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James Mustapic, CTI winner 2023
James Mustapic, CTI winner 2023

Pop CultureOctober 26, 2023

‘I really just wanted to meet some celebs’: James Mustapic on taking the CTI crown

James Mustapic, CTI winner 2023
James Mustapic, CTI winner 2023

Celebrity Treasure Island 2023 winner James Mustapic talks comedy alliances, keeping secrets from his mum and who’s getting matching tattoos. 

This year’s season of Celebrity Treasure Island ended not with the satisfying DOOF of a spade on a treasure chest, but the gentle click of a combination padlock atop a safe stuffed with gold bullion. And it was comedian and famed celebrity skewerer James Mustapic who cracked the final code, taking home $100,000 for his chosen charity Gender Minorities Aotearoa. Not bad for someone who admits his main motivation was “I really just wanted to meet some celebs”. 

Speaking to The Real Pod ahead of the finale episode, Mustapic said it was a struggle to keep the secret for so long. But perhaps unsurprisingly for those who followed his wily gameplay all season, he had a plan for that too. “My strategy was just tell people so many fake spoilers, that if a real one comes out, they won’t know if it’s real,” he said. Even his beloved mum Janet, a mainstay in much of his comedy, didn’t know he won the show. 

James and his Mum Janet in 2020

“She was so convinced that I would go home early that she was theorising ‘they must keep everyone till the end in a hotel after they get eliminated, that’s why he hasn’t contacted me’,” he said. Although she knew he made the final three, she told Mustapic that she wouldn’t be able to watch the finale live because she would be attending singing practice on Wednesday night. “I was very upset about that,” he laughed. “So now she’s going to watch.”

Despite doubts from Janet, Mustapic played an undeniably strong game throughout the season, even adopting the moniker of “The Dictator” when he became the leader of Tōhora. He forged strong alliances with his fellow comedians on the show, with Courtney Dawson quickly becoming his closest ally. “We knew Laura [Daniel] and Eli [Matthewson] would be besties and ride or die. So we were like, ‘we need to be each other’s ride or die’.”

The final three enjoy a feast

That “ride or die” relationship took the pair, alongside Turia Schmidt-Peke, all the way to the tense finale, complete with swimming, catapults, intricate catapults and the all-important prizewinning safe. “It was a very long time,” Mustapic said of his safe-cracking efforts. “I felt so stupid because Brie stands behind you, in case you’re gonna get it. So I knew I was at the right safe, but then also it was just humiliating.”

Despite a tense few minutes fiddling with the padlock, the final challenge in a “very long day” of challenges, Mustapic eventually opened the safe and secured the gold bullion for his charity. “I was tired,” he said. “I feel kind of sad that I didn’t cry when I won, but I think we were all cried out.” He added that he was “still so stoked” for his charity Gender Minorities Aotearoa, particularly after “all the bloody Posie Parker shit” that took place earlier this year. 

“It has been a rough year, so I’m so happy I chose them,” he said. “Gender minorities are a small charity, so I feel really glad that they’ll be getting a big cash injection.” 

Mustapic said the CTI experience has also been transformative for himself. After the interview he was off to get his first tattoo with the other Sagittarius cast members. He’s also learned to better manage his OCD and anxiety after being on the show. “I definitely like being clean and I have very specific sleeping arrangements, so that was very hard,” he said. “But you do adapt, and it did make me think ‘I can handle this – I’ve done it on an island, so I can do it again’.”

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