TV

Traitors star Janay is mad about being murdered

The mixed martial arts fighter is still ‘salty’ at being the first one eliminated
Janay Harding wearing boxing gloves in front of a blue background

She usually hopes to land at least a few punches before exiting a match, but mixed martial arts fighter Janay Harding was brutally knocked out in the first round of The Traitors New Zealand.

“I was absolutely devastated,” sighs the 29-year-old Aucklander, recounting when she opened the letter that revealed she was the first to be ruthlessly “murdered” on the show. “At the time I was so much saltier than they showed. I had so much more to contribute.”

In the first episode, which screened on Three last week, host Paul Henry had tasked contestants with gathering pieces of his daughters’ dismembered baby doll. Producers dispersed the body parts throughout the grounds of Timaru’s Castle Claremont.

It was Janay who discovered the crucial piece, securing $5000 for the group’s prize pot. The find may have made her too conspicuous

She also had a lot of influence on the group.

Other players gravitated toward me, so I had strong connections from the get-go,” Janay reflects. She identifies influencer Joe Fa’agase, wrestler Utah Mann, influencer Brittany Cunningham and marketing exec Andrew Allemora as her closest allies.

Janay Harding with her arm around Brittany Cunningham, who's holding a champagne flute
With Traitors contestant Brittany Cunningham.

Janay confesses she had hoped to play as a “traitor” so she could exert greater control over the game.

“It would have enabled me to be my genuine competitive self and dive into the missions,” she muses. “Had I been a traitor, nobody would have had a clue!”

Despite never tasting a single breakfast on the show, the bonds Janay formed took her aback. “I never thought that I would genuinely connect with people so quickly.”

Janay was born in Christchurch and moved to Australia with her mum at the age of 10. Her father, who was scarcely present in her life, died around the same time.

“My mum was doing a great job, but I felt the need to take on that masculine role at home,” recalls Janay, adding that sports contributed to her competitive drive.

Janay with her arm over mum Brenda's shoulder
Janay with her mum Brenda.

Growing up as an only child to a solo mum and as the only person of colour among her cousins sparked her motivation to exceed others’ expectations.

“I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with my life, but I was certain it would be significant.”

It was wanting to protect her mum that led Janay to discover martial arts. By the age of 14, she had earned a black belt in karate. However, after competing and often having to stay in “pretty dodgy places”, she sought a new challenge. At 15, transitioning to mixed martial arts (MMA) felt like a natural progression into a “more evolved sport”.

As a young teenager, Janay would spar with fighters more than twice her age. She flourished under the pressure, ascending the ranks. Her ability to inflict a surprising amount of damage earned her the moniker “Hollowpoint”, a nod to a hollow-tipped bullet that explodes upon impact.

Janay Harding with blood on her face, wearing a mouthguard and MMA gloves

Janay regards MMA not as mere combat but a strategic game.

“The barbaric appearance of fighting on TV doesn’t align with our perception of it,” she clarifies. “To me, fighting is about encountering problems and finding the optimal solution in the heat of the moment.”

When she stands face to face with an opponent, she feels like she’s made it.

“I know the next 15 minutes could go either way,” she says, but it’s not getting hurt that daunts her. It’s the fear of failure, which Janay defines differently.

“Failure, to me, isn’t about losing – I’ve lost before in both fighting and life. True failure is missing the opportunity to learn from those experiences, which is why I have no regrets about being on The Traitors. I showed who I was.”

Janay mid-punch against opposition Tayla Harris
In the ring with super welterweight champ Tayla Harris.

Now based in New Zealand again, Janay acknowledges she’s in the twilight years of her MMA career. Her goal is to use her platform to help contribute to the community.

“I’ve travelled the globe fighting in front of thousands of people, but living out of a suitcase takes its toll,” she says. “It’s time to settle down and establish a home base.”

Having focused so much on sport throughout her twenties, she now looks to immerse herself in her culture and rediscover some hobbies.

“I know I have much to contribute elsewhere,” she smiles.

The Traitors New Zealand screens 7pm Mondays and Tuesdays on Three, and streams on ThreeNow.

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