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Jesse Tuke (Photo: TVNZ / Design: Tina Tiller
Jesse Tuke (Photo: TVNZ / Design: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureNovember 3, 2022

‘Lone wolf time’: Jesse Tuke talks us through his Celebrity Treasure Island win

Jesse Tuke (Photo: TVNZ / Design: Tina Tiller
Jesse Tuke (Photo: TVNZ / Design: Tina Tiller

The CTI 2022 winner opens his monolith of secrets.

Before he entered Celebrity Treasure Island, sports commentator Jesse Tuke didn’t want to lie to anyone about anything. “I don’t think I am a massively cunning person,” he told The Spinoff on a Northland beach back in February. “That is what I am most nervous about: upsetting someone or having to make a decision to work behind someone’s back.” He didn’t know back then that he would soon be privy to the biggest secret in the game’s history and would have to spend weeks lying about it to his teammates.

Tuke, the brother of Team New Zealand sailor Blair, had intended to play a “low key” game in the beginning. “I was just having fun for the first half, really just enjoying myself on the beach playing stupid games and meeting people that were a lot more famous than me,” he explained. But in week four, everything changed. When Tuke won the first Celebrity Treasure Island Games, he was granted access to the mysterious monolith that loomed above camp. The contents? The treasure chest containing $100,000. The challenge? To bury it. 

Jesse Tuke wins one of many challenges. (Photo: TVNZ)

“The game got flipped on its head for me halfway through and it was like, ‘this is my this is my life now, and I got to live it’.” With the knowledge of the final prize location and the secret label of traitor, Tuke spent weeks weaving yarns to his teammates about what was in the monolith, including something about a combination lock and something about Harry Potter. “I remember telling the initial lies and it was as bad as it looked,” he said. “I was so deep in some stuff I didn’t know which way was up.” 

What made it harder was the fact that the cast had bonded in the week leading up to the game following the shock death of cast member Va’aiga Tuigamala. “When you have a tragedy like that, everyone just comes together,” said Tuke. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known each other when you’ve got something shared like that.” Outside of the game Omicron was also at its peak in Aotearoa, and the cast knew nothing about what was happening unless a producer forgot to turn their radio off during the drive to remote challenge locations. 

“You’d hear ‘there’s 40,000 cases here today’ and you’re just like ‘what?’” said Tuke. “You have these very little moments where you get an insight into the outside world.”

Jesse Tuke in one of many wide-brimmed hats. (Photo: TVNZ)

With the external pressures of the real world and the internal pressure of his massive monolith secret, Tuke continued to win just enough challenges, leadership titles and elimination battles to survive in the competition – all while spinning his web of lies. “It’s gonna take me a few years to get over the trauma of of doing that,” he told The Real Pod on the evening of his triumphant Celebrity Treasure Island win. “It’s when people actually believe the lies that makes it really tough… that makes you feel even more crap as they eat it up.” 

But when the tribes merged, Tuke had another problem: his two long-standing alliances clashed. “It’s like you’ve gone to uni and you’ve made some new mates and then they don’t get on well with your high school friends,” he explained. After he eliminated Ron Cribb in a bizarre pendulum-based challenge, Tuke realised he would have to go out on his own. “The vibe was pretty clear that it was everyone against me at that point,” he said. “No amount of schmoozing was going to get my way back in to any of this. It’s the lone wolf time, and I backed myself to to do it.” 

In the final episode, Tuke finally came clean to his fellow finalists Courtenay Louise and Elvis Lopeti about his secret after a sleepless night. “I just felt like I needed to tell them and wanted to tell them,” he said. “It was shit, you know, these people thought that I had their back and even though I did, I knew that they felt like I betrayed them.” 

Jesse digs in one of many digging challenges. (Photo: TVNZ)

With his fellow competitors thoroughly “pissed off” going into the final treasure-hunting challenge, it made for a tense finale challenge. Courtenay Louise, who Tuke describes as “an absolute powerhouse”, stayed on his tail throughout building rope bridges and doing puzzles, but was foiled at the final dash by a fall that saw the contents of her bag spill across the dunes. Elvis Lopeti was hindered by some diversion challenges, but basically won the moment of the finale for sprinting down the beach in a crop top yelling “Mate Ma’a Tonga” despite being dead last. 

In the final moments, Tuke returned to the sandy basin where he had buried the treasure all those weeks ago. He did his best to remember the spot – “I pretty much had to place my bets on a sand dune that I hoped was still going to be there” – and started to feverishly dig. So feverishly, in fact, that his spade snapped and he was left to claw at the sand with his bare hands. As Courtenay Louise raced over the dunes, he unearthed the treasure chest and became the winner of Celebrity Treasure Island 2022. 

With $100,000 going to his chosen charity Live Ocean, which support marine scientists, innovators and communicators in the ongoing protection of the ocean, Tuke said the money will be far from “chump change” for the cause. “That’s money we can invest in a whole new project,” he explained. “We can get someone that just has an idea, we can turn that idea into reality.” 

And, after keeping yet another secret – this time about his win – from charity founder and brother Blair for many months, Tuke was looking forward to all finally being revealed. “I didn’t really get to have that celebration moment. So now to actually sit back and be like, ‘cool. I’ve done it, I’ve got $100,000 for a charity that means so much to me’… I feel really proud. I am just absolutely stoked.”

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