we all got locked together in the house!
When best friends, flatmates and fellow comedians Chris Parker and Brynley Stent first met as teens at a theatresports competition in Christchurch, it was love at first sight. Well, it was for Brynley, anyway.
"I used to have a crush on Chris," she confesses to Woman's Day, revealing how they went from competing against each other to spending weekends hanging out together at Riccarton Mall.
Chris continues, "Then one day Bryn texted me that she liked me, but I was in the closet, so I just said I wasn't interested but that we could still be friends."
"There's your headline: He broke my heart, but now we're besties!" jokes Brynley, 32. (Well, if you insist!) "But honestly, I was absolutely fine with it because it meant I still got to hang out with this fabulous person. In hindsight, it was just a talent crush – I'd seen him on stage and I admired his work."
"Either that or you were sexually attracted to Puck from Midsummer Night's Dream," quips Chris, 31. "Exclusive: Bryn's really into pixies!"
Since then, the pair have become intertwined in each other's lives. "It's beyond friendship," tells Chris. "After being there through every step of our journeys together, it's more like we're related than we are friends. We're family."
Indeed, very early on, Brynley found herself leaning on Chris when her mother was diagnosed with the blood cancer non-Hodgkin lymphoma. "It's a really horrible disease and even though I knew it was serious, I just wanted to get out of the house and hang out with my friends – that was my escapism," recalls Brynley, whose mum tragically passed away when she was 18.
"It's a shame because if I was in my twenties when she was diagnosed, I probably would've spent more time at home with my family, but the timing was also weirdly good because I was almost an adult when I lost Mum, so I could deal with it, while my sister was only eight.
"I'm also lucky because I had Chris around. It was the biggest challenge I've ever had to get through in my life and Chris was one of my best friends. His family was really awesome too. I was like an adoptive daughter round at his house."
"Bryn's incredibly resilient," marvels Chris, who adds that this is one of her biggest strengths on Celebrity Treasure Island. "There's a lot that's gone on in her life. She's soldiered on through some things that would just wipe me out, wreck me and leave me a blubbering mess."
Brynley is raising money and awareness for Leukaemia & Blood Cancer NZ on the TVNZ 2 reality show, explaining her family received a lot of help when her mum was sick and she's keen to repay the favour.
Meanwhile, Chris' chosen charity is Rainbow Youth, which is close to his heart after his "long, agonising" journey to coming out at the age of 21. Fortunately, he had Brynley with him every step of the way.
"She was always encouraging me to find my authenticity," explains Chris. "We never talked about who we were attracted to – it was more about Bryn allowing me to be my most fabulous self and never judging me. I'm very fortunate to have a friend who lets me be me."
Brynley later followed Chris to Wellington, where they both went to drama school. "When I was broke and trying to get work, I lived in her bed for four months," laughs Chris. "Not her bedroom, but her actual bed."
Next stop was Auckland, where they both found success on stage, with Chris winning the Best Show trophy at the 2018 NZ International Comedy Festival and Brynley taking out the coveted Billy T Award for stand-up this year.
They also became regulars on our TV screens, both appearing on Jono And Ben, Funny Girls and Golden Boy, while Chris has hosted The Great Kiwi Bake Off: An Extra Slice, and Brynley starred in Taskmaster NZ and recently wrapped up a stint on Shortland Street. "It's pretty amazing to be friends with someone achieving on such a high level," says Chris.
Nodding, Brynley adds, "Watching his whole life blossom is just the best thing, especially because there's no way, Jose, that I would be where I am today without him, personally and professionally. I don't know how many tears he's seen, but he's helped me find confidence and believe in myself."
"That goes for me as well," insists Chris. "So much of my humour was born from those authentic sparks from when I was 14 years old. Bryn was the origin of comedy for me – it all comes from goofing around with my best gal pal."
And the goofing continues in their Auckland flat, which they share with Chris' partner of six years, designer Michael McCabe, and Chris' younger sister, actress Liv Parker, as well as actor Adam Brown and comedienne Alice Canton.
Asked if things can get a little dramatic in a house full of creatives, Chris laughs, "No! People do have that misconception about actors and comedians, but we're generally just the most boring, saddest people. We have good chats and dinner parties, but there's also a lot of lying on the couch and staring at the ceiling.
"We don't fight. We always talk it out. It's like a commune in a way. It feels like a very organic family of friends. The most dramatic thing that's happened was this time there was a global pandemic and
we all got locked together in the house!
we all got locked together in the house!
"It was very good training for Treasure Island, actually, because you're constantly having to navigate how people are feeling and making sure everyone has enough space, but also trying to build each other as a team."
Smiling, Brynley adds, "Chris is a very good cheerleader. We're like the mum and dad of the flat. I like to make sure everyone's fed and watered, and there's no food wastage, while Chris is the resident cleaner in the house."
When asked what's more difficult, lockdown or Treasure Island, both agree Alert level 4 has been the biggest challenge. "I miss doing my job," explains Chris. "Also,in lockdown, you don't have someone to rip you away from the couch to do an obstacle course with your friends. The dynamic on the island was so much fun. It was like drama school all over again!"
To train for the show, they went for joint gym sessions and worked on their water confidence. Chris confesses, "I've always been a terrible swimmer, so I took some lessons and now I'm a moderate swimmer. Before, I used to swim 200m and I'd be exhausted. Now I can do 1.5km!"
Meanwhile, Brynley tells, "I was always quite scared of swimming in open water. The ocean is a huge, scary beast and I hate that you can't see the bottom, so my friend took me out on his boat and I had to swim away from him until I was in the open ocean. It wasn't major training – I didn't go on a crazy diet!"
That said, neither is too worried about being on national television in their togs. Brynley continues, "I'm trying to embrace the fact most New Zealanders look like me. It's nice to represent those mid-sized bodies. Thank God one-pieces are in fashion at the moment – I've never owned a bikini in my life!"
Chris, on the other hand, was keen to flash some flesh in his Speedos for our photo shoot, but he admits he hasn't always been so confident in his own skin. Born with Poland syndrome, where his right pectoral muscle is missing, the star says, "It's been a long journey, but I eventually learnt it's the only body I have and it can do amazing things. I might not be as ripped as Art Green, but I'm bendy and flexible. I've learnt not to worry so much about how my body looks, but how it works and feels."
Speaking of Art, Brynley still can't believe she knocked the Bachelor hunk, hotly tipped to win Treasure Island, out of the show. "That was surreal," she grins. "I was so sure I'd go home that when they said I'd won the elimination challenge, I was speechless. I couldn't stop cry-laughing."
"I was so proud, but also grateful Bryn had taken out the strongest competitor in the game," adds Chris, who had his own teary moment after eliminating Black Ferns star Huriana Manuel. He explains, "Yes, it's a silly reality show, but we're in a really pressurised environment and we've all come in with our own baggage. I found it confronting to be around all these typically masculine figures who are so fit and strong. But I was able to channel what I do as an actor, performing under pressure, and I was surprised to find that I wasn't a joke – I was a threat, which was something other people had already seen, but I hadn't realised for myself."
"Not taking ourselves seriously is a defence mechanism us theatre kids are accustomed to," continues Brynley. "It's the underdog mentality. We spend our lives auditioning and auditioning, so we don't get our hopes up. But from day one on the island, we've both proved we're real contenders."
The pair hope their alliance will take them both to the final of Treasure Island, although they acknowledge only one of them can win. "Until then, we'll thrive on the healthy competition and push each other to work harder," concludes Chris. "But we've agreed that there's no amount of money or any job that's worth wrecking this incredible life-long friendship."
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