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TV

Chris Parker reveals the secret to his success on Celebrity Treasure Island

Victory is sweet!

Rolling textaround in the garden of his Auckland flat for our socially distanced photo shoot, comedian Chris Parker points out the huge clumps of kikuyu grass that are the secret to his Celebrity Treasure Island triumph.
"That final day was a really tough one," he recalls. "I wasn't the best. I wasn't going to win it. I shouldn't have won. I just knew where to dig for that treasure because I'd spent so much time digging out weeds in my garden.
"I knew kikuyu grass was impossible to dig up and there was no way the treasure chest could be buried under there, so I started exploring where else it could be. It's all thanks to pulling out these damn weeds!"
But as well as his gardening skills, Chris' win is a testament to his dogged determination. Asked what the top-rating TVNZ 2 show taught him about himself, the Christchurch-born funnyman, 31, replies,
"I wasn't the smartest or the fittest, but I discovered I'm incredibly good at not giving up. Even if I'm dead last, I'll keep running. You never know when things could turn around."
Speaking to Woman's Day on the eve of his Treasure Island win going to air, Chris is relieved he's finally able to talk about a secret he's been keeping for nine long months.
"It's been agony!" he sighs dramatically. "Because I was gone a long time, lost weight and got a great tan, people figured I'd made it quite far in the competition. It was so boring telling them, 'You'll
just have to wait and see!'"
Although a few of his nearest and dearest were in on the secret, confesses Chris, who spilled the beans to his flatmate and Treasure Island co-star Brynley Stent, as well as his partner Michael McCabe.
"Brynley and I have an alliance that stretches beyond the show, and I had to tell Michael because, as my fiancé, we have a formal alliance. Then I couldn't lie to my mum and dad when they asked, 'Did you win?' But my siblings and other flatmates were in the dark, I swear!"
Chris met his husband-to-be, architect Michael, on Tinder nearly seven years ago. "I swiped right on my future – there's your headline!" he jokes. "I wanted to meet someone who wasn't in my industry because you only need one comedian in a relationship and it felt important to expand my world."
After a few dates, the pair "fell madly in love" and on their six-year anniversary in February, a week before Chris flew to the Far North to film Treasure Island, Michael popped the question.
"It was a huge gesture of commitment, so I felt very secure in going," says Chris. "We work really hard on our relationship every day, but he understands that sometimes my job involves leaving Auckland without my phone to live on a beach for 27 days. He's like, 'Chase those dreams!'"
Michael made a guest appearance on Treasure Island via FaceTime when Chris won the coveted phone call home just days before the big finale.
"He was blindsided," tells Chris. "He was in the middle of teaching a class and thought I'd been kicked off the show. We were both so overwhelmed. But it's important for Kiwis to see a couple like us on a show like Treasure Island, which is so mainstream and watched by so many families. "To see that the funny one has a partner the same gender as him – that's the man he loves and that's normal.
"The power of the show was the diverse cast. I mean, in the final, there was the fierce wahine Edna Swart doing physical challenges in a boob tube, that kind, clever Samoan dancer Lance Savali and then this tall, lanky gay man."
Chris is still processing the fact he beat 20 other famous faces to the top prize.
"It feels like a dream, but often I'll go for a walk and suddenly it'll hit me that I won Celebrity Treasure Island, like, 'Holy f**k, Hayley Holt did that!'" (The then-Dancing With The Stars dancer beat Wendell Sailor and Rebecca Loos to win Treasure Island: Pirates of the Pacific in 2007.)
However, he adds, "The real victory is for my charity, Rainbow Youth. I'm so thrilled and grateful that I get to give them that $100,000 and raise some awareness – that was my first priority. My second priority was making a good TV show.
"The manipulation, strategy, alliances and all the sneaky stuff were integral to the game. People can be judgemental of Lance screwing people over, but the rules demanded it. New Zealand would be pissed off if we'd all just twiddled our thumbs and patted each other on the back – that's not fun to watch!
"I'm really proud of the cast and crew who created such great television. Whatever your opinion of Edna, Candy Lane or Angela Bloomfield, they knew what they were doing. They kept us entertained."
Having made unmissable TV magic, Chris is now also amusing us over the airwaves on radio show The Edge Breakfast.
"You can't get rid of me!" he laughs. "I'm almost sick of myself, but I'm grateful for the work. This lockdown has been so tough for our performers. Please get vaccinated so we can do our jobs."
Hopefully, all will be back to normal in February, when Chris plans to tour the country with his show Gentle Man.
He explains, "I feel like so many New Zealanders have been introduced to me on Treasure Island, but they've seen me in an environment where I'm uncomfortable. Now I want them to see me somewhere I am comfortable, on stage, performing my greatest hits. Then later, when I've had a few months to unpack this experience, I'll create a show fully dedicated to CTI."
In the meantime, Chris will spend the summer organising his wedding. "As if planning a comedy tour isn't stressful enough!" he jokes. "But I really need to balance my professional and personal lives because this year has been a rollercoaster."
And Treasure Island was the craziest ride of all. "It felt like the most intensive therapy I'll ever have," reflects Chris.
"I evolved in so many ways. I feel more confident and stronger than ever. I've learnt I'm good at confrontation and keeping secrets. I've got a new appreciation for our beautiful country and the preciousness of time. And after having everything stripped away, I missed my partner more than anything. It really clarified our relationship."

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