She’s been overlooked on the latest season of Celebrity Treasure Island, but Candy Lane has a plan. Tara Ward speaks to the dance icon about ageism, Dancing With the Stars NZ, and what keeps her moving.
Candy Lane is wiping tears from her eyes. It’s challenge time on Celebrity Treasure Island and her team Repo is huddled together on the beach, deciding who should step up in a challenge that relies on good aim. Knowing she can shoot a ball, Lane volunteers to be the one to throw them into a hoop. She calmly offers to compete four times, and all four times she is ignored. Her team of much younger celebrities continues to talk around her, eventually deciding to exclude her from the challenge. “I made myself heard,” a diplomatic Lane tells the camera later, “but the decision was made for me to stand down.”
Repo wins, as Lane watches on from the shore. Throughout the scene, the 61 year-old contestant and local dance legend remains visibly upset. Although nobody mentions it directly, Lane later reveals in a confessional interview that her fellow celebrity castaways dismissed her abilities because of her age. “I’m probably the weaker link, because I’m older,” she says.
The age of invisibility is an acknowledged phenomenon, but it is not often we get to see it play out with real people on our local television screens. Celebrity Treasure Island is usually a lively reality series that refuses to take itself too seriously but, in this episode, the dynamic makes for a confronting watch. It’s disheartening to see a strong, capable older woman disregarded by her younger teammates, and it’s awful to watch Lane so distressed at being ignored.
“It’s really weird, but I’ve never come across it before,” Lane says on the phone from her Auckland home, after the emotional episode aired during level three lockdown. Having worked her whole life with young dancers who are aware of her experience and skills, she admits she struggled with her experience on CTI. “It really did feel like you were back in the schoolyard, being the last one chosen. That was tough,” she says.
“But like anything, you can’t put an old head on young shoulders. Until they’re older, I guess they won’t know what it’s like.”
So how does a world-class dancer end up on a reality show set on a deserted beach, sleeping on a plank and wearing a ‘The Godmother’ singlet that she found in an op shop? Having watched the show’s first season and admiring strong contestants like Barbara Kendall, Lane saw CTI as an exciting challenge. “I’ve been a competitor all my life, so you don’t lose that strength that’s in you, that competitive drive,” she says. “At this stage in your life, I never turn down an opportunity.”
Lane has made the most of every opportunity in her career. She was only 10 when she first represented New Zealand in dance, later performing as Anita in West Side Story for two years in the West End and achieving a top three dance ranking in the world. She’s a mother, grandmother and businesswoman, and in 2014 was awarded a QSM for services to dance. Today, she’s a professional choreographer, running her own dance school in Auckland and travelling the world as a qualified adjudicator.
It’s a career built on stamina, hard work and talent, which are all useful qualities on a TV show that makes you eat a piece of bread with your foot and a pulley.
Lane’s no stranger to reality television, having first appeared on our screens as presenter (and later head judge) of Dancing with the Stars NZ, a show she has many fond memories of. She also works behind the scenes, choreographing shows like The Masked Singer, where she reached a new career high by teaching a giant pavlova how to dance. “Well, I didn’t teach them too much because they weren’t allowed to speak, so I could only sort of give them a few arm movements, if they had arms to move,” she says.
We last saw Lane on Dancing with the Stars NZ in 2015 and while the show was recently postponed for a second time due to Covid-19, she’d love to be involved again. “In Australia, they’ve brought back the original judging cast, which is going down really well. I think it [changing the judges] was to do with probably attracting a more youthful audience, but DWTS is a really family show. I think, once again, the age thing comes into play,” she says.
That “age thing” is everywhere, even on a reality show filmed on a lonely beach in Northland. Strategising even before the show had started, Lane spoke with former student and close friend Hayley Holt – who won Treasure Island in 2007 – and came up with a simple game plan: keep your head down. So far, her plan has worked well, with Lane still in the running to win the $100,000 prize for charity as we enter the show’s fifth week. But being a quiet presence in a show full of big, youthful personalities may have contributed to Lane being underestimated by her fellow celebs.
“I think a lot of the time people take quietness as a weakness. I’m not naturally [quiet], I’m naturally a leader and a teacher. So it was hard to bite my tongue, and I bit it as much as I could,” she says. Her plan worked a treat, until a voting blindside from team captain Lance Savali in week three saw her nominated for elimination.
Lane had plenty of motivation to stick around. Her chosen CTI charity is Endometriosis New Zealand, a cause close to her heart after her daughter was diagnosed with the condition as a teenager. “I hadn’t heard of it. I didn’t know what it did to the body and so I didn’t recognise any symptoms,” Lane says, admitting it was a shock when they received the diagnosis. The CTI contestants take great pride in earning money for their charities, and Lane found their personal stories about the charities incredibly moving.
Lane was determined to deliver a moving story of her own during the elimination challenge. Still reeling from being excluded so brazenly in the face off challenge, Lane was shocked to be put up for elimination, given most of her team voted for contestant Edna Swart. “You’ve got to trust your captain and I trusted him implicitly, I didn’t do myself any favours,” she says of Savali’s blindside, but understands his decision to choose the “weakest” team member was just part of the game. “Lance was really clever how he played it. It was a real roller coaster.”
Despite CTI’s often bonkers set of challenges, eliminations are tense for everyone involved, and Lane reckons this is why the show is so exciting to watch. “Your tummy goes funny and you feel the nerves go, and then the old competitor kicks in,” she says. That’s exactly what happened, with Lane climbing obstacles and solving a maths puzzle to send Outrageous Fortune’s Tammy Davis home. Davis admiringly called Lane “a beast” and Chris Parker admitted he was wrong to underestimate Lane. Months later, that win still means a lot to her. “I was trembling watching it back, even though I knew what happened.”
But the drama wasn’t over. Back at camp, Lane put diplomacy aside to expose the team voting scandal. It’s a powerful moment as a newly confident Lane finds her voice and steps into her potency, to borrow a phrase from another TVNZ reality smash, and calls out the blindside. Unfortunately, due to some unusually wayward editing, viewers felt like they missed out on the full discussion.
“Oh, there was a lot more to that conversation,” Lane says. “But I’ve always been upfront with everything, and that’s how I live my life. I think everyone should have an opportunity of saying how they feel.” Lane was less annoyed at the decision to nominate her, more about the way it was handled. “All I need is to know, because I like to prepare. That’s what a professional athlete does, what a professional competitor does.”
Despite being world famous in New Zealand for years, CTI shows Lane as we’ve not seen her before: fierce, formidable and fabulous. CTI’s leaky beach shacks are a long way from the sequins and spotlights of Dancing with the Stars NZ, but Lane is thrilled with the public response. “I’ve had so much amazing feedback on my Facebook and on Instagram from people that I have never met, and friends from way back. The messages have been incredible. It makes it all worthwhile, really.”
While she admits it was tough being an older member on the show without the camaraderie of the younger contestants, Lane met some great people on CTI. She’s glad she slept on a plank for charity. But a show like CTI is the kind of thing that only comes around once, and now Lane is waiting for the next “crazy opportunity”, no matter what the challenge. Youth will never beat experience and, as a lifelong dancer, she’s never been good at sitting still.
“Just when you think you’re done, something else comes up. That’s what makes life fun.”
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