The Heartbreak hunk reveals his rocky ride on reality TV and why he’s doing it all again
Apr 27, 2022 2:00pm
After moving to Aotearoa from volatile South Africa, Alex Vaz struggled to fit in and was frequently bullied. But when he’d come home in tears from high school, his single mother Norma would sweetly assure him he was loved and that the difficult times would pass.
“I couldn’t find free counselling services for teenagers, so Mum became my counsellor,” the former Heartbreak Island and The Bachelorette NZ contestant tells Woman’s Day.
to raise money for Gumboot Friday, a charity that provides free youth therapy sessions.
It was in counselling that Alex was able to address suppressed trauma from his childhood and, without it, he believes his depression would have seen him “spiral into this sad, lonely person
who hated the world”.
Raised in Johannesburg, Alex was a happy kid who enjoyed school, but home invasions were a part of everyday life. He recalls, “The worst memory was having three armed men break into my bedroom. I’d run around looking for my mother and she’d try to calm them down, letting them take whatever. People knew she was a solo mum, so we were targeted.”
Moving to New Zealand at 14, Alex found life “wildly different”, he says. “I became a victim of bullying because everything was different here – the lingo, food, culture, fashion… I’d turn up to mufti day and what was cool in South Africa wasn’t cool here.
“I got called homosexual because my ear was pierced on the right side.”
While Norma continued consoling Alex, daily life remained “hell” until he changed to a different school, where he found “real friendships and people who didn’t just want to beat me up”.
Despite the struggles of his youth, it was entering 2019’s Heartbreak Island that led to Alex’s hardest time. While he loved meeting new people, he had little privacy, no loved ones to confide in and competitors trying to mess with his emotions. He also fell in love, only to be left heartbroken.
However, the hardest part of the “rollercoaster” came after cameras stopped rolling. As the show went to air, Alex started being invited to the hottest parties, made new friends and even got a girlfriend.
“But then one day, that all went. The show finished airing, the hype ended, people who were talking to me stopped and the invites disappeared.” To make matters worse, the tech venture he’d been working on crumbled and his relationship also “fizzled”, causing Alex to wonder whether his ex was more in love with his fame.
“It was this huge world of change and emotions.”
Becoming reclusive, the software developer saw a counsellor, who confirmed he was experiencing depression and talked through Alex’s childhood hardships.
“It was enlightening hearing I wasn’t freaking out over nothing and that I’d dealt with a lot that I’d never unpacked. I’d got used to experiencing something bad, then putting it away and getting on with
life. Those things came back to bite me.
“Things got bad, but counselling changed my life. It helped me come to terms with how I was feeling and how to love myself again. It helped me over a slump that could’ve led me down a really sad path.”
Keen for a distraction from his break-up, Alex signed up for The Bachelorette last year but failed to win the heart of Lexie Brown. He’s since found that twice-daily gym sessions are the key to his mental health – and dancing has also proved therapeutic.
“Every day, I look forward to training,” says Alex. “Being focused, seeing improvements and feeling everything come together is like finishing this amazing puzzle. It’s a really great escape.”
Asked about his romantic life, Alex notes he felt “love burnout” after appearing on two dating shows, but he says, “Hopefully I can woo girls with lovely dance moves one day!”
The problem is meeting women who haven’t already judged him. “They have this idea I’m some extra-terrestrial person for being on TV and when they realise I’m a normal person with normal problems, some people feel let down.
My dating life’s slowed down, but I’m definitely keen to find someone. The biggest thing I look for is somebody who’s unapologetically themselves.”
That real authenticity is something Alex hopes to bring to DWTS and while he’s faced countless hurdles becoming the man he’s proud to be today, each obstacle has enriched him. Grinning, he says, “Everything I’ve experienced has built resilience and given me the tools I need to appreciate life.”