Celebrity Treasure Island fan favourite James Mustapic just wants to have a laugh

The comedian has brought his quick wit and kindness to the reality TV show
Matt Klitscher

With his quick wit and kindness, James Mustapic is a fan favourite on Celebrity Treasure Island, but the former Tohorā captain had the weight of the world on his shoulders when he was forced to trade three of his teammates with the Kārearea squad.

“I felt terrible doing the team swap,” he recalls. “It was horrifying for someone like me who’s a people pleaser. I really felt like I was going to be public enemy number one. Things weren’t the best at the other camp, but I didn’t realise what the dynamic was like.

“When Blair, Nick and Courtney came over, I thought I was the guy who’d ripped them away from home. But we had a lovely night chatting, and Nick and Laura sang, and I just felt so happy they had come over and seemed happy.

“They were like, ‘At Kārearea, as soon as it gets dark, we all go to bed and we don’t really play any games at night or anything’. We just thought it was normal to have fun in the evenings.”

James with fellow contestant Turia Schmidt-Peke.

The new-look Tohorā team bonded by making up a team chant, and they had everyone in stitches the next day when they marched into the face-to-face challenge with James carried on Steve Price and Nick Afoa’s shoulders.

The comedian says, “We thought, ‘Let’s do something silly’. Sometimes silly things are what brings the team together – a bit of levity and light-heartedness. I wasn’t a serious captain, so it was just fun.”

With his self-deprecating humour, having fun comes easily to James now, but it hasn’t always been the case. He struggled with depression and anxiety five years ago.

“I just got too stressed. I had too much on in my life and I was very burnt out. It was a very difficult time. I went to a counsellor, took some time off work and just learnt about myself. Going through these struggles, you work out how to get better at dealing with them. I’m fine now. Hopefully, I’ve dealt with it and now I know what I’m doing.”

“Sometimes silly things are what brings the team together – a bit of levity and light-heartedness. I wasn’t a serious captain, so it was just fun”, says James.

Ahead of filming CTI, James was worried the high-pressure environment would affect his mental health again.

“But I remained hopeful and tried to come into it with excitement and an attitude of, ‘This is funny.’ My goal was to just have a laugh and even when it was s**t, to think, ‘This is funny and wild that I’m here with Matt Gibb and Matilda Green’.”

As it turned out, James took over leading Tohorā from the influencer and Bachelor star.

“Matilda was a great captain. There was never a time any of us ever felt scared of the captain. There was no kind of hierarchy or anything like that. And I mean, it’s just a silly TV show at the end of the day!”

James is competing in CTI for charity Gender Minorities Aotearoa.

The 27-year-old, who’s single, loved watching CTI growing up in Dunedin with his mum Janet and older sister Jenny. “I’m a really big fan of the show,” he says. “I watched it as a kid and was a big fan of Josh Kronfeld.

I’ve followed in his footsteps, but at the time, I could never have imagined it. I used to try my best to hide away and fade into the background.

“I don’t want to slander Dunedin. I went to an all-boys school, so it was difficult at times. I didn’t really come out, but I told a few friends. Once I finished school, I didn’t care as much any more and moving to Auckland helped me feel more like myself.”

James is competing in CTI for charity Gender Minorities Aotearoa. “It’s run by trans people for trans people. Being part of the queer community, I’ve faced a little bit of discrimination in the past, but I’m really lucky that I’m able to be who I am. We’ve come so far as a nation, but there are still trans people who are being discriminated against and I think their community needs some love.

“I’m sure it’s all been said before, but there wasn’t much queer representation on TV when I was growing up. I’ve had some nice messages from people who have a child watching at home who is rainbow.”

As a teenager, James made YouTube videos, including clips about his love of Shortland Street, a fact that came back to bite him on CTI when he could not remember Blair Strang’s name and called him “Shorty Street guy”.

“It’s really terrible to say, but I did a Matilda. I used to watch Shortland Street religiously, but Blair was before my time. I just thought, ‘This guy’s crazy’. I didn’t know anything about him when I called him that and then it kind of became a running joke.”

James and Blair are good friends now. “We send each other voice messages and it’s been so fun to watch everyone becoming obsessed with him online.”

The Billy T Award nominee has also formed special friendships with other CTI celebs.

“Tāme Iti was a great source of morale boosting and we talk on Instagram and text sometimes. Laura and Steve provided a lot of inspirational speeches. We all have a group chat, which is nice.”

Celebrity Treasure Island screens 7.30pm Monday to Wednesday on TVNZ 2.

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