Sam Wallace: Shaking off criticism and back home with his biggest fans - son Brando and partner Sarah

For the first-time dad, being away from his family was heart-wrenching. "I really started to appreciate how much I need Sarah and Brando in my life, and how big a part of my heart they are," he says.

By Cloe Willetts
It's the morning after Sam Wallace was crowned this season's Celebrity Treasure Island winner and the radio star jokes about the irony of having a broken light switch in the loo at his North Shore home.
It's a stark reminder of the rough weeks he spent in Fiji, going to the toilet in the pitch-black night. "It sounds dumb, but being in that situation makes you really appreciate little things like light switches," laughs Sam, 38, who won a total of $105,000 for the Starship Foundation.
Watch: Sam Wallace wins Celebrity Treasure Island. Article continues below.
While Sam's partner Sarah Bowman prepares for our photo shoot and their nine-month-old son Brando naps, The Hits breakfast host questions whether to take his top off.
"I think it's acceptable for me to walk around without my shirt on in my own home, considering I've been doing it on TV!" the former Breakfast presenter decides, flashing a smile.
The abs he flaunted on the reality show were the result of months of pre-island training and self-control, including cutting out all beer and treats. "Sam put his heart and soul into this journey and it was the most disciplined I've ever seen him," reveals Sarah, 36, who works in advertising.
For the brunette beauty, being apart from her best friend for so long was "brutal" and she tells, "It's the longest we haven't communicated. Sam was most concerned Brando wouldn't recognise him, but he did. When he got home Brando gave him the most beautiful smile and they had long cuddles."
And for Sam – who knows some found him "obnoxious" for his competitive game plan – winning a phone call home after an island challenge was a turning point. "By then I'd been pushed to the outer and felt quite lonely," he explains. "Being on the outside of a social group is a horrible feeling."
Sam missed Sarah and cutie Brando desperately.
The first-time dad missed his greatest fans at home. "I really started to appreciate how much I need Sarah and Brando in my life, and how big a part of my heart they are," he shares.
During the phone call, Sarah reassured Sam they were fine. "I said, 'You didn't work that hard for that long to give up now, so I don't want to hear from you until it's all over!'" she laughs. "I'm proud of how he played and look where it got him."
The radio star has no regrets for the "dogged competitiveness" he displayed on the show, which landed him in the finals with rugby league star Gary Freeman and boxer Shane Cameron.
"I don't mind that I was seen to be competitive because that's a quality I've always had. I'm not ashamed because it's served me well, as well as poorly," he smiles. "I love to tease people, it's who I am. But even though I'd say something nice at the same time, the show only used the bits where I poke fun."
He shrugs off any concerns about the negative comments directed at him on social media earlier in the TVNZ 2 series. "If there wasn't someone stirring things up, it would've been a dull show. The people who didn't say things about others were often left off the episodes and what's the point of that?"
All that hard work paid off! Sam beats Gary and Shane to the prize.
Sam – who lost 10kg on the island – is quick to deny claims of sexism. "I had a great relationship with Eric [Murray] and Zac [Guildford] and then all of a sudden I was being called a chauvinist, which is disappointing," says the broadcaster, who works with co-hosts Toni Street and Laura McGoldrick.
"The relationships were competitive but it wasn't about that. I work with two of the strongest, most confident and talented women in media! They've defended me throughout the show because they know me."
He says repeatedly putting his biggest threat up for nomination, TV presenter Shannon Ryan, was purely strategic. "She had the most clues, really good relationships with both teams and kept proving herself," Sam explains. "I knew if I came up against her in a final chase, with clues and puzzle challenges, I wouldn't stand a shot."

The proud dad – who celebrated his win on the island with a crate of Fiji Bitter beer – sums up the pair's differing approaches to the game: "Shannon is the classic yogi who tries to create this place of harmony, where you're going to treat everyone with kindness. Whereas all I can see is competition. Let's chop people's heads off!"
With his biggest-ever endurance test behind him, Sam's focus is on completing the final stages of a kids' book he has written, called Dougie the Buggy.
"The theme is chasing your dreams and not listening to others who try to come down on top of you, such as the character Tessa the Turbo. She's kind of like a Shannon or Barbs [Kendall]," he grins.
Buzzing in the knowledge he's helping a charity that saved his nephew Beau Charlie with two heart surgeries, Sam says winning Celebrity Treasure Island has been surreal.
"When you think about treasure hunts as a kid, you weren't diving off a pirate ship to get a rum bottle, lighting fires and digging up a cemetery that's filled with smoke," he beams. "It was the coolest thing I've ever done."

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