The cast of Celebrity Treasure Island 2021. Photo: Warner Bros NZ (additional design by Toby Morris)

Celebrity Treasure Island has washed up at the perfect time

What happens when you put 21 celebrities on a local beach and sort them into teams based on their careers? A dream reality mix of absurdity and ego, writes Alex Casey. 

I don’t know about you, but about all I can handle watching right now is a sub-genre of content that can be best characterised as a group of happy people having a nice time and competing for something that ultimately means nothing. Recent hits include Love Island, RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars, Taskmaster NZ, Taskmaster UK, and this video of Jesse McCartney failing to recall a single song with the word “picture” in it while stroking his tiny surprise goatee

Assuming I’m not alone in this quest for soothing television, the return of Celebrity Treasure Island couldn’t have come at a more perfect time, brain-wise. We’re talking a bunch of familiar faces, thrown onto a sunny Northland beach together, furiously competing to win $100,000 for their chosen charity that many of them have a deep, personal connection. It is wholesome content, it is story gold, it is, more often than not, a singlet-wearing Art Green carrying sand bags in slow motion. 

That’s not to say that this season will serve up the same hokey Telethon vibes of 2019, which mostly saw Eric Murray in a coconut bra and Jodie Rimmer in a duck mask. The cast has ballooned from 16 to 21, including a diverse mix of celebrities from different eras of New Zealand stardom. There’s sporting legends like Anna Simcic and Buck Shelford, radio hosts Lana Searle and Tegan Yorwarth, Very Online comedians Chris Parker and Joe Daymond, and only bloody Munter and Rachel McKenna!

The celebrities “log on”. Photo: Warner Bros NZ

Outside of the catchment of celebrities – where else are you going to see Edna Swart and Joe Naufahu together apart from in my yet-to-be-produced pilot Game of Bossbabes? – another masterstroke was to sort the teams thematically. The “legends” at Honu have reputations to uphold, the “jokers” at Katipō at have something to prove and the “bosses” at Repo have deals to close and six packs to maintain. All of this makes for a great battle of the egos, with a hotheads emerging after just one episode. 

Who would have thought when we finally brought back Buck, it would be for him to bark “I don’t like coming fucking last” after failing to assemble a turtle puzzle? Love to see it. 

Another key difference from 2019’s rebooted edition is that, due to Covid-19, the cast have had to stay much closer to home. Competing in Northland’s Whale Bay, the show appears committed to acknowledging the history of the land, exploring the significance of the area to local iwi in its opening moments and weaving te reo seamlessly throughout. Although we may have lost the angry scorpions and fire ants of international travels past, the beautiful coastal landscape and staggering Survivor-style set pieces more than make up for it.

I’ll be honest, I struggle to follow the challenges because, by the time I get to telly watching, I am akin to that guy in Hannibal being happily fed morsels of his own brain. But the beauty of Celebrity Treasure Island is that it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that Angela Bloomfield needs to slither under a log, Candy Lane needs to be lifted up to untie a thing, and Buck Shelford is once again angry that someone knocked his statue to the ground. The final challenge, where the captains bluff their way to victory, reveals dancer Lance Savali to be a theatrical Joker and radio host Lana Searle to be a true underdog.

Hell hath no fury like a brought back Buck. Photo: Warner Bros NZ

It also helps that we’ve got two hosts to explain the complexities to us. With two seasons of Survivor NZ under his belt, Matt Chisholm has slipped back into his worn-out khakis as our shouty, Kiwi version of Jeff Probst. As his comedic foil, ZM host Bree Tomasel provides often chaotic commentary from the sidelines. Together, they are a perfect double act – her evoking the tongue-in-cheek barbs of Ian Stirling in Love Island, him closer to a Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant type, so dedicated to living the gritty host role that he is seemingly willing to burn both his eyes to raisins. 

“I need to address the elephant in the room,” Chisholm tells the group in a teaser trailer for the rest of the season to come. “I am wearing sunglasses because earlier today I burned my eyes.” A shocked silence fills the air. “Moving on,” says Chisholm, as the teaser promptly pivots to reveal just how much more bonkers this season is going to get. We see Chris Parker sneaking out at night, shaky GoPro-and-all, whispering frantically that he doesn’t normally do things like this. We see an unnamed contestant eliminated on the spot for a rule break. 

And finally, we are teased with an interaction that not even a thousand reality TV producers on a thousand typewriters could have come up with – Candy Lane, after Edna Swart accuses her of putting words in her mouth, yelling across the camp that there’s “not enough room in your mouth for my words!” Now, if that’s not Game of Bossbabes, I don’t know what is.  

Celebrity Treasure Island airs on TVNZ2 Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday at 7.30pm




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