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Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

Pop CultureSeptember 18, 2023

An overnight stay on Celebrity Treasure Island, reviewed

Image: Archi Banal
Image: Archi Banal

The hosts ransack your bags, the beds are little more than hessian sacks and the toilet is a shovel. Nice scenery, though.

Anyone who has watched Celebrity Treasure Island has probably scoffed at some point when the contestants complain about the lack of food, the bad weather, the uncomfortable beds. Surely they all get carted off to the nearest hotel at night? Surely there’s a catering truck just off camera? They aren’t actually going to make 71-year-old Tāme Iti sleep out there all night, are they?

Earlier this year, I had the chance to bust some myths and check some facts once and for all, when Celebrity Treasure Island invited me and two other brave local media representatives to live like a contestant for a night. That meant everything – the same packing list, the same rules around contraband, to the same rice and beans, the same hessian sack beds. Having only just healed all my sandfly bites, here is my TripAdvisor review of the joint. 

The location (five stars)

Just a jaw-droppingly beautiful spot. Jagged mountains, giant blue lake, lush green forests and long golden grass. On my journey, I found clusters of little blue butterflies flitting about on the shore, a perfectly intact possum skull and this charming native flower in bloom. Isn’t nature amazing? 

The hosts (one star)

Most gracious hosts at an AirBnb or hotel would greet you warmly at the door, show you to your room and perhaps offer you a complimentary bottle of water. At Celebrity Treasure Island, our hosts greeted us by ransacking our bags, determined to find banned items such as seasoning, chocolate, note paper or pens stashed away in our smalls. 

I have to confess here: I dedicated way too much time to figuring out how to smuggle contraband into Treasure Island. Borrowing from the book of Candy Lane, who famously brought an array of spices onto the island in her makeup palette, I found an empty Hourglass highlighter container and crammed it with garlic powder to give the rice some flair. 

I had also tried to make a surgical slit with a craft knife in a sachet of Ural (real ones know), empty it, and refill it with instant coffee, but I ran out of time. My efforts were thwarted anyway when Nicola van der Meijden, TVNZ’s head of production/commissioner, rummaged through my cosmetics bag. “That’s just highlighter” I barked. “Don’t smell it.” 

These people went through every nook, every cranny, but they didn’t find everything we smuggled. Some of my comrades had shoved stock cubes into their bra, and I had jammed a Spinoff pen into my shoe earlier that day, determined to bring a writing implement with me into camp (I later found out that we were allowed to bring our phones in, but it still counts as a win.) 

The activities (two stars)

No holiday is complete without a few exciting activities, and our first bit of entertainment was a charity challenge (except this time the charity was us and the prize was half a bag of salt and vinegar chips and first pick of the bunks). Under the watchful eye of Jayden Daniels, we took turns wearing a pedometer on our head, and seeing who could do the most shakes in a minute. 

“Tīmata” he bellowed, just like he does on TV, and I started to shake my head from side to side (for reasons I cannot explain). “Interesting technique there,” commentated Jayden. “I FEEL SICK” I yelled back, only 10 seconds in. What felt like an eternity later, we were nearing the end of the minute.  “A real headbanger, eh,” joked Jayden, just like he does on TV! 

Alas, Jenni from NZ Herald pipped us at the post with many, many more headbangs than I could muster, and I was left a chipless loser with a sore neck. I suggested a dip in the lake could be a good way to cleanse ourselves of the shame, so shimmied into togs under my sleeping bag (more on that later) and gingerly waded into the icy water – very “Top of the Lake”. 

Sludgy bottom, deceptively choppy waves, freezing cold. Two stars.

The amenities (one star)

“This is your toilet,” barked CTI production legend Gunner while gesturing towards a large shovel and a fresh roll of toilet paper. I asked him if he was making a funny joke. He wasn’t. This experience would have been less stressful had I not been on the third day of my period, aka Carrie-goes-to-prom-dot-com, so in a moment of panic I decided to reveal the state of my uterus to my unwitting fellow castaways. 

Reader, I’ve dropped some conversational clangers in my life but nothing came close to this. Several of my teammates physically dispersed at the news, while one of the publicists started to fret and asked if they should radio for a portaloo to be sent over like the world’s saddest parade. FWIW I’m a moon cup and AWWA user, so I survived, but what I did with that shovel beside that lake is now my “I Know What You Did Last Summer”. One star. 

The food (two stars)

I’d start soaking your rice and beans now if I were you”, advised Gunner as the sun was already setting. He showed me how to light the fire, warned us of the nearby rats and possums who would happily seize anything we left out for too long, and then it was time to start the prep. Thanks my canny teammates, we had a few stock cubes to mix in with the rice. Sadly, the beans needed too long to be soaked so we scrapped them. Nothing worse than too many elements on the plate, anyway. 

A hearty bowl of glug that tasted like Maggi noodles and looked a little less Jamie Oliver and a little more Oliver Twist. I saved the tiny flecks of carrot for last as treat. 

The accommodation (two stars)

After all this horror and excitement, we decided to turn in before the sun set. Jenni from the Herald had first pick of the bunks and went for the middle bottom bunk. “I wanted to be protected, it felt right to be flanked on either side,” she explained. I chose the bed along the side of the camp for maximum exposure to possums and murderers. Live fast, die young. 

The beds are lined with a hessian sack for a mattress, which had just enough wiggle that you could almost pretend you were sleeping on a normal thing. With the sun down it started to get very, very cold very, very quickly, so we rugged up with puffers, beanies and thermals inside our sleeping bag. Did I sleep more than 45 minutes? No. Did I get murdered by a possum? TBC.

The wind howled, the birds warbled their feathery arses off, and the trees rustled rudely all night, and when we “woke up” we all looked like we had made it to day 147 on Alone. As we piled into the van to head back to our hotel for a proper sleep, I couldn’t help but chuckle about all the celebrities about to move into that very same camp and do it for real. Peace be with you, possums. 

Celebrity Treasure Island screens Monday-Wednesday at 7.30pm on TVNZ2, starting tonight. Also available to stream on TVNZ+. For weekly recaps, sign up to The Real Pod Extra on Substack.

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