The Apprentice NZ - Cassie & JT mean business

TV's newest reality stars are the boss when it comes to wheeling and dealing

By Rebekah Hebenton
On The Apprentice Aotearoa, Cassie Roma, 39, and Justin Tomlinson, 50, are the stony-faced advisors, quietly assessing the hopeful competitors' every move. But when the Weekly meets with the high-flying duo, the pair couldn't be further from their on-screen personas.
Feeling fresh after a coffee catch-up to discuss a new business venture they're working on together, it's clear the fast friends have a lot of respect for each other both in business and as people.
Though they only met while making the show in January, their rapport suggests they've known each other far longer. And, as Cassie shares, that connection was instant.
"I remember the first time we met," she says. "JT walked up and it was a kismet friendship moment.
The pair couldn't be further from their on-screen personas
"The first question, the dumbest thing I could have asked him, was, 'What's your sense of humour like?', and he just deadpanned, 'I think I'm pretty funny.' And the way that he said it, I started laughing and I have not quit laughing at him or with him yet."
"I'll take either," jokes Justin. "There was an instant kind of rapport, I must admit, and it's just based on shared values."
Born in the UK, Justin skipped university and went straight into the workforce, where his interest in computers led to an impressive and varied career in technology. He's done everything from working on
the UK's first digital bank, advising start-ups in Silicon Valley and founding his own company Delivery Craft, which boasted Harry Potter fan site Pottermore among its clients.
Hailing from California, with a background in marketing, Cassie's big "aha" business moment came after the Christchurch earthquake when she was trying to contact colleagues to see if they were safe. She found that social media was the thing that kept her most up to date with the situation. So, she dove headfirst into digital marketing and has used her expertise to work her way to the top in businesses
like Air New Zealand and The Warehouse.
Cassie and Justin have hit it off so well, they're brainstorming a little venture of their own
With decades of business experience between them, Cassie and Justin were excited to lend their expertise to budding entrepreneurs vying for their shot at the $50,000 prize pool. But they didn't anticipate how hands off they would have to be, which was especially difficult when they could see contestants making choices they knew wouldn't work.
"When you see some contestants going down roads that you know is the wrong path, it's hard to not speak up," admits Cassie. "There were a few times where the director would look at us and go, 'Don't you say anything.'"
Despite keeping their distance, Cassie couldn't help becoming emotionally invested in the competitors' journeys on the show. "As much as we couldn't speak to them, we grew to care for them. You'll see that later when I cry. I cry a lot when they go."
For the five weeks of filming, Justin stayed in a hotel in Central Auckland. With 5am starts, commuting from his home on Waiheke Island was impractical and he says it was incredibly difficult being away from his wife Christabel, and their kids Audrey and twins Genevive and Noah for so long. He praises Christabel for how well she coped being virtually a solo parent.
Cassie and JT's serious TV personas just crack them up
"Being isolated from my family for that long wasn't pleasant and for them it was tough," he tells. "But Christabel did a great job."
Cassie had the opposite problem. Going home every night to her wife Carly and daughter Chelsea, she was so exhausted she admits it might have been easier to have not seen them at all.
"When you're shooting 16 hours a day, taking on the emotions, the strategy, the interactions, the social side of things from the contestants, it really does drain you."
For the ex-pats, the past 18 months have been challenging as they've watched helplessly from the relative safety of New Zealand as their extended families overseas have struggled through endless lockdowns.

Justin, who sadly lost his father a few years ago, says it was difficult to not be by his mother's side at home in the UK, and he candidly admits, "It's been horrendous for my mum.
"She's a very resilient and constantly optimistic person, and I talk to her twice a week. We laugh, we joke, we have the same conversation a lot. But I would've wanted to have been there for her and that's tough."
Meanwhile, despite living halfway across the world from her family for the past 18 years, Cassie normally sees family regularly, either on her annual trip home to Los Angeles or when her mother visited every school holidays. But due to Covid, she hasn't seen her mum since September 2019.
But after almost two years and four cancelled flights, Cassie is finally going to be reunited with loved ones again.
"I'm flying home on the Fourth of July. To glide into the United States as the fireworks go off feels like a weird dream. I'm equally excited and terrified."

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