He denies playing a sexist game, and won’t apologise for being competitive, but Sam Wallace says it was worth “looking like a d…” to win Celebrity Treasure Island.
The Hits breakfast radio host walked away with the $100,000 bounty in the reality TV treasure hunt, beating rugby league star Gary Freeman and boxer Shane Cameron in the foot race to the finish line.
“It’s been the most incredible ride…even though quite a lot of the time, I was looking like an a…hole,” Wallace says, shortly after being crowned Treasure Island champion.
“Because I was so crap at the start, everyone underestimated me later in the game so it was really nice to have a late surge.”
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Wallace is a man who, it seems, has learnt how to be self-deprecating just enough to make any possible public slip seem almost charming.
Under-selling his chances at winning is the perfect example of taking himself down a peg or two – before someone else does.
He’s the same when thinking back to his legitimately disastrous start as a captain in the competition.
Wallace never wanted the job, so in some ways it was a cruel twist that he ended up leading Team Kahu from the beginning.
And the results were not great, as he chose, and then lost, a succession of teammates in eliminations.
“I thought there were better people to take us into the start of the competition; people that had proven themselves, people who had been in that sporting arena,” Wallace explains.
“That’s why I sided with people like Zac [Guildford] and Eric [Murray] because, when you are choosing people to team up with, you know what they can do, and they have proven themselves.
“And some of the females – they were TV personalities, or actors, or reality TV stars – I didn’t know what they could do. It wasn’t sexism, it was knowledge.”
The label of sexism was thrown around a lot on the show, with critics calling behaviour of a number of the cast unacceptable, and Wallace was among those accused of pitting men against women, and severely underestimating his female Kahu teammates.
Surprisingly, he does agree there was a split within the camp – he just doesn’t think it was him who caused it.
“It was boys versus girls. That was how the teams divided. But that was just the way; the girls chose the girls and the guys chose the guys.
“And later in the competition, it became very clear – once people proved what they could do, people shifted what they thought of people.
“The fact the divide down the middle, I think that narrative was driven more from the girls – ‘Oh, Eric and Sam are setting up an alliance’. But we never wanted to exclude anyone – and I didn’t.”
He is quick to praise some of the women in the cast for their strong performances, especially those he butted heads with the most.
“Athena [Angelou], late in the competition, you were like, ‘this girl has got it’. And Jodie Rimmer – I underestimated her the whole time and then she started nailing those puzzle challenges, and she won us a lot of games.
“If you had Shannon Ryan [in the final], who had pre-read those clues, knew what they meant and how they matched up, she would have won on the spot. It would have taken her five minutes [to solve it].”
Wallace believes what helped him get to the final, aside from luck, was his decision to see the game as an individual race from the very beginning and he has no regrets about putting himself before the team.
“I played very competitively and I don’t apologise for that – that’s just in my nature. When did being competitive become a bad thing?”
Added to the critique of his approach, Wallace was simply hungry, cold and tired.
“We weren’t smiling a lot [on the island] and I think that’s because we were a lot more stretched than people thought, sitting on their couches. You want to survive, you want to do well, you want to be there for the next day – and you are hungry and you’re tired.”
For Wallace, the food was simply one element that made life on the island though. The other, was missing home – and his son, eight-month-old Brando.
“All the constructs of your life, all the little things that make you, you, are not there – and then you’re forced in with these people that you wouldn’t usually choose to hang out with.
“I was stuck with these people who were pushing me to the outside – probably because of my own faults – but being on the outside of a social group and wanting someone who loves you around you [was hard].
“But then there’s this moment [in the final] where I dived off the pirate ship, and the treasure hunt of any 12-year-old’s dreams was in front of us. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.”
Wallace was competing for Starship Children’s Hospital, where his young nephew Beau has received two life-saving heart surgeries.
Six-year-old Beau’s been watching the series, but hasn’t offered too much feedback to Wallace.
“He just sees Uncle Sam up there on the telly, making a d… of himself.
“There are some people who still haven’t forgiven me, but you can’t please everyone, can you? I’m sorry to everyone I’ve upset, and thank you to everyone who has supported me.”
It’s said with a smile, but does that apology extend to his fellow castaways?
“There’s not a bad egg amongst them. I would love to sit them all down and have a good honest and open chat, but they are all really good people and the whole game is to stretch those relationships and it’s done that on a number of occasions.
“I’ve watched Breakfast and I need to have a conversation with Matty McLean again. Shannon Ryan, I need to give her a phone call in the States…”