Jess Tyson’s secret weapon to win Celebrity Treasure Island

The beauty queen explains how her pageant experience gives her the edge

As they prepared to be stranded on the remote beaches of the Far North, the Celebrity Treasure Island castaways were banned from packing almost all the comforts of home. But pageant queen and Māori Television journalist Jess Tyson had some secret weapons stashed in her duffle bag, which she credits for getting her this far on the TVNZ 2 reality series.

“I brought a few crystals and greenstone necklaces to wear throughout the game,” she reveals to Woman’s Day. “Each of them has their own meaning, so I’d choose what to wear depending on my mood. In the first week, I wore a rose quartz and since my team was winning so much, I thought it was giving us magical crystal power!”

But the real magic came from a pounamu pendant that Jess, 28, put on for each elimination challenge. “My mum gave it to me when I was Miss World New Zealand, the same year I started my charity Brave and went public with my story of sexual harm. My mum is a really independent, strong woman, so wearing that necklace in those intense moments reminded me of who I am, where I’m from

and what I’ve overcome.”

Of Te Āti Haunui-a-Pāpārangi descent, Whanganui- born Jess was just eight when she was sexually abused. When she finally worked up the courage to tell her mother, they alerted police and the case went to court, but because Jess’ abuser was well respected in the community, she says she was treated like a liar and the trial ended without conviction.

For the next 15 years, Jess “bottled up” her trauma until, in 2016, she first entered Miss World NZ and started to do a lot of charity work. When she won the pageant two years later, she founded her own charity, Brave, which visits secondary schools to educate young people about healthy relationships and sexual harm, and often sees Jess reliving her abuse by sharing her experience.

“When I first started telling my story, I was so nervous that people were going to judge and criticise me,” she recalls. “But as soon as I posted my first video, it was like a huge weight off my shoulders. I talk about my experience because it makes people feel less alone and encourages them to share their experiences too.

“I’ve heard some horrific stories and it can really get to me – it hurts me as I’m so close to this personally – but it also gives drives me to do more and help more people.”

Jess’ work with Brave saw her come second in the “Beauty with a Purpose” category of Miss World 2018 in China, where she placed top 12 overall. “That was one of the best moments of my

life to know my message was being well received on an international level,” she smiles, adding that her experiences in the pageant world have proved invaluable on Treasure Island.

She explains, “It was very similar as I was competing against a whole lot of people I hadn’t met before, in a new social environment, with cameras everywhere. Also, in pageants, you always have to present yourself and speak well, so you don’t get caught out saying something you shouldn’t, so I was mindful of what I said on CTI.”

Jess also credits pageants with building her endurance.

“An international pageant, which can go for up to a month, can be similar to running a marathon. As the weeks go on, contestants’ positive personalities can turn and they experience fatigue. It’s always those hard-working, naturally happy people who perform well in the long run – and I’m one of those people!”

Although Jess confesses she did struggle during the Miss International pageant in Tokyo in 2016, when she almost fainted due to lack of food.

Laughing, she shares, “Most of the girls over there are very slim, so they don’t need to eat much, but us Kiwis have a much more athletic build and we have a reputation for fainting because there’s not enough food. I got a bit light-headed one day, when there were five hours between meals – I’m used to snacking all day!”

For more info on Brave or to donate, visit For the Sexual Harm Helpline, call 0800 044 334.

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