Finding Strength After a Hysterectomy, Lockdown with Little Ones & Saying No to Cattiness. How Are You Today, Lana Searle?

If you haven’t been watching Celebrity Treasure Island three nights a week for some routine and entertainment during this never-ending lockdown, just what the heck have you been doing? See, CTI isn’t just ‘good because there’s nothing else to do’, but it’s actually really watchable, entertaining (sometimes even pretty darn emotional) and hilarious (thanks Chris Parker!!). So do yourself a favour – catch up On Demand then start tuning in with the rest of NZ.

It’s a surprising bright spot of lockdown – largely due to one of the three teams, The Jokers, who are seen as the underdogs, pitted against the brawn of ‘The Legends’ and ‘The Bosses’ who are mostly former athletes and F45 junkies. But instead, it’s the Jokers who are the ones to beat – and they’re definitely the ones having the most fun.

The team is captained by the lovely Lana Searle, of More FM radio fame.

Lana is fierce, confident, and strong on the show, but she’s been through the wringer to get there. A few years back she had a run of bad luck and tackled some serious health issues – on one occasion she skated very close to losing her life. It started after she was prescribed the contraceptive pill in the hopes it would counter ongoing hormonal issues. But unfortunately, a family history of strokes and blood clots suddenly put her at high risk, with her soon forming clots in her legs. She stopped the pill and started taking asprin – which only exacerbated the problem. “It turned out to be one of the worst things I could have done because that just made me bleed out everywhere,” she says. “I ended up in hospital and had seven blood transfusions – it was just a really rare reaction to the pill.”

After Lana collapsed and was taken to the hospital to receive life-saving treatment, she went on to spend a further two years going on and off different hormone treatments. But unfortunately, after exhausting all other possibilities she underwent a hysterectomy at just 29.

Her health upheaval also coincided with a major change at work, and a break-up, but now, some four years later, Lana is on a high. She lives in Christchurch with her fiancé Katie and young step-son, and can be heard on the radio weekday mornings alongside Gary McCormick on the More FM Breakfast Club. And of course, she’s now stepped out of her comfort zone to appear on CTI where she’s surprising herself at how well she’s faring.

We chatted to Lana about watching herself on the telly, coping with lockdown with a four-year-old at home and how the lessons she’s learned through tough health challenges have made her a stronger competitor.

How are you today, Lana?
I feel awkward telling you this with you in Auckland! I’m good. Lockdown is awful and I’m not going to sit here and pretend we’re doing it rough when I know even being able to go into level three made a huge difference!  

It does suck, but you don’t have to feel bad, we want to hear that you’re good! But please, do go out and eat some hot chips for me!
Oh, ok, if I must! No, but I’m good, and I’ve really enjoyed the first weeks of the show going to air, finally!

And how have you found it, watching the show and all the reaction to it?
It’s really weird because I wouldn’t usually watch myself. And for something that was our whole world six months ago, when we filmed it, life seems to have moved on from then. So to watch it and feel like I’m right back there, it feels really surreal – like I’ve travelled back in time. I mean, first of all it’s warm there, and we’re able to live around other people and be in close quarters with others – it does seem like a completely different world. Watching it now from home in the cold, under restrictions, you couldn’t get something more opposite!

How have you found this latest lockdown?
It’s been a bit different this time around because my stepson’s been with us for a majority of the time – I mean, he was before but it didn’t seems as intense last time, maybe because he’s four-and-a-half now. And that requires a lot more feedback and interactions. You know how when they’re like two or three and you say any words and they kind of just put up with it? Well now it needs to be much more in-depth and a little bit more intellectual, which you think I would have craved after the last lockdown. But actually it turns out this lockdown has been more emotional and has mentally taken its toll on me. And that’s just having that 24/7 situation going on there.

Oh, having kids in the house definitely makes it a different ballgame.
100%! My finance says I keep going too in-depth, because he senses that I’m willing to give a good answer and then he keeps digging for more and before I know it I’ve done a thesis into why we can’t watch any more Wiggles! I also made the mistake of doing a big chart for activities to do each day and came out with a real hiss and a roar, but by about day four I realised I’d bitten off waaaay more than I could chew. I was like, oh, today I’ve said we’re going to bake, go for a bike ride and then later on we’re going to play bingo. Why have I done this to myself!?!

What’s kept you sane?
A good series to watch. I’ve been watching Line of Duty – just having something that’s not the Wiggles at the end of the day.

Oh, you always need a antidote to the Wiggles! Personally, what’s become my binge-watch is Celebrity Treasure Island and I know there are a lot of us out there watching. What was your reaction when you first got the call to do the show?
When I first got asked, I thought it was a sick joke. It’s that small town New Zealand thing where no one likes to be referred to as the C word – celebrity. So when that happens it almost puts you on this level that is incredibly uncomfortable, because we know with tall poppy syndrome here, no one wants that. So, for me, the first feeling was fear, and then it was like, actually, I’ve always wanted to do something like that, whether it be a survivor or one of those shows. I thought, well, you’re never going to get on one of those as a regular person because those shows are so extreme now, so this is your last chance to do that outward bound course. I just had to jump on the chance.

