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Throwback Thursday: A Brief History of New Zealand’s Politicians on Reality TV

In a time before she donned a sparkly dress and mom-danced (as my flatmate put it) on free-to-air television, before she called one journalist a “puffed up little shit” and another Cameron Slater’s “glove puppet”, our dearly beloved Pam Corkery was once an MP. For three years, she occupied a seat in our hallowed halls of power as a list MP for the now defunct Alliance party (RIP).

She’s not the first politician – of the past-it, bored, wannabe or destined variety – to have a crack at reality TV. Here’s five of the best.

Nikki Kaye – National MP for Auckland Central, Minister for Civil Defence, Minister for Youth, Minister for ACC: Fish Out of Water

Six teenagers are left to fend for themselves on Rakitu Island for a week as part of some Lord of the Flies-esque plot concocted by TV3. It is 1997, before anyone had heard of Survivor, Idol, or even coined the phrase “reality television”. Among the appropriately diverse group is Nikki Kaye – then a pensive-looking, take-charge kind of private school girl decked out in navy polyprop. As we watch her hacking a starfish from a rock with a knife, her meek assistant asks, “can you eat it?” Whether starfish are in fact edible she didn’t know, but she offered instead this optimistic endorsement: “it should be like squid”.


Kaye is now a high-flying cabinet minister, responsible for the civil defence (it all makes sense now), ACC and youth portfolios. It has been under her watch as civil defence minister that the government’s actually come up with a plan for what it would do with parliament if Wellington was struck by disaster – it would move to the Devonport Naval Base. Clearly a sucker for punishment, she’s done the gruelling Coast to Coast multi-sport event twice.

Rodney Hide – former ACT Party leader: Dancing with the Stars

Forget Jay-Jay Harvey’s snake stuff-up. Rodney Hide holds the world record for the lowest-ever score on Dancing With the Stars. One point from each of the four judges. Why? He dropped his dance partner, Krystal Stuart. Dropped her. On the floor. During their dance. Like, she fell. And it wasn’t supposed to happen. They were eliminated. Hide was crushed. As he put it in his memoir, titled My Year of Living Dangerously: “I realised that I was always good at my job, always successful, always in control, while people coming to see me were overwhelmed by their problems, and overpowered by government departments and systems. I now knew what it was to be in a situation that I didn’t understand and couldn’t control. For the first time I was also aware of what it was like to fail totally. I had learned humility by discovering what it was to need someone else’s help.”

After appearing on DWTS, Hide lost more weight, was ousted from the ACT Party leadership by Don Brash and got a tan. There is evidence on the internet he continued dancing for a time. He now writes columns for the NZ Herald and recently copped flack for messing up new Green Party co-leader James Shaw’s name. Stuart is now partnered up with the hopefully more reliable Ben Barrington.

Michael Laws – former Whanganui mayor, former NZ First MP, former National MP: Celebrity Treasure Island, Dancing with the Stars and Intrepid Journeys

Some people get addicted to watching reality TV. Some people get addicted to appearing on reality TV. Controversial former mayor/broadcaster/talkback host/political commentator Michael Laws appeared on no less than three different reality TV shows during the 00s. You may recall his slightly creepy promo photo for the third season of DWTS:

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It did him no favours and he was second to be eliminated.

Laws went to Ecuador and got high in the Amazon for Intrepid Journeys. He also admired how small the people were and did some weird thrusting movements – note this predates his DWTS appearance.


Unfortunately, almost all evidence of the existence of the Treasure Island television franchise has been erased from the internet. Laws appeared on the second celebrity season and competed against the likes of Jason Gunn, K’lee, Nicky Watson, Matthew Ridge and Marc Ellis. He beat all of them, but failed to claim the top prize.

Laws hasn’t been heard from in a while. But apparently he moved to Timaru last year.

John “Horse” McLeod – former New Plymouth district councillor: Treasure Island: Extreme, Superstars of Treasure Island

The internet has remembered one Treasure Island contestant: Horse. The ex-SAS soldier-turned-reality TV contestant-turned New Plymouth city councillor-turned mercenary soldier-turned councillor again-turned former councillor appeared on two seasons of TI: Treasure Island Extreme and Superstars of Treasure Island. According to Wikipedia – because I have no recollection of actually watching this at the age of 14 – the extreme series, which Horse won, was somewhat scandalous because one of the contestants refused to leave when he was eliminated, and he went and hid in the jungle. He came out eventually and went home, but not before a security warning was issued to the other contestants. Horse returned for the superstars season of TI, where he composed this poem for his competitors.

Horse went on to be elected to the New Plymouth district council in 2007. He caused a fuss in 2011 when he left work for 40 days to go and serve as a mercenary soldier in Libya . He quit the council last year when it voted in favour of establishing a Maori ward.

Tim Shadbolt – Invercargill mayor: The Weakest Link, Dancing With the Stars, Intrepid Journeys

Tim Shadbolt is kind of like New Zealand reality TV’s everyman. He’s a bit bumbling, a bit dorky – one of those chaps you hope can overcome the odds to stick it to more famous, more beautiful, more sculpted and toned contestants every viewer loves to hate. In 2001 – again according to Wikipedia because the internet doesn’t seem to remember this anywhere else – Shadbolt appeared on a celebrity special of The Weakest Link. It’s not strictly reality TV, but I’d forgotten how good Louise Wallace’s bitch face is:

Shadbolt came third in the first ever season of DWTS in 2005, which was eventually won by Norm Hewitt (not even a bumbling everyman can beat a former All Black). That season is probably more notable for bringing together Shane and Nerida Cortese.

But it’s Shadbolt’s appearance on Intrepid Journeys that warms my heart to its core.

An extract from his travel diary, about climbing Mt Kinabalu: “I was told to train for this climb so I stepped up and down on my back step for a few minutes each day. Now, looking up at the peak I am supposed to conquer, it doesn’t seem so smart”.


Shadbolt is still the mayor of Invercargill. He holds the world record for the longest ever television interview record (26 hours), and recently got to meet Prince Harry, writing a poem for the occasion.

 

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