Lesina Nakhid-Schuster is definitely not your typical reality star. As the 32-year-old brunette beauty lies in a bed of rose petals at our photo shoot, she certainly looks ready for her role as New Zealand's first Bachelorette – but there's much more to Lesina than meets the eye.
Raised in West Auckland, the striking young woman – whose parents are Samoan and Trinidadian – works as a doctor and has dedicated years to building her career.
"I always wanted to be a doctor and to be able to help people," smiles Lesina. "I do surprise people a lot at the hospital. Patients will be like, 'Are you a nurse or social worker?' And I have to explain that no, I'm the doctor!"
When The Bachelorette NZ premieres on TVNZ 2 on January 27, viewers will watch Lesina try to find lasting love. But how did this charming doctor end up on a television reality show looking for her dream man?
She explains, "I've spent the last five years of my life dedicated to my career and I decided something needed to change. I want a family and kids, and that wasn't how my life was going if I kept on the same track."
After moving to Sydney last year, she took up a locum position, where she travels to various hospitals and fills in for sick doctors or anyone on extended holiday leave.
"It's a really flexible job and I wanted that time to take a step back, not work so hard, and meet someone," she tells. "I also moved to Sydney because I wasn't getting anywhere in Auckland. I felt like I'd exhausted all the single guys!"
While she'd never thought of signing up for a reality show in the past, Lesina couldn't resist tossing her name in the hat for The Bachelorette.
"I would be terrible on The Block or any cooking show – that would just not be my thing," she laughs.
"But this was perfect timing and really fortuitous. And I thought it would be a great story – imagine if I met someone like that? What a love story!"
As Lesina poses for our photographer, it's clear she's a natural in front of the camera, which isn't a surprise when she reveals she's also studied acting!
After completing her seven-year stint to become a doctor, Lesina thrived as a junior before working her way up to surgical registrar. But a few years later she decided to take some time off for a course at South Seas Film and Television School.
"I always loved drama in school and knew one day I'd like to do acting, but med school came first," she tells. "It was my number-one dream."
Lesina's appeared in a few commercials and had roles as an extra in Power Rangers, Filthy Rich and Shortland Street. It was actually one of her contacts who was working on The Bachelorette who shoulder-tapped her to apply for the show. But the idea of being part of reality television does scare Lesina.
"In a commercial, you play a character and it's such a small-scale thing, whereas this is me – I'm not playing anyone else. So that's going to be pretty different for me," she admits.
But acting isn't her only passion – when she's not working, Lesina says you'll find her constantly travelling, saying she's visited almost every continent. In fact, she was standing in the middle of an airport in Portugal when she got the call to say she'd been selected as the Bachelorette.
"They asked if I was alone and I was like, 'Well, not really but I'm surrounded by Portuguese people so I think it's OK,'" she recalls with a laugh.
"It was just like the day I got the call about med school, that feeling of, 'Stop, no way, you're joking!'"
Travelling is in her blood with her parents meeting in Samoa, falling in love and globe-trotting around the world together before giving birth to Lesina while on a trip to the US.
"They didn't quite make it to New Zealand in time before I was born, but we ended up moving here just a year later," she says.
When asked what her parents think of the new TV adventure, she laughs, "They were like, 'Oh Lesina!' But they said they'll support me with whatever I want to do and that's all they really had to say about it."
Lesina didn't have any hesitation about putting her name down for The Bachelorette but says she never considered signing up to be part of The Bachelor NZ.
"Everyone who knows me understands that wouldn't be my thing," she asserts. "I wouldn't ever like the idea of competing with other girls."
After three seasons of watching Bachelors Art Green, Jordan Mauger and Zac Franich, many fans were crying out for a female-led series, saying it was unfair. When the announcement finally came that The Bachelorette was landing on our shores, it sent a buzz of excitement throughout the country – and even Lesina admits she felt it.
"I didn't really think of signing up at that point, but I remember reading an article saying the show was coming and it said it's about time we got a woman of substance on TV – and I was like, 'Yes! How cool and refreshing would that be?' It's so great and I'm really excited to see where it goes."
Lesina's most serious relationship lasted seven years, but ended not long after she started full-time work. Today, when it comes to the qualities Lesina wants in her partner, she says she'd love someone like her dad.
"He's a really kind guy – softly spoken and humble," smiles Lesina. "I really want someone like that. It's also really important to me that they're non-judgemental and open-minded because I come from a really diverse background and there are lots of different cultures, religions, political beliefs and whatnot."
It's clear when talking to Lesina that she's serious about finding love on the dating series and says she's ready to be in a relationship.
She enthuses, "I haven't met my soulmate yet. I definitely loved all my exes, but I don't think I've been in love from the bottom of my heart … but I hope I can find that."
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