Lesina Nakhid-Schuster opens up about what it’s been like swapping her stethoscope for reality TV dating

Lesina Nakhid-Schuster tells Monique McKenzie what it has been like swapping her job as a surgical registrar to become New Zealand’s first Bachelorette.
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When it comes to navigating the modern dating landscape, our busy lives and the rise of internet dating can make it increasingly difficult to find people in real life. And if you do take the plunge and agree to meet, not only are you putting yourself out there emotionally, you also have to have your wits about you.

So when Lesina Nakhid-Schuster, a 32-year-old locum surgical registrar who specialises in ENT (ear, nose and throat) surgery was ready to find love, she decided to take a unique but pragmatic approach to partnering up.

That’s why for the next little while, she’s traded gruelling 15-hour days working in scrubs for full-length gowns and dates with up to 22 men as New Zealand’s very first Bachelorette.

Lesina is following on from Art Green and Matilda Rice’s success story on the first season of The Bachelor New Zealand in 2015, with the show now setting the female in the driver’s seat and letting her (and fellow bachelorette Lily McManus) put the suitors through their paces. Hailing from West Auckland and with Samoan, German and Lebanese heritage, Lesina says “the stars aligned” when the call-out for a single leading lady was made.

“It’s cheesy, but I was trying to find someone and felt like I wasn’t meeting anyone in Auckland. I thought, ‘I really need to increase my pool size.’ I’d actually changed jobs and was working in Australia for that reason,” she laughs. Locuming in Sydney at the time, friends back home started tagging Lesina on a Bachelorette Facebook post, encouraging her to go for the gig.

“Someone from production got in touch and said, ‘Would you consider applying?’ Actually, ‘Are you still single?’ was the first question, and I said ‘Yes I am, so that needs to change.’ Even before The Bachelorette, I’d get tagged in lots of single memes. I’m around the same work people all of the time, there were so many reasons why it made sense, so I said ‘Yeah, I’ll give it a go.'”

She compares the approach on The Bachelorette – which sees a woman select a love match from a pool of potential admirers – to the rise of dating apps like Bumble, where if you’re interested, you swipe right.

All about empowering women, Bumble’s modern approach means only female users can make the first move with matched male users.

“Traditionally, how would a career woman do it? How would women who are busy with their own lives get out and meet people? You can still do all of those things, but apps like Bumble help as well – it’s just another avenue. And the fact that women choose first, it’s empowering.”

The journey of The Bachelorette

Busy with her own life is an understatement for Lesina, who is more than familiar with 7am starts and working 11 days straight. She remembers being at work when filming her audition video.

“I had to go into a patient’s room. It was empty; no patient was in there,” she laughs reassuringly.

Upon being informed she’d been chosen for the first season of The Bachelorette New Zealand, Lesina flew home to start filming at the luxurious Te Hihi Estate, the former home of billionaire Eric Watson. Located in Karaka, about 40 minutes from Auckland’s CBD, the mansion is set on 33 hectares, complete with a golf course, polo field, tennis court, private lake, swimming pool and helipad – an idyllic, romantic setting for Lesina’s quest for love.

But although reality television has traditionally portrayed women as submissive objects of men’s desire, Lesina is quick to quell anyone branding her with a desperate-for-love-and-fame stereotype. Her authenticity is obvious, and she’s practical about taking control of her future.

“If that was me as an audience member, I would like to see someone of substance, someone with a brain. I know what I want; I’ve dated and I’ve done all of that, and I’m so ready for that next life phase. Being 32 and having lived a full life, having done all of the things that I wanted and being where I’m at now, my outlook is very tailored to what I want out of it, which is something long-term. I’m totally ready for that.”

Having admittedly never watched a whole season of The Bachelor before, Lesina encountered plenty of curveballs along the way and was surprised by how the experience facilitated, as much as anything, a process of learning about herself.

“It’s been an insane couple of months; the highest of highs and the lowest of lows – all of the emotions. You’re confronted with these things and I’ll think, ‘Why do I do that?’ And then someone asks, ‘Why do you do that?’ and then I have to answer it, whereas in real life you would just think, ‘Oh well, that’s what I do.’ You actually have to face it, so it’s been more of a journey of self-discovery than I thought it would be, way more difficult emotionally. With some of those discoveries I’d think, ‘Oh my gosh, this is why I’m single!'” she laughs.

But because the show’s host Art Green had gone through the same experience, she had him to turn to for advice when times were tough.

“He’s been awesome. I don’t even see him as a host, I just see him as a good friend now; we’ve travelled together and if I asked him how he would’ve dealt with a particular scenario, he’d give me so much advice. It was so helpful, otherwise I would’ve felt pretty lonely, so it’s been really great having him around. We’d go to the gym in the morning and just gossip like you would with a girlfriend. He’s like a girlfriend,” she laughs.

Part of the series takes participants offshore, which meant a few weeks of fun and flirtation in Argentina. A keen traveller, South America happens to be at the top of Lesina’s list of must-visit destinations, with Peru her personal favourite.

“I love Peru. It’s just got a good mix of everything – amazing culture and good food. Machu Picchu’s incredible, but there’s also this little surf town that I spent weeks in at the top of Máncora, which has lots of parties and is a lot of fun.”

Finding ‘the one’

So does this mean she’d like to find a partner who also shares her love of travel?

“I would love someone who is at least open to it, to share that with. I’m not quite done with travel; I still think I would love to live somewhere else for a little while. But I know not everyone’s into that and it’s nice to have someone who has different interests to you.”

Although opposites attract, most people have a list in their head of prerequisites or non-negotiables when it comes to their ideal future partner. For Lesina, that means someone similar to her dad.

“I talk about my dad on the show and it’s probably going to be blasted everywhere,” she laughs.

“My dad’s kind and self-assured. My mum’s a bit like me; she’s a professor so she travels and does all of this stuff, but he’s very grounded and they really work. He’s been a really good male role model for me, so I want someone with those basic qualities.” And was her family supportive of her decision to find love on reality television? “They said, ‘We don’t have to be on it, do we?’ and I told them, ‘You do’,” she laughs.

“But they trusted me to make the right decisions, not to hurt people and to also be mindful of my emotions.”

In her five-to-10-year plan, starting a family is definitely on the cards.

“It’s not for everyone, but I really do want a family. I’d be gutted if that didn’t happen and I think I’d have a serious discussion if someone didn’t want to have kids, and it was completely off the table. But I know you can’t force that kind of thing. I don’t want to put pressure on myself, and although I’m coming into this wanting a family, I don’t want that to be what this is about; trying to find a guy who wants a family. If I find the right person, I’ll hang on to that.”

She’s hoping that Kiwis warm to The Bachelorette, especially now that there’s a female taking the reins.

“I hope it gives people an insight into other ways of doing things, other ways of thinking and dating and handling guys. I may not do everything traditionally, and I may not be the typical Bachelorette, but I hope New Zealanders will embrace that.”

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