TVNZ Give Writers a Chance
Now and then when I’m at a random potluck dinner, out amongst the swarms of bureaucrats for Friday drinks in the capital, or some fancy dinner party I’ve mistakenly been invited to, along with various gatekeepers, someone will ask me, “So you’re a writer huh? What made you wanna do that?” Sometimes it's asked with sincerity, sometimes with suspicion or curiosity, sometimes it's just a way to fill the silence until the crème brûlée arrives. I always want to give a good answer, because whether they know it or not, it's a good question! But I usually give some half-hearted, muttered excuse about reading heaps as a kid, loving words, or needing a creative outlet to keep me distracted from the crushing weight of late-stage capitalism, various spells of depression and inevitable environmental devastation.
Sadly, two seasons into the CTI reboot and we are yet to see one of our beloved wordsmiths take to the beach
But I don’t dare tell them the truth. The hunger that gnaws at me, that keeps me up at night, a hunger that tastes like rice and beans and sandy Toffee Pops. A hunger that sounds like the dulcet tones of Matt Chisholm and Bree Tomasel asking me what charity I’m playing for. The desire to get just famous enough to compete on Celebrity Treasure Island!
Like many millennials, I grew up watching Celebrity Treasure Island. It was the true national sport of Aotearoa, a reality show that stood above them all. Sure, other countries had Survivor and The Amazing Race and Big Brother, but CTI was ours, dammit. They would never know how it felt to see disgraced politicians and former models working together. To watch retired rugby league players running along the beach in red speedos. To root for a TV tradie, David Beckham’s former assistant and some guy inexplicably named ‘Horse’. But then, like the innocence of youth, CTI disappeared from our lives, and we were left with a hole no amount of Jersey Shore knock-offs could fill.
We’ve had dancers, comedians, influencers and that guy from Squirt, but no writers
A part of me knew it wouldn’t be the last time this gem graced our screens, and I knew I had to be ready for its return. It became my life’s work to get on Celebrity Treasure Island. But I couldn’t sing or dance, I’m not good-looking enough for Shortland Street and my rugby career peaked when I was eight, so I knew I had to forge my own way, and what better path to achieving mild notoriety than becoming a writer? It's brilliant, I thought, a surefire way to get that fateful call-up from the shadowy cabal of Television New Zealand execs. But sadly, two seasons into the CTI reboot and we are yet to see one of our beloved wordsmiths take to the beach.
We’ve had dancers, comedians, influencers and that guy from Squirt, but no writers, and it's about time that changed. Our lord and saviour Chris Parker showed us that creative nerds can be a force to be reckoned with on this show by winning the whole dang thing. Chris was joined on the beach by fellow comedians Brynley Stent and Joe Daymond, who also became audience favourites, and now it’s time for the floodgates to open. Sure, writers aren’t always the most glamorous siblings of the Aotearoa arts family (despite all the adoration we get from the Taxpayer’s Union), but we secretly love the spotlight and we’re ready for our chance to shine.
There is a myriad of reasons why our finest novelists, poets and even the essayists could make a splash on CTI – for starters, the art of the alliance. We saw how deftly Parker and his bromantic partner Lance Savali navigated the choppy waters of personal relationships during the game. Knowing when to bring people in and trust them, knowing how long they could ride the momentum of those close to them, know when it was time to cut someone loose and feed them to the wolves (soz Jess and Edna). As writers, we deal with these same dynamics, decisions and cut-throat attitudes every single day – we call it Twitter, it's where we thrive, it gives us life.
But it’s not just the scheming and backstabbing that would make writers feel at home, the whole game is built for us to thrive. Even the clues to the treasure, given out by the hosts to contestants to help with the final hunt, are just fragments of poems. During one of the latter episodes in the recent season, Chris Parker wins something called ‘The Hack’, which essentially decodes the little segments of poems on all the separate clues – he literally wins the gift of literary analysis! Do you think our bright young wordsmiths who pay Bill Manhire 60 grand a year to study at his school would need some hack to decode those poems? Hell no they wouldn’t, those kinds of interpretive skills are why they pay Bill Manhire 60 grand a year!
Even if they only cast our three best swimmers, the sunscreen budget alone could bankrupt TVNZ
Even one of the hosts, young Matty Chisholm himself, is a writer. He published his memoir, Imposter, a raw and unflinching look into some of his personal struggles, with Allen and Unwin recently. You think Matt wouldn’t want another writer out there on the beach with him? Who else is he going to talk to about supply-chain issues, disappointing royalty splits and who’s been snubbed from the Ockham longlists? Sir Buck Shelford? I get worried about Chissy, out there all alone in his oceanfront villa at night, working on his difficult second book, no one to bounce ideas off. We could be your CTI writing group, Matt, we could help you!
But I don’t think for a second it would be an easy ride for writers on CTI. We all have our own obstacles to overcome, our own flaws to hide. It’s a widely known fact that poets can’t drive or swim. The driving shouldn’t be an issue here, but the swimming, well that’s going to become a problem in challenges, fast. Novelists can generally swim so they should be fine. Some essayists can swim, but they also won’t shut the hell up about it, and they’d make you listen to 1500 words about the time they visited Sandfly Bay while tramping the Abel Tasman before you could even get to the challenge.
Even if they only cast our best swimmers, the sunscreen budget alone could bankrupt TVNZ considering our general reluctance to go outside, and the strict diet of rice and beans would wreak havoc on our delicate constitutions. But that's ok; representation matters, and just maybe that representation is a camera-shy, sunburnt writer with crippling IBS. It doesn’t even have to be me, at this point I’ll take any writer. The Panto staff have already made it clear they’d love to see superstar poet and hot-girl summer instigator Tayi Tibble hit the CTI shores. Meanwhile, my pal, the emerging novelist and fellow CTI obsessive Rebecca K Reilly said she’d love to see Chris Tse and Rose Lu try their hand at it. She then followed up by setting out all the different ways Rose could win. She didn’t offer any thoughts on Chris’s prospects.
But, win or no win, the more the writers the merrier, I say. Whether it's Tayi, Chris, Rose, Rebecca, me (ok, it should definitely be me), Elizabeth Knox, Bill Manhire, Pip Adam or the ghost of Katherine Mansfield, we need to start seeing our literary talents on television screens. Even if they don’t stand a chance at beating the Goliaths of the game like Sam Wallace and Chris Parker to the treasure, they’d give it a good shot. Maybe they’d even sell a few books with their airtime and give some lucky Kiwis a new favourite writer. Maybe, after the game is over and the treasure is found, Matt Chisholm will turn to the camera and say that the wealth of literary talent we have here in little old Aotearoa is the real treasure after all.
Feature image: Sherry Zhang