Zac Guildford saw appearing on Celebrity Treasure Island as a chance to rehabilitate his public image, even if broadcaster TVNZ was hoping he would provide a “juicy storyline.”
“They approached me, and at first I was like ‘nah, hell no,'” he said.
“I guess just being in the public eye again was pretty daunting. I was sort of slipping under the radar quite nicely.”
Zac Gilford on Celebrity Treasure Island
News of Guildford’s casting on the reality format revival followed a decade during which the former All Black was better known for struggles with mental illness and addiction than for any on-field activity.
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“The media always portray me as ‘troubled’ as such,” acknowledged Guildford, whose father tragically died of a heart attack in 2009 while in the stands while watching Guildford win the Under-20 Championship in Japan.
“I guess for (TVNZ) it would have been awesome to get a bit of a juicy storyline out of it.
“A lot of the public might be pretty intrigued to see my personality away from rugby so I guess that was something they would have been quite interested in.”
But, he said, while he was “sorry to disappoint” there “wasn’t much scandal involved.”
Instead, what was initially an opportunity for the 30-year-old to show that he was “just a normal person that has experienced some difficulties” became “one of the best experiences of (his) life.”
“I’m used to going away on rugby tours,” he said, “and I was really nervous about just being away from my comfort zone, but everything we did on the show was cool and fun and challenging.
“It was awesome and I’d definitely do it again.”
While a return to Treasure Island might be doubtful – though there’s always the possibility of an All-Star Season – Guildford, who recently effectively ended his professional rugby career by signing an expenses-only contract with Ngāti Porou East Coast, said he might consider a commentating or announcing gig, or even taking part in another competition.
“I’m pretty comfortable in front of a camera so if there were more opportunities that arose like this one I’d be pretty keen to take them on.”
He ruled out one show, however.
“One thing I wouldn’t do is Dancing with the Stars. You couldn’t pay me all the money in the world because I’m so bad at dancing.”
For the moment, though, he said he was happy to concentrate on playing Heartland rugby and working as a teacher aide at Hamilton’s St Paul’s Collegiate – where, he said, he had to explain to his students that the show he was appearing on wasn’t the recently-canned local adaptation of Love Island.
“I’m still not sure if rugby’s all for me,” he said, “but I’m pretty happy just doing it for fun, and helping my club team and East Coast is where I get my enjoyment now.”
We’ll have to wait and see whether Guildford, who was raising money for the charity UpsideDowns, left Fiji with the Celebrity Treasure Island trophy in hand, but he has come home with some lasting friendships with his castmates.
“Everyone’s stayed really close,” he said. “We’ve got a WhatsApp group that we chat through daily.”
He said that he was particularly friendly with Shortland Street alum Karl Burnett and that he had started doing some training at boxer Shane Cameron’s gym.
“I didn’t think I would have enjoyed it that much,” Guildford said of his experience on the show.
“There was a bit of anxiety and stuff going in… But in the end it was so awesome I didn’t want to come home.”
Win the competition or not, he hoped that the audience would come away with a different impression of him.
“Hopefully people will see that throughout the show that I was just myself, and hopefully I’ll be portrayed in a good light and I’ll come across as a nice guy.
“Not everything’s how it’s portrayed at times in the media.”
Celebrity Treasure Island launches Sunday August 18 at 7pm and continues Monday and Tuesday at 7.30pm, on TVNZ 2.