and emails going unanswered people began to get suspicious. Those who were really concerned or needed something that couldn’t wait contacted John. He allayed some concerns, and let the cat out of the bag to a few trusted friends. I gather that there were mixed reactions. Some had assumed I was on Dancing with the Stars!

Dame Suzy’s memoir, out now with Allen & Unwin NZ.

It would be hard not to learn something about yourself from an experience like that. At my age there wasn’t much about myself I didn’t already know, good and bad. But there were a few lessons. Although I had got a little obsessed about my age and my ageing body I discovered there was life in the old girl yet. And while it’s been commented on a lot during my lifetime, I even acknowledged to myself that I am gutsy and determined and I never give up. There had been plenty of opportunities to bail but I had hung in there till the bitter end. It wasn’t easy keeping mum – there is a long wait between filming and the show going to air. I was starting to forget it had even happened when I was notified it was imminent, and the pre-publicity started to ramp up.

Seeing myself in television advertisements and my face plastered on a bus shelter made me cringe. I started thinking back to that really difficult time and wondering how they were going to portray me. That part is completely out of your control so I became quite nervous. With the odd exception I didn’t watch any of the episodes live. Not knowing how I was going to come across, I didn’t feel comfortable sitting watching it with others.

After each show I would get comments while walking the dog or at the supermarket checkout, and the odd text. Young children would say, “Hey, there’s that old lady from Celebrity Treasure Island.” So then I would sneakily watch the episode on demand. My memory had faded a little and I was embarrassed by some of the silly things I did – like playing Big Booty Big Booty. Some of the comments that came out of my mouth left me gobsmacked.

Still, it wasn’t all bad. Among other things, I found a whole new fan base who were completely unaware that I had actually once upon a time been a world squash champion. The Spinoff ran a weekly roundup of the show. I thought they summed me up pretty accurately by saying that if there was anyone whose persona was completely different to what you thought, it was Dame Susan (or Dame Suzy, as I became known). They added that if you asked her friends and family they would probably tell you that’s exactly what she’s like!

I have a big personality and I think that came through, but so did the fact that I am soft as marshmallow. I can live with that.

Dame Suzy D: My Story by Susan Devoy (Allen & Unwin, $38) is available to purchase from Unity Books Wellington and Auckland

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