The Jokers: Brynley Stent, Chris Parker, Kim Crossman, Joe Daymond, JJ Fong, Johnny Tuivasa-Sheck and Lana Searle

And how did you feel when you heard about ‘The Jokers’?
That’s my category for life! All through high school and earlier in my adult years I was never taken that seriously anyway so the fact that the producing team would put me in a team called the jokers actually fit quite well. It also immediately means that people don’t expect too much from you in terms of performance in a game. So to go in as an underdog, I think, is the best possible position to come into something.

Personally, I think it seems like you’re on the best team who are having the most fun. Is that accurate? Was it genuinely fun?
Yeah, it was! I had no idea how bad it was for some people, like what I’ve seen now that it was like for Ange Bloomfield – I mean, we could kind of tell from the challenges that something was going on with their team. There was a lot of yelling and screaming and bitterness at the end. I knew it wasn’t like that for us, and I just hoped it wasn’t always like that for their team. On our team, our aim was just to stay together for as long as possible because we were actually having such a good time.

Your team also seemed to have a lot of empathy – it was particularly noticeable when Kim was really struggling at that elimination challenge last week and you all rallied around her.
Yes definitely, there was a lot of empathy. And there was that element of it on screen, but also at nighttime we’d all be lying in our beds and we’d go around the room and talk about the best part of our day. And it was all very sweet – you wouldn’t think when most of the cameras had gone home that it would continue on, but it did, especially after what happened with Kim, it was like we realised that it was something she wanted to work on and it brought up stuff for a lot of people, particularly too with what had happened with Joe that day too. Man, what a personal journey for everyone and that episode, for me, was like, wow, this is actually a chance for us to grow as individuals through this challenge. It felt like, oh we’re going to come out of this better people!

How do you think it changed you?
I think I just learned a lot more about myself You hear people say things about you, you never quite know if that’s what you’re like. I learned that I was actually a lot more solid than I perhaps realised. Amongst the turmoil and uncertainty, I kind of just stayed very straight and pushed everyone through and had that sense of safety about me – which I would never have thought I could do, but after hearing people describe me like that and now watching it back, I can see there is some truth to it.

How did you think you were going to perform on the show?
As long as I didn’t leave the first day, I was going to be happy. Growing up, I was always homesick and I just thought, ‘You can’t get homesick on national TV’. But home was sooo far away – thinking of home seemed really odd because I was in such a different situation it didn’t come up like I thought it would.

Now, you went through a really difficult few years there health-wise. If you’re okay talking about it, can you tell me a bit about what you learned about yourself through that experience?  
Of course! I think it just gave me perspective. I had years and years of hormonal imbalance and then trying to figure out how we could get around that without it affecting my life too much and being prescribed the wrong things by doctors. There was a lot of injustice I felt in there. But I learned that I couldn’t keep going back to blaming other people, I had to just push forward and move forward. As bad as that was health-wise – having a hysterectomy and learning what that meant the future would look like – that was a really big deal.

Lana nailing it as team captain of The Jokers

God, it’s such a rough way to gain that perspective though. Do you think having that mindset came in handy on the show?
Absolutely. When you go on something like Treasure Island and someone gets put up for elimination it can seem like the world’s biggest problem – well, I knew it wasn’t. I put it in perspective. It’s okay, it’s just a game. How do we look at this? We can’t go back and think about how we could have changed things, we can only face forward. As awful as it is, stuff happens to people and it makes them stronger, and that was definitely the case for me. For a lot of people it’s a different form of grief, but for me it gave me a perspective that everything is going to be okay. And if it’s not? Well, what can you do!? You just have to keep going. I’d never thought about it later, but that health stuff really helped me on the island.

I’m not into making excuses for things you can’t change, so I don’t bother with that – it’s redundant. The other thing I can’t be bothered with now is cattiness and stuff. If anything I’m probably too hard on myself than other people – perhaps I accept too much from other people’s rubbish, but I think it just boiled down to having that perspective and knowing that cattiness is a waste of time and effort.

How were you feeling health-wise on the show?
The sleep thing affected me more than I thought it would – I thought I would be fine because of doing breakfast radio, but it must just be the combination of the fatigue and the lack of food that really gets you. It’s the perfect storm, you can almost see the producers go, “oooh, here we go. Let’s see what happens when it starts raining.”

Would you do it again? Would you do anything differently?
Absolutely I would do it again, but I think I would just not be as nervous at the start. I was incredibly nervous and anxious. I actually said to a friend a few days before we left, I said, ‘I feel very… um… overwhelmed.” He said, “I think you’ve got anxiety,” and I said, “No, it can’t be that, I just can’t really sleep and I get a bit shaky.” And he was like, “No Lana, you’ve got anxiety about the whole thing!” And I did, it was just going into this whole unknown place with a group of people and not knowing what to expect… oh and it’s televised for national TV. In the back of your mind you’re thinking, in six months’ time when my family sit down to watch this, what are they going to be thinking?!?

Celebrity Treasure Island screens Monday, Tuesday and Wednesdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 2

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